Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)


A thief nicknamed “Thunderbolt” (Clint Eastwood, Unforgiven) befriends a young conman who goes by the name of “Lightfoot” (Jeff Bridges, Starman), and with the help of a couple of criminals, they decide together to rob a bank.

Reaction & Thoughts:

 “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. That sounds like something.”

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot has everything you want from a heist movie: double-crossings, car chases, etc. That being said, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is hardly your typical caper movie — it’s one of Clint Eastwood’s most eccentric productions, a film that refuses to follow Hollywood’s cookie-cutter action film formula.

This was the first film by Oscar-winning director Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter). Eastwood apparently acquired Cimino’s script with the intention of directing it as well as starring in it. Eastwood changed his mind and decided to give newcomer Cimino (he had worked on Eastwood’s Magnum Force) a chance behind the camera.

Cimino demonstrates here that he was good at two things: extracting good performances from actors and creating visually striking moments. The film also hints at some of the problems that eventually hurt Cimino’s career. He lets the pace slag a bit with scenes that are either too long or aren’t really needed to advance the plot.

These are small quibbles that I assure you won’t interfere with the enjoyment of the movie. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot deserves a lot of praise for boldly playing with audience expectations — the film is able to deconstruct the heist genre and its tropes in an unpretentious and fun manner.

From the start, you sense you are dealing with something different. Have you ever missed the beginning of a movie because you were late? Well, this is exactly how I felt. You don’t really know what’s going on until forty minutes into the film. That’s strange, but very interesting. The twist near the end of the movie, which I don’t dare to reveal, renders the entire film pointless, and that’s another offbeat touch that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Eastwood heads up a small but superb cast. George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke) and Geoffrey Lewis (Salem’s Lot) play a pair of criminals. Gary Busey (The Buddy Holly Story) and Catherine Bach (Daisy Duke in TV’s The Dukes of Hazzard) appear in small roles. Jeff Bridges steals the movie, though — Bridges received a well-deserved Oscar-nomination for his quirky performance.

Speaking of Bridges, it’s his character’s relationship with Eastwood’s character that really sets the movie apart from other heist films. Many viewers have insisted that the title characters are meant to represent a homosexual relationship. While I don’t agree with the proponents of this theory (when asked about it, writer-director Cimino denied any gay subtext in the script, consciously or subconsciously), I do concede that the relationship is so unusual that it lends itself to numerous interpretations.

Some scenes do make you wonder if there’s more to this relationship than meets the eye. For example, when Eastwood’s “Thunderbolt” meets Bridges’s “Lightfoot” for the first time, he immediately makes a curious comment about the other man’s blue eyes. “Lightfoot” even tells “Thunderbolt,” “We gotta stop meeting like this. People are going to talk.” “Thunderbolt’s” awkward one-night stand with a sexually-aggressive woman is worth mentioning too. There are many other examples.

In my opinion, Cimino is simply giving the traditional “bromance” a much-needed jolt. A quick look at Cimino’s filmography reveals a filmmaker who was interested, above all, in assessing the intricacies of male bonding. All Cimino movies – The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate, Year of the Dragon, The Sicilian, etc. — revolve around male relationships, friendly or otherwise. But, as I always say, I invite viewers to watch Thunderbolt and Lightfoot and come up with their own conclusions.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Heist movies are a dime a dozen. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a cut above the rest. Funny, suspenseful and kinda wacky, the film successfully re-writes the caper movie formula. The ending is quite moving, too (A nod to Midnight Cowboy?). Although a bit long, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot‘s unexpected and unconventional touches make this ’70s caper movie stand out in the crowd. Color, 115 minutes, Rated R.

20 responses to “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974)

  1. So glad someone has finally decided to shine a light on this Eastwood classic. This scene should dispel any suggestion of a gay subtext within the film –

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yes, I really enjoyed this one, but what really struck me was how gorgeous the photography looked. The outdoor scenes – the sky, the plains, the mountains – had a ‘crisp’ look to them, which makes me think I really need to watch the Blu-ray.

    And at the risk of incurring the wrath of others…of the four lead actors, I liked Bridges’ performance the least!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bridges’s character is a little annoying (I could see why George Kennedy’s character hated him so much!), so I sort of understand your reaction. Anyhow, I agree that the film looks beautiful. I watched the HD, widescreen version and it was a revelation!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. MASSIVE fan of this film in my youth. Loved it so much I watched it over and over. Even read the book a few times. Still got it.
    Been meaning to rewatch it many times since doing the film site but still haven’t got to seeing again.
    Yep that end is!!!!!!!!!!
    Plus how cool is that poster with Clint.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Okay – I haven’t watched this one in a looooong time – definitely time to give it another viewing – I remember enjoying it back in the day – but I think I might even appreciate it more now.

    Liked by 1 person

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