Saturday, August 10, 2013

Film Review: TIGHTROPE (1984, Richard Tuggle)

Stars: 3.75 of 5.
Running Time: 114 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew:  Clint Eastwood, Genevieve Bujold (DEAD RINGERS, OBSESSION), Dan Hedaya (COMMANDO, CHEERS, BLOOD SIMPLE), Allison Eastwood (BRONCO BILLY, MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL), Marco St. John (FRIDAY THE 13TH PART V: A NEW BEGINNING, MONSTER).  Written and directed by Richard Tuggle (writer of ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, the Schwarzenegger-directed episode of TALES FROM THE CRYPT).
Tag-line: "A cop on the edge..."
Best one-liner:  "You want some honey?"  –"I don't eat sweets..."

Alrighty, folks– so we've taken THE BIG EASY and we've had a visit from THE PAPERBOY– so let's close out Crawdad-Lickin' Southern Fried Sleaze-O-Rama and walk the TIGHTROPE– whaddya say?

How about some production background?  TIGHTROPE is one of those rare Eastwood films from the last twenty-three years in which he acts, but doesn't direct.  It's in the illustrious company of CITY HEAT (1984, Richard Benjamin), THE DEAD POOL (1988, Buddy Van Horn),  PINK CADILLAC (1989, Buddy Van Horn), IN THE LINE OF FIRE (1993, Wolfgang Peterson), and TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE (2012, Robert Lorenz).  Tuggle apparently snagged this rare gig (his directorial debut) after impressing Clint with his screenplay for ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ, but rumors from the set persisted that Tuggle wasn't working at Clint's regular breakneck pace, so Clint himself supposedly directed large chunks of the film.

As to the movie itself, it's a post-CRUISING "kinky-detective" flick, starring Clint as Detective Wes Block, a crusty cop who's investigating Jack the Ripper-style murders across New Orleans' red-light district.  He's sort of kinky himself, though, and there's plenty of soul-searching and Hitchcockian parallels between the hunter and the hunted.

 Clint gets into some gentle tie strangle-bondage-play.

 It's a serious film, and it does succeed as a solid crime drama and character study.  Supposedly, Clint was getting a lot of Oscar buzz for his role (though ultimately, no nominations), even though he's basically playing a slightly more morally conflicted version of Dirty Harry.

Clint contemplates his daughter's Grover toy.  Note how he's got the same ole' elbow patches as DIRTY HARRY.

 Also, the film gets a lot of bonus points from me for having its main title in the font from BLADE RUNNER:

 and it's cast listed in the font from THE TERMINATOR:

 Uh, what?  (There's no science-fiction element to this film, whatsoever.)

Also, extra bonus points for hand-animated lightning strikes!

 It's like something out of the BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN!

Anyway, let's get into the nitty-gritty:  how does this all figure into Southern-Fried Sleaze-O-Rama?  Well, to be honest, even though it's set in New Orleans, it's not all that Southern.  Clint makes absolutely no attempt at an accent, and neither does most of the cast.  It does feature a lot of iconic NOLA architecture, and there's an obligatory scene in a Mardi Gras "giant head" warehouse (just like in everything else, from HARD TARGET to THE BIG EASY), so I'm still covered.  As to the Sleaze-O-Rama, I'm not even sure to begin.  So here's a bunch of stuff out of context!

Hey, look– drinks are only a buck seventy-five!

Clint tries his best to ignore the gyrating man in a thong.

Clint gets tender with man's best friend.

A prostitute with amazing eyeglasses uses a vibrator (no joke) on a disaffected Clint.  This truly is 50 SHADES OF EASTWOOD!

Is that the implied silhouette of Mason-Licksin'?  If it is, I'm three for three!

"What am I looking at, here?," you're probably wondering.  Well, somewhere in that pile of lubricated flesh there might be a Clint Eastwood buttcheek or two.  It's hard to tell, but the camera definitely pans up to reveal Clint and a prostitute, so he's there, somewhere. 

How many trashy things are happening in this picture?  I lost track at four, I think.

I can't even begin tell you what unspeakable acts are performed with this gigondous Mardi Gras Ronald Reagan head.

The less said about this, the better.

Gals in bikinis oil-wrestle as a little person referees the event for purposes of proper sportsmanship.  Clint watches, spellbound.

OH, COME ON!  Clowns weren't scary enough already?  You're giving me nightmares, TIGHTROPE.


 This is the kind of workplace context that Clarence Thomas could have only dreamed of.  And the guy on the right should totally be Ron Silver.

Hell, this movie is so sleazy, that Dan Hedaya plays a good guy!

 Anyway, all of this gives Clint ample opportunity to raise a judgmental eyebrow and scowl in disdain, which is pretty much why we watched the movie in the first place.
And that's just a sampling– this film is oozing with that kind of stuff.  The music is that seedy, burlesque hall blues with wailing saxophones and fluttering flutes as the wallpaper sweats glue and the men breathe heavy.  The atmosphere succeeds in painting a picture of New Orleans as a series of smoky, deserted streets where long legs in high heels are stalked by cajun-spicin' Jack-the-Rippers!  (Or is that Jacks-the-Ripper?)

