Dave Garver (Eastwood) is a womanizing overnight jazz DJ on radio station KRML in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Visiting his Local Hangout after the show, he meets Evelyn Draper (Jessica Walter), who claims to have been stood up by her date. After he drives her back to her house, she reveals that she's a big fan of Dave's show and that the date story was a lie; she went to the bar (which he talks about on his show) specifically in order to meet him. Dave also figures out that Evelyn is the woman who constantly phones the station while he's on the air, asking him to play Erroll Garner's song "Misty". Agreeing to keep things casual, Dave and Evelyn have a one-night stand.
Afterward, however, Evelyn insists on making herself part of Dave's life, and Dave enjoys the attention... at first. However, his ex-girlfriend Tobie Williams (Donna Mills) moves back to town and Dave decides to patch things up. After he tries to tell Evelyn that he's not interested in any further involvement, she responds by attempting suicide. Meanwhile, Dave and Tobie get closer, but Evelyn isn't going to take it and tries any way she can to keep Dave to herself, even if it means getting rid of Tobie for good...
This film contains examples of:
- Author Appeal: Eastwood's hometown (Carmel, California) and favorite genre of music (Jazz) are spotlighted throughout the film.
- Ax-Crazy: Evelyn goes into full knife-wielding psycho mode in the final act.
- Black Dude Dies First: Averted. The first of the two people Evelyn attacks in the movie is Dave's black housekeeper, but she survives, although her involvement in the plot does end there.
- The Cameo: Don Siegel, who directed Eastwood in such films as Two Mules for Sister Sara and Dirty Harry, was on set to give Eastwood directing advice, and also took an on-camera role as Murphy the bartender.
- Camp Gay: Tobie's artist friend Jay Jay, complete with affected voice, fey mannerisms, and Deadpan Snarker tendencies.
- Dirty Old Man: Murphy calls himself this, after unsuccessfully trying to woo Evelyn on the phone when Dave refuses her call.
- Disney Villain Death: Evelyn is accidentally pushed off a cliff by Dave.
- Fictional Board Game: Dave Garver and his friendly bartender set up an impromptu game on a bar napkin with four pieces each. It's played similarly to chess, with analysis and strategy. Dave wins the game, and attracts the attention of a pretty patron, Evelyn. He later admits the game was a ruse to break the ice.
- Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Evelyn (Dark) has brown hair, stalks Dave and has a violent side. Tobie (Light) is blonde, sweet, and genuinely loves Dave.
- Loony Fan: Evelyn starts off as an avid fan of Dave's show, but then decides to insert herself into his life.
- Love Makes You Crazy: Evelyn isn't exactly in perfect mental health to begin with, but she becomes totally obsessed with Dave and will do anything to have him to herself.
- Mask of Sanity: Evelyn's quirky, cheerful, almost Genki Girl persona early on eventually disappears as her obsession with Dave grows.
- The Mentally Disturbed: Evelyn has some serious mental problems. She has traits of both bipolar disorder (going from "up" states where she's either bubbly or violent to almost catatonic depressive states, suicidal urges) and borderline personality disorder (sudden mood changes, impulsiveness, fear of abandonment; the title of one of the classic books about BPD, I Hate You—Don't Leave Me, pretty well sums her up attitude toward Dave after Tobie enters the picture).
- Morality Pet: Tobie is one for Dave, showing us that he's not just a womanizing cad, and that he has a sensitive side and is willing to change himself for the better.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: This is clearly Evelyn's ultimate intention with Tobie, but Dave stops her.
- Not Good with Rejection: Dave starts to move away from Evelyn as her obsessive side starts showing, then backs out of the relationship once he gets back together with Old Flame Tobie. This finally pushes Evelyn over the edge.
- Psychopathic Woman Child: Evelyn initially acts like a smitten teenage girl when she deals with Dave. She even buys him a giant stuffed Snoopy doll.
- Sacrificial Lion: At the climax, Sgt. McCallum, the police detective tracking Evelyn, gets fatally stabbed by her with a pair of scissors.
- Scenery Porn: The Carmel-Monterey coastline is shown to great effect, most memorably the way the waves dominate the frame as Dave and Tobie walk together in the "First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" sequence.
- Sexy Coat Flashing: Evelyn waits for Dave at his house when he starts having second thoughts about their relationship, wearing just a fur-collared trenchcoat, and flashes her naked body to seduce him. She's already begun to show signs of being unhinged by that point, however, so the effect on both Dave and the audience is rather more creepy than sexy.
- Stalker with a Crush: Evelyn, who single-mindedly pursues Dave motivated by obsessive love, is the Trope Maker for this in modern pop culture.
- Title Drop: Long before they even meet, Evelyn regularly calls in to Dave's radio show and asks him to "play 'Misty' for me".
- Token Black Friend: Al Monte, the too-hip host of the show before Dave's on KRML, is Dave's main confidante in the story.
- Traumatic Haircut: At the climax, Evelyn holds Tobie hostage, ties her up and gags her, and tortures her by cutting off pieces of her hair.
- Wham Line: Evelyn's crude response ("Yeah, get lost, assholes!") when a couple of restaurant customers try to intervene in a parking-lot argument between her and Dave is the first indication that she has a genuine nasty streak beneath her cutesy, ladylike front.
- Where Does He Get All Those Wonderful Toys?: Dave is a late night DJ on a small town radio station, but can somehow afford a vintage Jaguar XK150 convertible and a stylish, mid-century modern California house, complete with greenery-filled atriums, on a cliff overlooking the ocean.
- Yandere: Probably one of the earliest examples in film of a female character pursuing her love interest to the point of being willing to commit homicide. This example predates both Alex Forrest from Fatal Attraction (a film that's practically a stealth remake of this one) and Annie Wilkes from Misery.