After some family related emotional exhaustion this Thanksgiving I thought it would be a good time to seek the comfort of the ol’ Clint Eastwood box set. Clint and his movies are always there for us, even if we chose not to follow his political advice. He forgives us, that’s why his movies are still there.

Unfortunately when I flipped through the set the first one I came to that I didn’t remember seeing was TIGHTROPE. And it’s a pretty good movie but let’s just say it’s not the most wholesome and thankful one. It’s pretty nasty. This is about him exploring the sexual underworld to catch a serial killer-rapist. Pre-CSI sex crimes shit, with a not so pleasant view of humanity, in my opinion. And that’s including the good guys.

Clint plays Wes Block, New Orleans divorcee homicide detective. Since the victims so far have been involved in “sexually aberrant behavior” (what he means is they’re sex workers) his investigation has him going to talk with prostitutes, masseuses, oil wrestlers and what not. More than one person he talks to implies that he’s either been a customer there already or that he seems just like one, and he doesn’t seem comfortable with this idea judging by his expressions. In 3 (three) instances he ends up having sex with the witness. This isn’t supposed to make him James Bond or Shaft – it’s supposed to be gross, to show his weakness as a man.

In fact it’s a major point that Wes has alot in common with the killer. In the opening scene the killer wears a police uniform. They think he might be a cop for real. Both wear Pumas, and Wes is first introduced with a dissolve from the killer’s feet to his.

The killer picks up on Wes and starts following him. He kills women Wes has been with, steals Wes’s tie and leaves it at a crime scene, shit like that. But it doesn’t turn into “he’s been set up and has to prove who the real killer is” like THE GLIMMER MAN. It’s never that obvious. He’s just messing with Wes’s head, and sometimes we see him wearing a mask, hiding in the shadows, or looming over Wes’s shoulder. We don’t know if this is leading to a schizophrenia plot twist or if it’s just creepy how close this guy is.

The badass juxtaposition in this one is the old standby: he takes in a stray dog, takes care of it, lets it sleep in his bed. In my opinion the dog is not holding up his end of the bargain, though. The killer somehow gets into the house without anybody hearing the dog bark, they find him in the fuckin closet. I’m gonna give him the benefit of the doubt and say the killer put him there, he didn’t hide in there like a pussy. But still. It’s much too long before he dogs up and bites the guy’s leg.

Wes has two young daughters, the oldest played by Alison Eastwood (her movie debut). He has a good relationship with them but, like all movie dads (and especially movie cops) they’re always sad when he gets a call to go look at a dead body and has to leave without playing catch. And they ask questions about where he was last night (usually at a whorehouse or something, but he doesn’t tell them that specifically). In one scene his oldest finds some nasty crime scene photos in the house, looks at them, doesn’t seem as shocked as you’d hope a kid would be seeing something like that. That brought me back because I remember growing up I had a friend whose dad worked for the coroner’s office and the first time I came over to his house he said, “If you see any pictures laying around, don’t look at them.”

Anyway, having two daughters makes his guilt about his behavior deeper and his hatred of the killer more personal. It’s a sleazy movie, extra-dark for Eastwood, with a severed head and a severed arm making memorable appearances. But definitely the most disturbing element is just seeing Clint’s real daughter tied up by the killer, and worrying what he did to her. The minimal dialogue used to address this question is classic Eastwoodian understatedness. Another good one is when it’s all over and a cop in a patrol car asks, “You all right, Wes?” and he just keeps walking.

Genevieve Bujold plays Beryl, a woman from “the rape center” who Wes first tries to avoid talking to, eventually starts dating and learning from. There’s a loose similarity to the way Dirty Harry relates with women, but it seems even more clear here that she’s meant to be a positive influence on his fucked up life, and a good role model for his daughters. I just wished she would’ve gotten to kick the killer in the balls, since she so clearly demonstrates it in a self defense class.

