Thursday, January 08, 2015
Clint Eastwood gives Dirty Harry a kinky twist in TIGHTROPE, an underrated psychological thriller that forced critics to reevaluate his acting skills. While Eastwood was no stranger to films with unusual sexual relationships (see PLAY MISTY FOR ME or THE BEGUILED, for instance), TIGHTROPE places his Wes Block into some of New Orleans’ seediest settings — not as an outsider investigating a case, but as an active participant in the S&M trade.
Although TIGHTROPE, written by Richard Tuggle (ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ), who also directed (or maybe “directed” — I’ll get to that) the film, probably seemed risky to Warner Brothers, as long as Clint was playing a cop, his fans didn’t care. TIGHTROPE opened at number one at the box office in August 1984 and stayed there for four weeks. Except for SUDDEN IMPACT and ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN, it was Eastwood’s biggest hit of the 1980s.
So Block is investigating a series of strangulation murders where the victims are beautiful prostitutes. The twist is that the victims are not exactly unknown to Block, who frequently uses their services after his two young daughters are in snug and asleep in their beds. Worse for Wes is that the killer seems to be aware of his penchant for kinky sex in the French Quarter and targeting the hookers Block has been with. Occasionally, Tuggle drops hints that Block may even be the killer, but it’s a weak red herring.
Speaking of Tuggle, he’s more or less a director in name only on TIGHTROPE. Eastwood, who was also a producer of the film, grew disenchanted with the rookie director after the first day. He liked Tuggle and liked Tuggle’s script, so he worked out an agreement where Tuggle would be on the set and call “Action,” but Clint was calling the shots. TIGHTROPE is a police procedural — not an action picture like the Dirty Harrys — but the murder plot, as suspenseful as it is, is secondary to the character study of a cop trying to compartmentalize his family, his job, and his sexual peccadilloes and seeing the lines blur.
Eastwood is terrific, particularly in scenes with Genevieve Bujold (COMA), also very good as an assertive, intelligent rape counselor who Block gets involved with. Having grown comfortable with anonymous kinky sex with strangers, Block seems flummoxed at entering a relationship with a well-rounded, strong woman. Rebecca Perle (SAVAGE STREETS), Jamie Rose (LADE BLUE), Randi Brooks, Margaret Howell, and Regina Richardson play victims. The killer is Marco St. John (TREME), a New Orleans native still active in films and television thirty years after TIGHTROPE played to packed houses.