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Thunderbolt and Lightfoot: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray Review

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) movie poster Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Theatrical Release: May 24, 1974 / Running Time: 115 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Michael Cimino

Cast: Clint Eastwood (John "Thunderbolt" Doherty), Jeff Bridges (Lightfoot), Geoffrey Lewis (Eddie Goody), Catherine Bach (Melody), Gary Busey (Curly), Jack Dodson (Vault Manager), Gene Elman (Tourist), Burton Gilliam (Welder), Roy Jenson (Dunlop), Claudia Lennear (Secretary), Bill McKinney (Crazy Driver), Vic Tayback (Mario Pinski), Dub Taylor (Station Attendant), Gregory Walcott (Used Car Salesman), George Kennedy (Red Leary)

Buy Thunderbolt and Lightfoot on Blu-ray exclusively at Screen Archives

It's interesting to look at the film that a director made before making a Best Picture Oscar winner. Sometimes, there are signs pointing to glory in the near-future, like Ben Affleck's The Town and Martin Scorsese's The Aviator (most of Scorsese's work, in fact). Other times, the victory comes more out of the blue. Not many watched Michel Hazanavicius' OSS 117: Lost in Rio,
Mel Gibson's The Man Without a Face, or Rob Marshall's Wonderful World of Disney Annie thinking their makers would soon cement a place in film's history books.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) is the film that Michael Cimino wrote and directed prior to filming 1978's Best Picture winner The Deer Hunter. Thunderbolt is not the type of movie that anticipates winning the industry's highest honors, although it is a showcase for evident talent and itself secured an Academy Award nomination for Supporting Actor.

Cimino, who had contributed to the screenplays of Silent Running and the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force, made his directorial debut here under the guidance of star/producer Clint Eastwood, who considered adding to his fast-growing director filmography before giving Cimino a shot. The strong results paved the way for Cimino to direct his Vietnam War drama, which was so well-received as to set him up for high-stakes failure on his notorious follow-up, Heaven's Gate. Cimino never recovered from that film's disappointments and, nearly twenty years removed from his last feature, he seems more or less retired now at age 75. While his post-Heaven's Gate filmography inspires little reverence, there is brilliance to his first two directing credits which makes his scarcity look like cinema's loss.

Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges are Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in the 1974 film "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot."

As the title suggests, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is an action crime comedy. You'll be tempted to call it a "buddy comedy", but that label typically applies to mismatched pairs connected by circumstance la Midnight Run and Rush Hour. The titular duo of this film quickly forms a genuine friendship despite their differences in age and demeanor. Thunderbolt is the nickname given to the older man (Clint Eastwood), who is introduced preaching to a Christian congregation in Idaho. No country minister, he is interrupted mid-sermon by a man shooting at him. He escapes the situation by grabbing a ride in the newly-stolen car of Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges), who runs over one of Thunderbolt's armed pursuers by his own volition. An unlikely partnership is formed between the easygoing young man and the laconic Korean War veteran he proclaims "one lost dude."

They switch cars and license plates, finding women and a motel. When their money runs out, the two set their sights on Montana, where Thunderbolt knows $500,000 to have been hidden behind the blackboard in an old one-room schoolhouse. The school is no longer there, replaced by a modern one, prompting Thunderbolt and Lightfoot to team up with the two men on their trail: Thunderbolt's short-tempered old friend Red Leary (George Kennedy) and the harmless Eddie Goody (Geoffrey Lewis).

The four men begin planning a big, elaborate heist of an old target. As is common, we're largely kept in the dark until it plays out in the final act.

Eddie Goody (Geoffrey Lewis) and Red Leary (George Kennedy) have some words for a kid who questions their mini ice cream truck's route. The big heist requires Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges) to dress in drag.

This light caper is far from The Deer Hunter in tone and composition, but nearly as engaging and a heck of a lot shorter. Cimino's first time in the helm resides some place in between Eastwood's hard-boiled vehicles and something like Smokey and the Bandit.
It earns an R rating, though it's fairly mild by today's standards. Real danger and consequences exist throughout, but the movie has fun with these personalities it develops and invests in more than to simply advance the story.

Bridges, a mere 23 during production but already with more than a decade of acting experience and several major film credits, earned his second Oscar nomination in the Supporting Actor category for this film. He lost, unsurprisingly, to Robert De Niro, the brightest of three cast members from The Godfather, Part II competing for that honor. Long unappreciated as an actor by the powers that be, marquee draw Eastwood unsurprisingly was not acknowledged, nor was the film for any other award. Kennedy had already won an Oscar for Cool Hand Luke, Eastwood has since been recognized twice for directing and producing, and Bridges finally joined the winner's circle a few years back for Crazy Heart and if he lost that, he would have won the following year for his Rooster Cogburn in the Coens' True Grit remake. Cimino won both Picture and Director awards for The Deer Hunter.