IMDb trivia says that they tried to get Susan Sarandon, but she turned it down believing that with iconic Clint in the lead the movie would promote sexual violence in some way. That seems like a goofy interpretation now because it plays like such a movie of its time, reflecting the Puritan tendencies of the Moral Majority ’80s with its judgmental depiction of a menacing sexual underworld. That goes especially for the scene in Praline’s, a gay bar. It’s in the spirit of CRUISING and movies like that where gay is spooky. A guy in a leather biker hat hits on Wes threateningly, another guy was apparently hired by the killer to get it on with him. Weirdly, Clint responds pretty much the same way James Bond does in SKYFALL. When Wes says he’s not interested in gay sex, the guy asks “How do you know if you haven’t tried it?”

“Maybe I have,” he says.

Also this is unrelated but see if you can spot two nerdy things time capsuled in this screengrab:

The New Orleans setting is used pretty well. Wes wears a Saints jersey, the Dixie Brewery is a major location, there’s a Barq’s root beer truck, a warehouse full of Mardis Gras parade props (probly not as much of a cliche back then), and this is Clint so he had to get some jazz in there. The Rebirth Brass Band – at that time called the Rebirth Jazz Band – are seen and heard marching in a parade. They’d only been together for 2 years, and this was the year of their debut album Here To Stay. (Sure enough they were here to stay. I saw them about a year ago and they were amazing.)

There’s also some bluesy jazz that plays at the beginning and end of the movie, in both cases sounding weirdly light compared to the bleak movie sandwiched in between. Only Clint would do that, you’d think, but the credited writer/director is Richard Tuggle the writer of ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ. His only other directing credit is the Anthony Michael Hall movie OUT OF BOUNDS. But it’s a Malpaso production, the music is by Lenny Niehaus (actually his first with Clint), the editor is Joel Cox, the cinematographer is Bruce Surtees (who shot a ton of Clint’s movies going back to THE BEGUILED, PLAY MISTY FOR ME and DIRTY HARRY), stunt coordinator was Buddy Van Horn. So it plays like a Clint directorial work, except maybe visually darker than usual.

I wouldn’t rank this high on the Clintography, but it’s worth seeing. It’s kind of like the standard Clint character except with a sex addiction problem. This guy’s kinda fucked up. I hope his daughters at least grew up okay.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 28th, 2012 at 2:20 am and is filed under Action, Crime, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

42 Responses to “Tightrope”

  1. This movie seems a bit schizo, between real nasty and the usual cop movie, because aparently Eastwood fired the director and took the reigns of the shooting.

  2. “…two nerdy things time capsuled in this screengrab:”? I’m guessing one of them is the puka shell necklace the blond-haired guy is wearing.

    That’s all I got.

  3. Maybe the Qbert pinball machine in the back?

  4. The Doctor Who t-shirt?

  5. Damn, you are right, I didn’t notice that! My monitor is apparently too dark to see every detail but now that you say it, it’s definitely a Doctor Who shirt.

  6. Doctor Who T-shirt, anyone?

    I’ve always liked TIGHTROPE. I wouldn’t say that it does it well, but it at least tries to go where not many high profile movies have dared to go. Fortunately Bujold’s character balances the conservative bits by showing us that she can have a normal sex life despite what she does for a living. A little comment on the SKYFALL debate, if you will.

    I wonder if they thought about this theme after a re-run of DIRTY HARRY; “Now I know why they call you Dirty Harry”.

  7. doh! refresh page before responding

  8. The best “kid stumbles onto nasty crime scene photos” scene was in MANHUNTER, when Graham falls asleep on the plane with the folder of evidence spread out and the girl next to him wakes him up with her screaming.

  9. Ah, I knew that exchange in Skyfall sounded familiar! I loved this movie back when I was a kid, still liked it when I revisited it a few months back. The love story is surprisingly tender, and I like how the movie stressed they were equals (am I imagining it or did Genevieve Bujold get her name above the title as well as Clint?) Also, for some reason I love that silent scene when they’re working out together in the gym, an early incarnation of the silent rock-breaking scene in Pale Rider.

    It’s kinda funny to look back at the crime-solving aspect of the movie in a post-CSI world, since they couldn’t immediately find out the identity of the killer using fingerprints/dna/hair, etc.. In some ways it’s even more jarring than the lack of cell phones in the movie.

  10. I once saw an old Siskel & Ebert clip where they were pretty enthusiastic in giving this thumbs up.

    I do quite like that Clint was willing to risk his loyal (and plentiful) fanbase by playing let’s admit it, a guy that’s sort of a creep with his fetish, one I can easily see why he would hide it.

