7 July 2007 | Cheyenne-Bodie
Mike Connors' best performance in a fine series
"Tightrope" (1959-60) was a terrific series about an undercover cop. Mike Connors played the role with great style and flash. He was a magnet for the many luscious women he encountered while pretending to be a smooth crook looking for action.
Connors narrated each episode, and he was the only regular. He would worm his way into the confidence of criminals who were planning a big job. At the end of the episode, almost all the bad guys would be captured in a surprise police raid but
"in the confusion, one man escaped-me". However, in one episode a cop who doesn't know Connors is undercover shoots him as he tries to escape.
Connors carried a gun that was in a holster attached to his belt in the small of his back. When he was searched, no one thought to pat him down there. When the bad guys believed they had him covered, Connors would swivel and come up with the gun seemingly out of nowhere. It was a great gimmick that I never tired of.
There were fine ending scenes of a lonely Connors walking the city streets at night narrating his thoughts. This gave the show a nice noir feel and made you feel close to the romantic existential hero.
'Tightrope" was well paced, and the 30-minute episodes flew by.
Guest stars included Kent Taylor, Richard Jaeckel, Gerald Mohr, Robert Lowery, Whitney Blake, Connie Hines, Paula Raymond, Jean Byron, Barbara Bain, Paul Burke, Karen Steele, Ed Nelson, Leslie Parrish, Mike Road, Ruta Lee and June Vincent.
The producers were Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene, who wrote the brilliant Edmond O'Brien thriller "DOA" and won an Oscar for "Pillow Talk". Rouse and Greene also did the fine Glenn Ford western "The Fastest Gun Alive" and the Stephen Boyd guilty pleasure "The Oscar". Rouse and Greene were masters of pulp melodrama.
Writer Ben Maddow (the screenplay for "The Asphalt Jungle") was the creator of "Tightrope". The show was suggested by the experiences of a real cop, who appeared on "To Tell the Truth" the week before this show premiered. As I recall, the guy even looked a little like Connors.
This was a great role for Mike Connors, sort of a combination of Richard Diamond and The Fugitive. He was superb.
Two hour-long pilots were made in the early 60's in an attempt to revive the series. The first was "The New Tightrope" and the second was "The Expendables". Both starred Connors. "The Expendables" was aired in 1962, but the semi-documentary approach used took all the juice out of the concept. I turned it off after a few minutes, even though Dina Merrill and Zachary Scott were intriguing guest stars, and "Tightrope" had been my favorite show.
One more ambitious attempt was made to bring back "Tightrope" in a 1972 movie pilot called "Man on a String". Christopher George ("The Rat Patrol", "The Immortal") played a dirty cop who is thrown into jail. Of course it is just an act so that George can go undercover. The director was the great Joseph Sargent ("Tribes", the "Longstreet" movie pilot, "The Marcus Nelson Murders") and the cast included Keith Carradine, Joel Grey and Jack Warden. Ben Maddow was the writer. They tried hard but no cigar.
"Tightrope" was done perfectly the first time, and the new pilots never recaptured the magic.