Discover the captivating nuances of “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” (1974) in this illuminating and visually enhanced Blu-ray review.
In the future, it is likely that many of Clint Eastwood’s commercially successful but formulaic movies, such as The Gauntlet, Every Which Way But Loose, Firefox, and the Dirty Harry sequels, will gradually lose their prominence in the public eye.
Conversely, his more ambitious and distinctive works like The Beguiled, The Outlaw Josey Wales, and Bronco Billy will be reconsidered as more compelling pieces.
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, a road movie-crime film, falls into this latter category.
Blu-ray Review: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
Despite being primarily associated with Eastwood, the film features rich and unconventional characterizations for its time and genre, as well as intense violence and well-crafted action sequences, notably supervised by Carey Loftin.
While Eastwood was prominently credited, Jeff Bridges received significant acclaim, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
Eastwood’s Malpaso Company produced the film for release through United Artists, but Eastwood expressed dissatisfaction with UA’s handling of the movie despite its substantial box office success.
Unlike Warner Bros., which actively promotes Eastwood’s films, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, part of the MGM library, has been largely neglected.
It was only released on DVD once in 2000, featuring an outdated transfer, yet it is sold at a surprisingly high price on Amazon.
The reasons behind MGM’s apparent disregard for Eastwood, one of the most internationally bankable stars, remain a mystery.
However, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot have now been released on Blu-ray and 1080p high-definition through Twilight Time, marking a significant improvement over the previous DVD release.
The new edition also includes an audio commentary and trailer, offering a much-enhanced viewing experience, mainly due to the exceptional Panavision compositions by writer-director Michael Cimino and cinematographer Frank Stanley.
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The film opens dramatically with a rural Idaho preacher (played by Eastwood, sporting slicked-back hair and bifocals) targeted by shotgun-wielding Red Leary (portrayed by George Kennedy) during a sermon.
Simultaneously, the carefree young drifter Lightfoot (depicted by Bridges) impulsively steals a Trans Am from a used car dealership.
Lightfoot and the preacher cross paths as the latter escapes from Leary, leading the young troublemaker to gradually realize that the preacher is Thunderbolt, a fugitive bank robber who, alongside Leary, driver Eddie Goody (played by Geoffrey Lewis), and two others, ingeniously used a 20mm cannon to breach a seemingly impenetrable vault and steal $500,000.
Thunderbolt had hidden the stolen money behind the blackboard of a small schoolhouse, but upon their return, they discovered that a modern school now stands in its place.
Subsequently, Leary and Goody track down Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in pursuit of revenge, fueled by Leary’s mistaken belief that Thunderbolt betrayed them.
However, Lightfoot persuades the others to break into the vault again using the same cannon simply.
The genesis of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot can be traced back to Michael Cimino’s impressive work on the script for Magnum Force (1973), the second installment in the Dirty Harry series, which caught the attention of Clint Eastwood due to his confident persona and adept rewrites.
Despite Eastwood’s initial willingness to let first-time director Cimino adapt his script, there were later reported instances of Eastwood being irked by Cimino’s meticulousness and numerous takes, leading to Eastwood, in his capacity as producer, occasionally vetoing Cimino’s excesses.
Notably, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’s screenplay, although lengthy at 114 minutes, is considered superior to Magnum Force and much of Eastwood’s work in the 1970s.
In Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, Eastwood portrays a character vastly different from his infamous role as the volatile and stern Dirty Harry or the reserved, brawling protagonist in comedies like Every Which Way But Loose.
Here, he embodies an unusually relaxed demeanor and even flashes broad smiles, displaying amusement at Lightfoot’s cocky and charming naivety.
Lightfoot aspires to execute a significant heist that propels the narrative, with his childlike enthusiasm motivating the more seasoned yet directionless middle-aged career criminals.
The film’s heist is portrayed as enjoyable and challenging, adding to Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’s array of distinctive qualities.
Cimino’s idiosyncratic script is rife with surprises, including a comedic element where the four characters take on menial jobs to stake their heist, such as Goody driving an ice cream truck and Leary working as a janitor at a store guarded by aggressive Dobermans.
Additionally, the film features an intriguing yet tangential scene where Thunderbolt and Lightfoot hitch a ride with an eccentric driver who transports a caged raccoon in the passenger seat alongside a trunk filled with fluffy white rabbits.
This scene showcases Cimino’s willingness to allow Jeff Bridges’ character, Lightfoot, room for improvisation, as evidenced by a moment where Lightfoot accidentally comes into contact with raccoon excrement, eliciting an unscripted amused reaction from Eastwood.
Ultimately, the endearing father-son-like bond between the characters of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot serves as a pivotal element in the film, with Thunderbolt assuming an amused and paternal role, fulfilling an unspoken yearning for guidance felt by the eternally optimistic Lightfoot.
While some have interpreted a gay subtext in the relationship between Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, it is more accurately aligned with a tradition commonly found in numerous B Westerns, with Bridges’ character akin to an admirer of a father figure, reminiscent of characters from that genre.
The 1080p transfer of the 2.35:1 Panavision production is outstanding, capturing the careful framing and striking rural Idaho and Montana locations.
Despite the grainy title elements, the transfer is true and accurate with minimal manipulation.
The 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio effectively maximizes the limitations of the mono audio, accompanied by optional English subtitles.
The extras consist of Julie Kirgo’s insightful liner notes, with a somewhat meandering but acceptable audio commentary track featuring Julie Kirgo, Lem Dobbs, and Nick Redman. The release includes the original trailer, an isolated score track, and more.
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