    Good movie.

  11. I remember the severed arm being a shocking ‘had to look away’ moment when I first saw this (at a probably too young age). Seeing it again recently, the way the camera pulls back to reveal it seemed very Naked Gun (or Top Secret, when the resistance guy is crawling under the barbed wire and looks up to see the Nazi standing over him, then the camera pulls back to reveal it’s just an empty pair of boots).

    What disturbed me more when I first saw this was what happened to the nanny. Didn’t she end up stuffed into the (spoiler) washing machine? Man, that’s nasty.

    Also, Clint does a good drink-spit whilst driving when his daughter mentions hard-ons.

  12. Apologies for the brief derailment but if you get the chance take a look at the preview for some of the upcoming features here:


    Or use the menu: Home -> All Reviews -> Reviews Index

    One Timeline just ain’t good enough lol

  13. I kinda love that THIS is the movie Clint lets his daughter have her acting debut in, rather than say, the ones with the funny orangutan.

  14. Clint’s Neon Slime movie. I love it.

  15. gotta love that Doctor Who t-shirt

  16. Yeah, that guy would love the relaunch, given how pro-gay it was.
    Yeah, we’re talking DOCTOR WHO in a Clint Eastwood comments section. Vern brought this on himself.

  17. well I’ve never seen an episode of WHO, I just thought it was funny that that guy would be wearing a shirt of that in a Clint Eastwood movie

    are they trying to say all fans of that show are gay?

  18. You know I like that even though the Saints back at that time were….well, they were the Saints. Pretty bad. Yet Eastwood makes a big deal of Eastwood’s family being big fans of them anyway as adding to the local New Orleans flavor. Now you would expect them to do this if this movie was made today because the Saints are a good football franchise now.

    Well ok, 5-6 (correct?) this year does stink. Better than their 0-4 start.

  19. Griff – I’m a huge Doctor Who fan, and I’ve never tasted cock. One must remember that at that time in the early 80s, DW was a big cult show through re-runs on PBS. Maybe Tuggle was a fan, or somebody in Clint’s crew, or….or….Clint’s a fan. (I say its option #2.)

    Just like I don’t get how folks can’t enjoy Eastwood, I don’t get folks who can’t enjoy Doctor Who. (And those that bring up the old show for its shoebox budgets and homemade FX, don’t they know that only added charm and humor to see you the audience supposed to be terrified by wrapped up bubble wrap spraypainted green into a “space bug”?)

  20. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    November 28th, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Griff – I’m not gay.

    “Tightrope” is a perculiar movie for me because I keep seeing it, thinking “This is pretty good”, and then not being able to remember a single part of it.

    Except the shoes at the beginning. Those are creepy as hell. That one scene (and the excellent scoring in it) stuck with me.

  21. The Continental Op

    November 28th, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    I’m from Ireland, but a lecturer of mine is a New Yorker and he mentioned that when he went to see this movie and the exchange in the gay bar occurs a black guy somewhere in the audience yelled out “Not my man Clint!” It makes me sad that we don’t have that sort of movie-going experience over here.

  22. billydeethrilliams

    November 28th, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    Speaking of gay, this movie vaguely reminds me of Cruising, except nowhere near as bizarre or ambiguous. Anyone? (Also a very underrated movie in my opinion.)

  23. I’m not accusing Doctor Who fans of being gay, I’m saying that maybe the filmmakers are

  24. Never have been to a gay club, but I might now that I know they have pinball machines.

  25. Continental- When I saw THE WRESTLER in the cinema, during the scene where Randy is complaining about the 90s, when he starts badmouthing Kurt Cobain, someone at the back booed at him.

  26. While I agree this isn’t classic Clint, I do own it and rewatch it every now and then.
    But what makes it truly memorable to me is that when I saw it in the theater it was me, and a few of my fellow teenage boys who had been brought by my ex marine uncle.

    During one of the sex scenes with Clint it starts with a pan from foot to head of a naked couple. As the camera got to their midsections my MARINE uncle sees the ass exposed on top, complete with glistening Hollywood sex sweat, and turns to me and my friends and says “I could eat that ass like an apple”.

