Sunday, August 17, 2014

Newsploitation: Box Office Debauchery

“Dad? What's a hard-on?”

One of the great things about being a life-long film fanatic is the fine art of the revisit. A 20-year-gap between film viewings allows for a heck of a lot of life experience that can permit you to see a film and its themes on a whole new level (hello, Clive Barker’s HELLRAISER [1987]).  It can also allow for you to look at something with “adult eyes” and think, “How the hell did my parents let me see that as a kid?” The poster boy for such an experience seems to be the sleazy Clint Eastwood cop thriller TIGHTROPE, which opened thirty years ago today on August 17, 1984.

This past spring a TIGHTROPE resurgence sprung up between my video watching friends. Perhaps we unconsciously knew the thirtieth anniversary was soon upon us, but a collective revisit was upon us and we all came back with the same reaction – “what…the…hell!?”  I missed this one in theaters (my parents had taken me to see SUDDEN IMPACT [1983]) and I’m eternally thankful for that.  Watching the opening of BASIC INSTINCT (1992) with my dad theatrically was hard…er, uncomfortable enough when I was seventeen.  I couldn’t imagine Eastwood’s film about a serial killer stalking the sex professionals used by a kinky cop would have gone over when I was ten.  It would have been as awkward as when Eastwood’s onscreen daughter asks him the line of dialogue that opens this write up.

For people to better understand the cinematic curveball that is TIGHTROPE, you should understand this came out when Eastwood was one of the hottest box office draws.  His boxing/orangutan flicks (EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE [1978] and ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN [1980]) were top ten grossers in their respective release years and Eastwood just experienced his biggest Dirty Harry success with SUDDEN IMPACT (1983). To know TIGHTROPE came out just nine months after Eastwood had the entire U.S. (including President Reagan) saying, “Go ahead, make my day” is freakin’ astonishing. Imagine George Clooney following up GRAVITY (2013) with sleazy T&A thriller where a woman holds a vibrator to his crotch.  Wait, did THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014) have a scene like that in it?

To be fair, Eastwood and writer-director Richard Tuggle had finished TIGHTROPE before SUDDEN IMPACT had even come out.  Tuggle, who had previously written the Eastwood hit ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (1979), got a copyright on his TIGHTROPE script in March 1983 and filming began on October 17, 1983 in New Orleans, Louisiana and wrapped up on December 2, 1983, a week before Dirty Harry was back blowing away punks on the big screen.  Still, it is an odd choice for Eastwood to make, but not so much when you realize how much he said he didn’t want to get typecast in the Harry Callahan role.  Want to make the audience revert their expectations? Show yourself covered in baby oil and handcuffed to a head board.  Our pal Mark Tinta also put forth that this film could also be seen as Eastwood’s capturing a mid-life crisis on film.  Fifty-four at the time of filming, Eastwood’s family life was in shambles at the time (he was still married but had been living with Sandra Locke for almost a decade; his wife finally filed divorce in May 1984) and the image of Eastwood as a family man, single father detective with a dark side is certainly compelling evidence for that case.  Heck, he even cast one of his real life daughters to play his onscreen daughter.

Is this outtake from the TIGHTROPE 
poster shoot telling us something?

Regardless of family and sexual politics, audiences were still looking for that Eastwood fix and were receptive to the film.  It opened in first place that weekend with a haul of $9,156,545 from 1,535 screens.  It easily beat back that weekend’s new competition as THE WOMAN IN RED, SHEENA, and DREAMSCAPE all didn’t crack the top five.  Despite its sleazier tone, TIGHTROPE stayed in the top spot for a month and eventually earned a domestic total of $48,143,579.  That is almost $2 million more than Eastwood’s FIREFOX (1982) from a few years previous, showing audiences preferred watching Eastwood screwing than being screwed by Eastwood.

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