198. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (US 1974)


   An uneasy alliance of four bank robbers degenerates and ends in tragedy.

Director/Screenplay: Michael Cimino

Starring: Clint Eastwood, Jeff Bridges, George Kennedy, Geoffrey Lewis 

Bit parts: Catherine Bach, Bill McKinney

Fact: Bill McKinney played the hillbilly bum rapist in 'Deliverance'. His website is squeallikeapig.com (true!)

Michael Cimino's early promise had all but been burnt out by 1980. The disastrous reception given to his western epic Heaven's Gate (revisionists will try to convince you that it's an unappreciated masterpiece, but it's completely terrible) led to fewer and fewer viable projects and eventually his talent disappeared.

In between writing the screenplay for writing Silent Running and directing his most noted film The Deerhunter, Cimino wrote and directed this excellent action/road/buddy movie which has all the hallmarks of a classic seventies heist movie and is lightened by bizarre comic sequences and skilful comedy acting.

Lightfoot (Bridges)  is a drifter who saves Thunderbolt (Eastwood) from the attentions of his bank robber buddies who believe that he has escaped with their loot. A vaguely gay subtext sees Lightfoot desperate to link up with the taciturn, laconic Thunderbolt ("I don't want your money, man; I want your friendship!) until Thunderbolt sees the essential existential loneliness of existence and includes him in his world by telling him about his shadowy background and his own search for the missing money (which is hidden behind the blackboard of a mobile schoolroom).

Jeff Bridges: practising for his role as 'Alien Knob Head' in Starman

Eastwood is tracked down by fellow bank robbers and Korean war army buddies Red Leary and Eddie Goody (Kennedy and Lewis). Leary is both a bully and a sadist; Goody is his mild mannered comic foil. After a fight between Eastwood and Kennedy (which is 'enlightened' by Kennedy's asthma attack), it is agreed that the four will plan a second robbery of a Montana maximum security bank.

The four men take jobs to finance the robbery (Lewis and Kennedy are ineffectual ice cream men, Bridges gets flashed by a desperate housewife as he tends a suburban garden). One of the best scenes in the film is when Bridges wants to back out of the robbery and the other men chide him for his lack of manliness, an ironic slight because Bridges has to dress as a woman (as disturbing a sight as you'll see in the film - especially Jeff in his 'pantyhose') to inflame the passions and distract the attention of a pervy security guard so that Eastwood and friends can steal an important key.


Ciff 'Fatty' Emmich (as he's billed) as pervy security guard: George Kennedy: bastard

The robbery is successful, but is aftermath is less so. Things go wrong and Leary's hatred of Lightfoot leads to one of the nastiest beatings in cinema history. Tragedy and multiple deaths soon follow, but I won't ruin the ending.

Good points:

◦ Good acting all round, but it's Bridges' film

◦ Unusual locations (filmed entirely in Montana) and effective use of 'the road'

◦ Strange comic interludes (Bridges in transvestite mode, hitching lifts from mentally ill drivers (McKinney), Bridges impugning Kennedy's sexuality)

◦ Lewis and Kennedy

◦ Some top-notch seventies' shirts (particularly Eastwood's 'leisure'/bowling number)

Bad points:

◦ Bridges' leather kecks

◦ Some hideous songs by Paul Williams ( a stumpier version of John Denver)