The co-star and love interest in Genevieve Bujold, a tremendous actress with a healthy sleaze pedigree herself (De Palma's OBSESSION, Cronenberg's DEAD RINGERS).  She plays a rape counselor who Clint meets and begins to romance in the midst of his investigation  Here, she's pictured teaching a class on how to kick rapists in the nuts:

It's difficult to tell if this is being played for laughs, or if it's meant as a genuine public service announcement.  The scene only becomes more spectacular when she introduces a ball-swat-training ROBOT into the regimen.  (Inappropriate, comic appearances of robots were truly a hallmark of the 1980s.  I'm looking at you, ROCKY IV.)
Bujold lands a spirited blast to its (tennis) balls:
Prompting it's eyes to light up and it's cardboard tongue to emerge:

 Which causes Clint, standing in the back of the classroom, to wince in empathy:

Then, one of the balls rolls over to him, and he catches it:
 Prompting a goofy, schoolboy smile:
Well played, Clint.  (And I must say, it's hard work being the web's leading authority on brutal ball-squeezing.  What began as a bit of snark has resulted in hundreds of google-search-hits a month, and presumably a lot of disappointed fetishists!)

There's also a wonderful double-spit-take scene that demands to be addressed.  First, Clint takes a hearty sip of his soda (the necessary set-up for any great spit-take):

Then, his youngest daughter drops a bomb:
Which prompts a fountain of soda and astonishment:
Clint's eldest daughter (played by real-life daughter, Allison Eastwood) gets in on the fun, as well:
 And finally, Clint marvels that he succeeded in pulling off a bona-fide father/daughter double-spit-take:
 Personally, I'm impressed, too.

So the film continues as an elaborate cat-and-mouse between Clint and the killer that gets increasingly personal– first, the murderer begins targeting prostitutes whom Clint had previously frequented, and finally he starts going after Clint's family.  This leads Clint deeper and deeper into the seedy underbelly of the Crescent City.
Clint is propositioned by a gay prostitute who offers some "honey"– Clint squints, and growls that he doesn't eat sweets:

Later, a random leather daddy offers:

"Looking for something... Alice?"

So then, Clint meets with a person of interest in the nerd section:

seriously, though– the guy on the right has a DOCTOR WHO t-shirt, and in the background appears to be Q*BERT'S QUEST, a rare and spectacular pinball adaptation of the video game!

Anywho, Clint meets with the hustler and tries to glean some information, but the guy doesn't know much, and keeps flirtin' away, wondering how Clint knows he's not gay if he hasn't tried it:
Clint retorts with the incredibly unexpected: "Maybe I have."

That's sort of subversive for a Clint film, and it may be, I daresay, the 51st shade of Eastwood?

Finally, Clint gets to show off some of his acting chops in a dramatic scene of self-reflection which I have entitled, "Clint Gets Mad at a Bed and His Dog Disapproves":

In closing, TIGHTROPE is not quite a hidden "gem" in the Eastwood catalog, but it's an unusually perverse mainstream police procedural with some solid melodrama and a few taut suspense sequences.   If we follow the whole "Eastwood vs. Bronson" rivalry to its logical conclusion, perhaps this is the reason Bronson made a sleazy-underbelly cop-on-the-edge movie of his own a few years later, with KINJITE: FORBIDDEN SUBJECTS?  Who knows.

This draws the "Crawdad-Lickin' Southern-Fried Sleaze-O-Rama" series to a close (though I certainly wouldn't rule out future installments).  I hope you've enjoyed the trip– so it's time to cork up the Southern Comfort, stick the leftover jambalaya in a tupperware, and start moppin' up the sweat (and everything else)!

–Sean Gill


Anonymous said...

Oh man, the Dan-Hedaya-as-good-guy factor combined with the robot-with-tennis-ball-balls factor make this perhaps the most must-see of all must-sees! I'm on a mission! And let me also say that even though I'm now a Chicago-area resident, I'm from Hot Springs, AR by way of Memphis, TN, and I loved every bit of the Southern Fried Sleaze-o-Rama, so I'm glad to hear that it might be revisited somewhere down the line. You keep writin' 'em and I'll keep readin' 'em!

Sean Gill said...


Very glad you enjoyed the series! It was a labor of seedy, crawdad-lickin' love.

Unknown said...

Bravo, sir! That was quite a way to end the Sleaze-o-Rama. I think I need a shower now. Never realized just how down 'n' dirty TIGHTROPE was. But then it has been ages since I've watched it. Always good to see Dan Hedaya cast against type as a good guy. He's also a pretty decent guy in THE USUAL SUSPECTS but really doesn't get much of a chance to make an impact. Still, those eyebrows. wow...

Sean Gill said...


Hedaya's eyebrows INSIST on making an impact. I was trying to remember how many CHEERS episodes he was on the other day and I was imagining it somewhere around two dozen. Then I checked IMDb and saw it was only 6! Chalk it up to eyebrow power, I say.

Unknown said...

Yeah, it seems like he was on CHEERS more than he was. Man, he's a really hairy guy... I mean, we're talking werewolf hairy.

Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you didn't comment on the bowl of chocolate chip cookies that the babysitter takes out of the fridge before the killer pays her a visit. Who puts cookies in the fridge?

Lawrence Lay said...

Did Tightrope borrow anything from Cruising with Al Pacino?

Sean Gill said...


I would definitely say there's some tonal borrowing––sleazy underbelly cop solving kink-related murders while trying not to succumb to temptation––but it's not as detailed a character study as CRUISING is; mostly it's just a fresh milieu for Clint to appear in, a more adult sort of thriller. I see these films (alongside 80s R-rated neo-noirs like THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE '81, BODY HEAT, 52 PICK-UP, BLACK WIDOW) as kind of prefiguring the late 80s/early 90s erotic-mystery subgenre trend, with stuff like BASIC INSTINCT, FATAL ATTRACTION, JADE, SLIVER, COLOR OF NIGHT, SEA OF LOVE, BODY OF EVIDENCE, etc.

Lawrence Lay said...

Clint Eastwood's Tightrope vs Charles Bronson's 10 to Midnight, or Sylvester Stallone's Cobra. Which is better?

Sean Gill said...


Oooh, that's a tough one. Though I think COBRA gets the nod by an (AWESOM 50) nose.