Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) from Tuna and Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Although this film was successful, and features mega stars, it gets a thumb down from Tuna, and a half-hearted thumb up from Scoop.

Tuna's comments in white:

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) is a lackluster Clint Eastwood testosterone film. Thunderbolt (Clint), a demolitions/munitions expert, and his sidekick Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges) are supposed to be loveable bank robbers, but that's only an illusion generated by the fact that one of their associates (played by George Kennedy) is such a creep that the lads look good in comparison. The juxtaposition of our heroes with real desperadoes didn't work. The technique just made Kennedy seem like a two-dimensional character, and still didn't let me relate to either Thunderbolt or Lightfoot.

There were many other problems:

  • The premise lacks credibility. The crooks decide that banks are too much like work, and elect to rob something easy - like a state armory.

  • The performances are no better. Eastwood nearly slept through his performance.

  • Much of it is played for humor, but the jokes sometimes seemed to come at inappropriate times and fell flat due to poor timing.

  • The film was set in a very dreary Montana. Either the film or the DVD transfer caused the film to look undersaturated and lacking in  contrast throughout.

I should have enjoyed this film. I like buddy/caper films, and I enjoy all of the lead performers.

Frankly, however, I thought the same story could have been told much better, and more care should have been given to character development.


The short exposure was from three actresses. The first, June Fairchild as a pickup date who is dressing after sex with Eastwood. The second (Luanne Roberts) is a "housewife" flashing workmen through a sliding glass door. The last (and best) is from a supposedly-teenage daughter (Leslie Oliver) being tied up and gagged by Kennedy.

Scoop's comments in yellow:

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is one of those post-Butch Cassidy pictures about "mismatched, kinda lovable, outlaw buddies", filled with the usual 70's prerequisites: a team caper, unnecessary nudity, generational conflicts, sad unresolved endings

It's strange to look back and see the remarkable lack of violence as viewed with today's eyes. All the guards and bureaucrats who stand in the way of the baddies simply end up with a bad headache and rope burns. In today's context, all these bystanders would be slaughtered like cattle. The modern way is more realistic, of course. Desperate men on a seven minute mission, as they were here, don't have the time to knock people out and tie them up. But cultural standards dictate these sorts of things. Plus, the baddies were antiheroes, not true evildoers, and the marketing department would never have let the director show Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges slaughtering innocent people.

The most interesting thing about this movie is that it was the directorial debut of Michael Cimino. (Eastwood hired him. This is a Malpaso Films production. Cimino had previously written the script for Eastwood's "Magnum Force"). Cimino is a legend in Hollywood for many reasons. Immediately after Thunderbolt, he made a successful film which was also an acknowledged masterpiece, "The Deer Hunter". This took Cimino to superstar director status, and he was given the freedom and money to dictate his next project. That project turned out to be the notorious fiasco entitled "Heaven's Gate". Heaven's Gate came in late, way over budget, and generated a gross of only $1.5 million dollars to offset $44 million in costs, largely because it was pulled from distribution after about three days. The public hated it just as much as the critics, and the industry investment people hated it most of all. It is credited with single-handedly destroying United Artists, and forever changing the entire nature of the industry, effectively ending the heady 70s epoch when big name directors were given a free hand to make the pictures they wanted to make.

To this day, people are divided on the merits of Heaven's Gate. Many love the arty "feel" of the movie, the sound track, and the impressive cinematography, while others can't see past the irregular editing, the meandering action, and an especially lifeless performance from Kris Kristofferson. It is a movie with great strengths and great weaknesses. Cimino never recovered from the critical and media attacks on that movie, and virtually quit the industry. 20 years later, he is still considered a risk, and is still trying to rehabilitate himself. I have an old business acquaintance who is a semi-famous movie producer. I met him when I was doing the national promotions for 7-Eleven. If you know anything about movies you'd recognize his name. Back in the late 90s he was floating a project to be directed by Cimino, and he asked me to help him find some investors through my old business contacts. That they would be seeking investors from such non-traditional methods shows you how much of an outsider Cimino became and pretty much still is. The project never got funded.

DVD info from Amazon

  • widescreen, but letterboxed, with an uninspired transfer, and no features except a trailer.

All of that aside, this movie, "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot", is a watchable film. Jeff Bridges was even nominated for an Oscar for playing a portion of the movie as a woman. I don't strongly disagree with Tuna's "thumbs down", but I kind of liked it, or at least parts of it. I felt some scenes had been cut improperly, or perhaps some had been cut out entirely, because there are a couple of transitions that are very choppy, and the tone shifts from "serious outlaw caper" to "comedy of errors" in ways that sometimes seem inappropriate. My generally hazy gut reaction is that it was an OK - but not great - caper/buddy flick with some comic relief and an unexpected bittersweet ending. I wouldn't balance Tuna's thumb-down with a resounding thumb-up, but I'd say that it might be worth a watch if the premise appeals to you.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Jeff Bridges was nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar.

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.8/10. That makes it overrated, in our opinions.
  • Box Office Mojo. It was a financial success. Budgeted at $4 million, it grossed $25 million and made Hollywood believe Cimino was "bankable"
The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C-. Mediocre film, but it was successful, and it may amuse you to see the period filmmaking techniques, and to see giants like Eastwood, Bridges and Cimino contributing to a minor effort.

Return to the Movie House home page