There are good Clint Eastwood films and there are bad Clint Eastwood films. You’d probably guess where 1974’s “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” (“T & L”) ranks.
I’m amazed. Director Michael Cimino, at the time, was really only known for polishing Eastwood’s Dirty Harry flick “Magnum Force” into a great crime drama of cop vigilantism. Then he does this picture, and how did anyone at Warner Bros trust him with “The Deer Hunter” a few years later? Sure that film won Best Picture, but should anyone really have been surprised when the box office nuclear bomb, known as “Heaven’s Gate” came along, and bankrupted Orion Pictures? You think the producers of that turd said, “Fellas, we never considered Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Guess we deserved what was coming to us.”
Back to the subject at hand. “T & L” is mindless of any coherence. Two criminals just happen to find each other randomly on some out of nowhere highway while running from the law (for Lightfoot) and a couple of bumbling henchmen (for Thunderbolt). Their respective crimes are unconnected. Eastwood’s quiet, familiar, tough guy demeanor (Thunderbolt) meets up with wild boy Jeff Bridges (Lightfoot) and then they eventually get to a plot of devising some kind of money heist with early adversaries George Kennedy and Geoffrey Lewis, former crime pals of Thunderbolt. However, they need to arrange to acquire a cannon, get on a job digging water lines for housing properties, working as ice cream delivery guys, hitch a ride in a redneck’s Dodge Challenger full of turtle shit (yes, turtle shit), and have Lightfoot dress in drag. There’s also a school house no longer located where it should be located with a secret stash hidden behind a blackboard.
Doesn’t this seem like much too much effort for an ordinary bank heist in 1974? Security personnel and systems were probably not as sophisticated back then, no? Eastwood made an easier time of escaping from Alcatraz then all the work put in here.
The movie is sweaty, dirty, stupid, and it just doesn’t make sense really. Bridges actually got an Oscar nomination in the supporting actor category, up against nearly the entire cast of “The Godfather Part II,” for this film, and I’m…well…perplexed. How was that possible? Best guess, Cimino, who also wrote this dreck, decides to have Lightfoot die at the end. (There!!!!! I ruined it for you!!!!) Problem is I don’t know why or how. He’s not shot or wounded. There’s never an indication that he is ill. The script is too dumb to consider any kind of foreshadowing of his demise. The guys are just driving along with the money in backseat, and Lightfoot appears weak all of the sudden. Thunderbolt pulls over to the side and his partner just quietly dies in the passenger seat. Cimino cues up the John Denver music and the end credits appear. Bridges had a death scene. So Bridges has to get a shot at Oscar glory. The math ain’t pretty but it’s the best logic that I can come up with.