Written by / 3/01/2016 / No comments / , , , , , , , , , ,

EASTWOOD & BRIDGES ARE 'THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT'

Year: 1974
By the end, it's pretty obvious Jeff Bridges' Best Supporting Actor nomination for THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT was a result of what occurs during the last twenty minutes, but this relatively underrated movie, directed by MAGNUM FORCE (the second and best DIRTY HARRY flick) co-scriptwriter and future DEER HUNTER visionary turned HEAVEN'S GATE studio-breaking Michael Cimino, isn't altogether normal...

In fact, Jeff plays one of the most bizarre and unique and, at the same time, utterly simplistic, naive and innocent characters in the gritty 1970's (in this case, 1974) Action/Adventure genre...

Clint Eastwood
Although Caper/Heist should be thrown into the multi-genre mix since what everything boils down to are four guys trying an "impossible" theft that actually was accomplished years earlier... that we learn through dialogue and never witness. Things went extremely awry and now the strongest, most intimidating of the bunch, George Kennedy's Red, in his most formidable, intimidating roles, has, in the edgy present, one goal in mind...

To kill bank-robbing genius Clint Eastwood who, as road-wise THUNDERBOLT to Jeff's more local-leaning LIGHTFOOT, turns in one of the most natural, loose performances of his career, beginning as a "preacher" that gets (sought out and) hunted by Red's partner, played by tough-guy staple Roy Jenson, and is then saved by the aforementioned young fellow who, having just stolen a car right off the lot, and seeming already on the run, perpetually quoting cliche one-liners and with no actual destination or substantial backstory for his own existence, becomes a partner with an initially annoyed THUNDERBOLT, and then two even more reluctant veterans are driven nuts by the ever-jokey "kid" who still knows a thing or two, and always takes chances...

Clint Eastwood as THUNDERBOLT
The first half is by far the most entertaining, before and during the gang banding together, which isn't a simple task... Because of the unseen backstory/misunderstanding, told in an easygoing park-side monologue by Eastwood, Kennedy's Red thought Thunderbolt had turned on him, which resulted in Red's long prison stint, and the action sequence with shotguns blasting out of speeding vehicles, storming throughout the beautifully filmed exterior-rural locations, make you forget there's any plot as the wide-screen, mountainside visuals foreshadow the gorgeous cinematography that would also become a "character in itself" within both Cimino's aesthetically-pleasing epics, DEER HUNTER and HEAVENS GATE  (the latter failing because it veered from the power of DEER and this feature, that is, not being character-driven) and fully relying on exterior wideshots.

Starlet June Fairchild
Then an agenda unveils after the foursome is complete, including Red's driver, Goody, played by an actor who would co-star in many Eastwood vehicles thereafter (especially famous for the ANY/EVERY WHICH WAY flicks), Geoffrey Lewis, a nice guy compared to George Kennedy (but with too many goofy, unfitting improvisations); the latter wielding an element of subliminal terror that keeps the suspense mounted while the actual heist itself is ultimately underwhelming in an ASPHALT JUNGLE fashion, as if the eventual flashpoint means very little compared to how the job is set up including everyone involved, beforehand, getting separate jobs within the outskirts of town surrounding the armory-vault in what seems like a normal boulevard building, and then the violent consequence/aftermath, leading to an almost "happy" ending (for crooks), turns horribly tragic in a bizarre, uncomfortable, torturous fashion that only... to put without spoilers... a very talented actor could pull off.

Jeff Bridges as LIGHTFOOT
THUNDERBOLT & LIGHTFOOT, also featuring the late June Fairchild and "Daisy Duke" actress Catherine Bach as two party-girls in a scene that, as far as getting rocks off, only really works for Eastwood while Bridges' Lightfoot, as usual, seems to almost get what he wants, and is never quite sure what he's doing (a puppy compared to Eastwood's weathered German Shepard), even though his existential lifestyle seems natural and easy despite Kennedy's constant death threats (drinking game: take a shot whenever Kennedy reminds Lightfoot he's gonna take care of him, later on)...

While Eastwood coolly leads the heist, though having to play lecturing babysitter for both the older and younger outlaws along the way. Yet the vague mystery of Lightfoot is what makes the film so memorable and subliminally bizarre. Jeff Bridges is one of the few (at that time) young actors to pull off a hippie-era rebel that remains strangely enigmatic and endearing both, and what he really needed in an obviously pointless life is provided by his his at first reluctant mentor/partner. Thus, in the case of THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, Clint and Jeff's odd couple duo/kinship surpasses the intense action that occurs almost second-nature, and is what really maneuvers this character-driven, original work of unique art masquerading as just another 1970's crime road movie.

Catherine Bach
RATING: ****1/2
TRIVIA: Gary Busey has a small role as Lightfoot's buddy at a construction job working in the suburbs for his brother-in-law, Vic Tayback. While Gary's not in the picture for long, he's fun to watch being so spontaneous, including the way he scratches his nose while talking (actors and actresses seem to scratch their noses a lot); just don't expect the wild man he usually portrays • In the wacko department, Bill "Squeal like a Pig" McKinney (Ned Beatty's rapist in DELIVERANCE), playing a crazy hot rod driver who picks up our hitchhiking anti-heroes at one point, goes beyond nutty: check out this great screen capture from that scene here, it's like a painting in itself...

June Fairchild
At one point when actress June Fairchild, best known as the Ajax (snorting) Lady in Cheech & Chong's UP IN SMOKE, was homeless sometime during the late 90's, Clint Eastwood put out a newspaper ad out to find, and help, the actress he had worked with: in THUNDERBOLT she really steals her scene, even over the more soon-after-famous Catherine Bach, who become an icon for short-cut Blue Jeans in THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, merely second banana to June's loose yet uptight vixen. Since then, June recovered from drugs but was taken from us due to cancer:

Click This Link for the Cult Film Freak June Fairchild Memorial • Director Michael Cimino, to this day, kicks himself for not... during a timid and rushed Oscar speech as best director for THE DEER HUNTER... thanking Clint Eastwood, who took a risk with a (MAGNUM FORCE) writer who never directed, and wound up with a fabulous director who told Michael, while watching the dailies (scenes shot that day), he makes the outdoors, by using such terrific wide-shots, look like the real thing instead of a Burbank studio lot • And Dirty Harry's MAGNUM FORCE wasn't written alone... John Milius was the co-pilot • And speaking of co-pilot, an actor who played a pilot a few times in the AIRPLANE series, was known for COOL HAND LUKE and is the real antagonist in T&L, died yesterday (February leap-year 29th, 2016) at the age of 91, which is why this review was reblogged: Rest in Pace, George Kennedy (and more recently, Geoffrey Lewis)!
Erica Hagen as Waitress in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot had worked with Jeff Bridges in The Last American Hero
Catherine Bach in THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT
June Fairchild as Gloria in THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT
Jeff Bridges as Lightfoot about to steal a Thunderbird
Clint Eastwood takes a seat as Jeff Bridges sits at the end of THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT
As a drag Jeff Bridges walks the streets, The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing marquee is visible
From the Photofade Trunkbunnies showing Bill McKinney drugged up and shooting bunnies
June Fairchild Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
Clint Eastwood, Catherine Bach, Jeff Bridges and June Fairchild in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
Jeff Bridges, Clint Eastwood, George Kennedy and Geoffrey Lewis in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot
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