Despite that pedigree, Thunderbolt isn't a film that takes itself too seriously or aims for prestige. It's smarter and more substantial than your typical heist thriller, but also funny and free-wheeling enough to make Bridge's deserved nomination slightly surprising. This is an impressive debut for Cimino, who keeps the proceedings captivating in a variety of different forms. Only at the very end does one feel that he's gone off-course, driven to deny viewers' satisfaction in favor of a more dramatic (and not easily understood) payoff. Those final few minutes have probably denied the film its share of admirers over the years, but they can't undo the fun character-driven storytelling that precedes them. Cimino doesn't have much of a fanbase and Eastwood's following seems to prefer movies where he doesn't have to share the spotlight and his dramas and westerns. Personally, I'll take this over Dirty Harry and some of his other highly regarded films any day.

Last week, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot made its Blu-ray debut in Twilight Time's The Limited Edition Series, which limits its availability to just 3,000 copies and prevents any other North American release from occurring in the next three years.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot: The Limited Edition Series Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Screen Archives Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: February 11, 2014
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
List Price: $29.95
Blue Keepcase
Still available on Amazon Instant Video
Previously released on DVD (June 13, 2000)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Blu-ray presents Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The picture can't completely hide the film's age. Scrutiny reveals tiny imperfections. The print, however, remains fairly clean and clear. The restoration seems sufficient and I don't doubt that the format provides noticeable gains in detail over the film's 2000 DVD transfer.

Sound is provided in a 1.0 DTS-HD master audio mix. It's limited, but fine. Issues that arise are minor (e.g. dialogue has a slight echo in one car scene, a few shots being mostly out of focus) and probably date back to the original filming. English SDH subtitles are kindly included.

Needless to say, Clint Eastwood gets top billing as Thunderbolt. Jeff Bridges isn't too young to receive second billing in the theatrical trailer, film, and title.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The only video extras are a pair of trailers: one celebrating the 90th anniversary of MGM (2:06, HD) and the other being Thunderbolt's original theatrical trailer (1:58),

the only bonus included on MGM's now-discontinued DVD, presented in worn standard definition that makes you further appreciate the feature presentation.

From the Set Up submenu, we uncover a couple of different ways to watch the film. One is with Twilight Time's standard offering of an isolated score. It's a nice option which the company, unlike most others these days, seems happy to provide. It's worth noting that there isn't a great deal of score from composer Dee Barton, for whom this represented his third and final Clint Eastwood movie score.

The other soundtrack is an audio commentary by film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman. This treatment is fast becoming another standard inclusion from Twilight Time, the company that Redman co-founded. In contrast to the norm, when historians usually fly solo and remain somewhat dry, theirs is a lively and knowledgeable track. They celebrate Eastwood's career and lament the lapsed ones of supporting players. They inform you about virtually every actor encountered and place the '70s into the context of cinema's evolution. They discuss at length the interpretation of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot as a homosexual relationship. They even keep it timely by relating the film to the current movie award season, drawing connections and comparisons to such Oscar contenders as Nebraska, 20 Feet from Stardom, and The Wolf of Wall Street. It's an enjoyable and informative listen.

As usual, Twilight Time also seizes an opportunity to share an index of their complete Limited Edition Series Blu-ray and DVD catalog to date.

The silent, static menu uses the somewhat spoileriffic cover art recycled from a theatrical poster. The disc doesn't support bookmarks, but does give you the option to resume playback.

The final extra is found inside the case. An illustrated 8-page booklet consists primarily of a dense, elevated essay by Julie Kirgo that details and admires the film from its characterization to those homosexual readings. It's likely an upgrade over the booklet included in MGM's original DVD release so long ago.

Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood) doesn't know his social security number, but he does know how to hit on a pretty girl, or so he thinks. Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges) is thrilled to discover the Warsaw School has not been demolished, only moved.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot doesn't seem as well-known as it should be, considering how well this film holds up and all that its makers have accomplished. Its somewhat forgotten quality makes it ripe for a thrilling discovery. Undoubtedly, the best way to discover the film is in Twilight Time's Blu-ray, which delivers a fine feature presentation and a high quality new commentary. You may have to pay more than twice as much as you would for a general retail catalog disc, but it's tough to imagine the film getting as satisfying a high-def release anywhere else.

Buy Thunderbolt and Lightfoot exclusively at screenarchives.com

Related Reviews:
New: Crimes and Misdemeanors The Postman Always Rings Twice Fantastic Mr. Fox The Counselor
Written and Directed by Michael Cimino: Heaven's Gate | Clint Eastwood: For a Few Dollars More Trouble with the Curve
Jeff Bridges: The Big Lebowski Tron & Tron: Legacy True Grit (2010) Iron Man The Men Who Stare at Goats
George Kennedy: The Naked Gun: From the Files of the Police Squad! | Geoffrey Lewis: My Name Is Nobody
1970s on Blu-ray: The Anderson Tapes Chinatown The Conversation Rocky Taxi Driver
Directorial Debuts: Blood Simple. Bottle Rocket Shallow Grave Thief

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Reviewed February 21, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1974 United Artists, The Malpaso Company and 2014 Twilight Time, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.