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Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is one of those bizarre '70s films that makes you wonder how the thing ever got made in the first place. The DVD attempts to explain this in a four page booklet that tells how screenwriter Michael Cimino impressed star (and producer) Clint Eastwood with his passion for his original screenplay. This information is not helpful. Eastwood's company went ahead and produced it and the $4 million dollar film made $25 million in 1974. But that still doesn't explain what people got out of this wacky, buddy heist film. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is the stripped down story of a bank robber in hiding named Johnny "Thunderbolt" Doherty (Eastwood). In fact, as the movie opens, he is posing as a preacher with a small sullen congregation. He has been on the lam since the money he robbed from a bank ended up hidden in a school house that then went missing (it makes sense in the movie). When one of his ex-partners shows up one Sunday morning and starts firing away in the church, Thunderbolt takes off running across a wheat field before being saved at the last minute by passing-by drifter car thief Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges). The duo forms an uneasy friendship, seemingly based on Thunderbolt's disdain for Lightfoot. Then two more of Thunderbolt's ex-partners, Red Leary (George Kennedy) and Goody (Geoffrey Lewis) show up, and the foursome end up robbing the same Idaho bank as the one that got Thunderbolt in trouble in the first place. The heist goes awry, of course. There are many weird aspects to this film, not the least of which is Lightfoot's unexplained tendency to speak completely in cliches ("Where there's smoke there's fire"). Or why Leary and Goody drive and dress in '40s drag. Or why Bridges has to spent the last 20 minutes of the film dressed as a girl. The contempt of Thunderbolt for Lightfoot, however, is more easily explained. Bridges is playing what conservatives like Eastwood at the time considered a "hippie," and so he must be mocked. Plus, Eastwood was already getting older, and this was the first of a series of pairings between Eastwood and younger actors, culminating in The Rookie. But there is only one moment of real warmth between them, when they are both in a stolen car talking about raccoon shit, and Eastwood smiles (charmingly) at Bridges. The scene feels improvised, and really works. The rest of the film doesn't. It's the goofy good ol' boy sort of stuff that must have pleased drive-in audiences at the time. By the way, look for Catherine Bach in a small role as a hooker. Cimino, of course, went on from this miserly budget to The Deer Hunter, which made him world famous as a sort of ur-Cameron, and then to the supposedly profligate spending of Heaven's Gate, a near-masterpiece with severe casting problems. You don't get much of Cimino's canny editing and framing here, but you do get the first glimmers of his consistent revisiting of the theme of isolates paired off with eager, rambunctious nuts, as well as his contempt for bossy wives. This MGM Home Entertainment DVD is basically a reprinting of the 1991 laserdisc, with its only extra being the trailer, a browned, scratched thing that doesn't do much to sell the film. This single sided, single layered disc comes with a brownish but otherwise clean image in 2.35:1 with sound in mono Dolby Digital English and Spanish, and with French and Spanish subtitles. The stationary menu also offers scene selection (32 chapters). Keep case.
—Dawn Taylor



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