    Yes the camera keeps panning upward and we discover it is Clint on top. My Uncle all but shouted “Jesus f*****g Christ”. Got up from his chair and left the theater AND me and my friends behind.

    One of my friends had to ask the management to use their phone to call their parents to pick us up.

    Despite my better filmatism knowledge, I will always have a special spot in my heart for “Tightrope” because of that incident.

  27. Thanks for sharing that story, that was great.

  28. “During one of the sex scenes with Clint it starts with a pan from foot to head of a naked couple. As the camera got to their midsections my MARINE uncle sees the ass exposed on top, complete with glistening Hollywood sex sweat, and turns to me and my friends and says “I could eat that ass like an apple”.

    Yes the camera keeps panning upward and we discover it is Clint on top. My Uncle all but shouted “Jesus f*****g Christ”. Got up from his chair and left the theater AND me and my friends behind.”


  29. I’ve been guilty of the old “that ass looks great” only to have the filmmakers do a switch aroo. Lets face it, a great ass is a great ass i guess.

  30. And this one of the reasons BOOBS rule.

    Sitting here liquored and smoked up, I was thinking of that old axiom I don’t agree with but is perpetuated on this sight, that “funny” can’t be explained. Seeing this comment alone should counter that but…

    I’ve got the Top 100 songs of 1990 randomly playing through XBMC and a song by the group Nelson comes on. The skin I use downloads random images of the group as the song plays. One dude wearing coveralls and no shirt. Another picture one is wearing fucking stripper boots.

    Can’t explain funny my ass.

    “I Can’t Live Without Your Love and Affection…”

  31. But most of us are secure enough to laugh it off when that happens. For a homophobe it’s poetic justice.

  32. Excellent story, Mediafind.

  33. Siskel & Ebert review TIGHTROPE.


    (You’ll have to get through reviews of other movies, like RED DAWN and REVENGE OF THE NERDS.)

  34. “Despite my better filmatism knowledge, I will always have a special spot in my heart for “Tightrope” because of that incident.”

    I think we all will now.

  35. I personally love this movie and used to feel like it was sort of the unauthorized bio of Dirty Harry.

    But, I came here to ask something somewhat off topic, although sort of on topic because of the still Vern inserted.

    To the Dr. Who fans… I’ve seen a bit of the show throughout the years. I’ve really been wanting to get into it, but it’s overwhelming. My question is, if someone doesn’t have the time to watch literally years of episodes, what is a good point to try jumping in? The newest version? The one before? The 80s?

    Thanks in advance, guys!

  36. Dtroyt: You’re definitely best off starting with the 2005 relaunch of “Dr. Who.” The old 60s-80s episodes are great for what they are, but what they are is VERY low-budget, shot-on-video sci-fi serials of extremely uneven quality. (Not to mention they charge an arm and a leg for the dvds). I usually start my friends on Season 5, which was sort of a reboot of the reboot (new doctor, new showrunner), because I prefer the tone and storytelling of Steven Moffet’s (the showrunner) run to the campier Russel Davies tone of Seasons 1-4. BUT, Season 1 is definitely the most newbie friendly, laying out the whole premise, the backstory, etc., plus Chris Eccelston is pretty great as the Doctor.

  37. Thanks, kevinladkins, this was exactly the kind of help I was looking for!

  38. The Original... Paul

    December 9th, 2012 at 5:37 pm

    Dtroyt – as a “new Doctor Who” fan, I concur entirely with KevinLadkins. The fact is that the quality of the individual episodes varies dramatically, and there’s a lot of disagreement over what’s good and what’s not. (I think Seasons 2 and 5 are markedly weaker than the others, but I’m sure a lot of people would disagree on both.) There are very few that are so bad that they’re not worth watching at least once, if that’s what you’re into.

  39. The Original... Paul

    December 10th, 2012 at 7:14 am

    Also apologies for going off-topic there Vern.

  40. Definitely not gay but have seen this movie several times and the thing that stands out most to me is the music in gay bar. Has a Carribean Calypso sound with harmonica on it, is this Lenny Niehaus or is this some uncredited music in general? Any help is appreciated.

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