Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Walk a Tightrope (1964)

Walk a Tightrope is a low budget 1964 British murder mystery with a nicely twisted premise which seems like it’s going to be rather intriguing. The good news is that it delivers on its promise.

Having a bad day at work is something that happens to everyone. Even hired killers like Carl Lutcher (Dan Duryea). Lutcher is having a really bad day. It was such a simple job but now it’s blown up in his face. It’s not just that things did not go quite as expected - things took an absolutely bewildering turn.

Lutcher is not the only one who is bewildered. It seems that everyone involved is confused and disturbed. Including the victim’s widow. Everyone is adamant about what happened but no-one’s story agrees with anyone else’s and no-one’s story makes sense.

The nice thing is that it’s not only the characters who are unsure of what is really happening. The audience is baffled as well. Baffled, but in a good way. We really don’t know which story to believe. A murder has been committed. We don’t know why. We know who did the killing but was someone else behind it?

As soon as we start to think that one of the people involved is telling a pretty plausible story something happens to plunge us into doubt again.

We also see the seeds of suspicion starting to plant themselves in the minds of various characters, and there’s a growing sense of paranoia.

When the major plot twists do kick in they’re deliciously nasty.

These were the days when producers of low-budget British movies liked to use imported has-been American stars whose careers were sufficiently on the downward slope that they would work for peanuts. Surprisingly it’s something that more often than not worked very well, since those superannuated Hollywood stars were often very fine actors. In this case we have Dan Duryea whose career was severely in the doldrums. Duryea was however a great actor and at a time when he was grateful for any work this was an excellent part that suited him down to the ground. He makes the most of it. Duryea was always marvellous at playing mean nasty manipulative characters who were also slightly pathetic. By the time he made this one the years were visibly starting to catch up with him and that adds a certain poignancy to his performance. Carl Lutcher is contemptible but he’s such a sorry loser we almost feel sorry for him.

Patricia Owens as the widow of the murder victim has a very demanding rôle. She has to make Ellen Shepherd sympathetic but we have to be not quite sure of her. Owens carries this off with considerable confidence. The supporting players are very solid as they usually were in even cheap British movies in those days. Trevor Reid manages to make Inspector MacMitchell a slight variation on the usual run of movie Scotland Yard policemen - he’s like a slightly dotty but likeable old uncle.

Richard Leech does a good job as the best friend who’s as ambiguous as all the other characters. Special mention should be made of Shirley Cameron’s touching performance as Lutcher’s devoted girlfriend Maisie.

Frank Nesbitt directed and did so quite competently. It’s one of only three features he directed but one of those three was another murder mystery with Dan Duryea Do You Know This Voice? which I’m now more than a little anxious to see, especially since Neil McCallum scripted both films.

Network’s Region 2 DVD is barebones but the anamorphic transfer is lovely. The movie was shot in black-and-white and it looks terrific.

Walk a Tightrope is a well above average murder mystery with a cleverly constructed plot and fine performances. Highly recommended and if you’re a Dan Duryea fan it’s obviously a must-see.

5 comments:

  1. Just ordered both of these, based on your recommendation. If I see 'Do You Know This Voice' before you do, I'll let you know if its worth it.

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    1. "When the major plot twists do kick in they’re deliciously nasty"

      yes, that sums it up! I did spend most of the film genuinely baffled - apart from anything else, it's slower paced than the Edgar Wallace movies I've been watching!

      All the cast are great - nice to see Terence Cooper in something other than that 'unique' film, Casino Royale (1967, not 2005!) And Duryea is as awesome as Duryea always is.

      The resolution is definitely worth waiting for. Highly recommended!

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  2. And Duryea is as awesome as Duryea always is.

    Yes. His career was winding down a bit by this stage but he shows that given a good part he was still a tremendous actor.

    I've just ordered a copy of Do You Know This Voice? It's not easy to obtain here in Australia but I managed to find an affordable copy and I'm looking forward to it.

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    1. Yes, I ordered that too, but it won't be delivered for a few days - so the race is on! lol

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  3. Having just seen it, you're in for a treat - although it's a bit different to Walk A Tightrope

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