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  Thunderbolt and Lightfoot Chance Meetings
Year: 1974
Director: Michael Cimino
Stars: Clint Eastwood, Jeff Bridges, George Kennedy, Geoffrey Lewis, Catherine Bach, Gary Busey, Jack Dodson, Eugene Elman, Burton Gilliam, Roy Jenson, Claudia Lennear, Bill McKinney, Vic Tayback, Dub Taylor, Gregory Walcott, Erica Hagen, Alvin Childress
Genre: Comedy, Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It seems like a quiet morning where the preacher (Clint Eastwood) is delivering his sermon in a rural church to a respectful congregation, but there's someone advancing on the building from outside. Shortly before, a young man, Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges), limped into a used car lot and right up to the flashest vehicle there, the salesman telling him this was the fastest there, and how about sitting in it to try it out? Claiming he has a wooden leg, the man does so, then after a brief bit of wavering, decides he'll take it - zooming off without even paying, leaving the enraged salesman in the dust. Soon Lightfoot is approaching the church, just by chance, when he sees the preacher racing across a field, a gunman in pursuit - this could be the beginning of something.

It was the beginning of Michael Cimino's directorial career, if nothing else, one which it's safe to say had its ups and downs: his next project after this was the award-laden The Deer Hunter, and right after that was the disastrous Heaven's Gate, whereupon a promising talent never really recovered. In some ways Thunderbolt and Lightfoot was Cimino's best film, certainly his most consistent, and he did acknowledge the assistance that Clint Eastwood gave him, offering his big break by inviting him to helm one of the star's Malpaso company's high profile efforts. As it turned out, this wasn't one of his biggest hits which was the source of some annoyance for Eastwood as he considered it one of his most underrated works.

Still, this may not have been a blockbuster, but regular television showings down the decades have built up a cult following, mostly thanks to an atmosphere that was both perfectly nineteen-seventies, jokes included, and downright quirky, with various scenes seemingly thrown in for the hell of it simply because they would lend themselves to the jamboree that was the movie's wayward plot. Once Thunderbolt, the nickname of Eastwood's character we later find out was given to him after a daring robbery, and Lightfoot, who we never find out very much about, team up there's a sense they could go anywhere whether there was a mad assassin after them or not, and although it resolves itself into a heist movie with a very old premise, there was an abundance of idiosyncrasy.

This was a road movie of sorts, and Cimino was displaying his eye for the painterly compostion with many vistas of America for the actors to inhabit, worthy of a Western which this could have been with a few tweaks and a different era. This genre thrived on the folks the characters would meet along the way, in this case ranging from a couple of prostitutes Lightfoot insists on bringing back to their motel room, including future Daisy Duke Catherine Bach, to Bill McKinney having a whale of a time as a maniac who gives the duo a lift, then proceeds to almost poison them with the exhaust fumes pumped into his car, rolls the vehicle by driving erratically, and once he clambers out opens the back to release a hundred or so white rabbits which he proceeds to shoot at with a shotgun.

It's touches such as that, scenes which do nothing but contribute a specific anything goes texture, which made Thunderbolt and Lightfoot rewarding. Even the recurring motif of ice cream and popsicles was there to craft a feeling of the raised temperatures the gang were operating under, as gang they become when Thunderbolt's old buddy Red Leary shows up and persuades him to try and secure the money they hid and lost in that heist. Red was played by George Kennedy in his most aggressively unlikable mode, a sharp contrast to the more easygoing Eastwood and Bridges styles, the fourth member being Eddie Goody (Eastwood stock company regular Geoffrey Lewis). It is Kennedy who lends this a sense of threat as they discover the school where they stashed the cash has been built on with a brand new establishment (that old chestnut) and so they must stage another heist, elaborately executed, instead. With what could have been a clash of acting methods paying dividends comedically and dramatically, this was unwieldy but highly enjoyable. Music by Dee Barton.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Michael Cimino  (1939 - 2016)

One of the most controversial directors to emerge from the burst of American talent of the nineteen-seventies. None of those directors had a totally easy ride from the critics or public, but he seemed to suffer the most, having started out moving from advertising to writing scripts for Silent Running and Magnum Force. Once Clint Eastwood noted his promise, he hired him to direct Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, which some still believe is his best effort thanks to Eastwood reining him in. But next was The Deer Hunter, an Oscar-garlanded Vietnam War drama that the world responded to far better than any before, and he had his pick of projects.

Alas, this success went to his head and he became increasingly unbalanced, as the horror stories from his next movie Heaven's Gate would show, a huge flop that still divides opinion on its merits to this day. Cimino resurfaced with Year of the Dragon, a Mickey Rourke cop vehicle tainted by racism, and The Sicillian, an unpopularly benevolent view of an Italian crime lord. The Desperate Hours was a remake laughed off the screen in most places, and his last feature was spiritual drama The Sunchaser, barely seen in cinemas. He was discussing new projects to the end, but it seems his ego continually sabotaged his undoubted talent.

 
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