Thunderbolt! Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. That sounds like somethin’.
While you’re waiting for a better flavor of pistachio, this entry in the For Criterion Consideration catalog this week is one of my favorite films of all time, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Wait, you haven’t heard of the film? But it’s starring Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges and is the directorial debut of one Michael Cimino, who of course went on to direct The Deer Hunter right after this. So why isn’t this film more in the national consciousness of film lovers everywhere?
The film starts right from the get go, with Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges) who has just stolen a car and is on the run. While this is going on, an assassin tries to kill a minister giving a sermon at his pulpit. The minister gets away on foot and as luck would have it, Lightfoot runs over the assassin and saves the man with the collar. Of course this man goes by the name ‘The Thunderbolt’ (Clint Eastwood) and is a wanted bank robber who is known to use a 20 mm cannon to break into the safes. He’s also the only member of his crew left of a Montana bank heist that knows where the loot is hidden.
They head out to Montana to get the money from the old one room schoolhouse he hid the money in, but it’s been demolished and a new school is in its place. This whole time they’ve been on the run from two other men shooting at them, who ambush them and drive them to an undisclosed location. These men were in Thunderbolt’s gang, the angry Red Leary (George Kennedy) and the calm Eddie Goody (Geoffrey Lewis). Thunderbolt tries to convince them he didn’t double cross them, but Red won’t hear it and they have a fantastic fist fight. Lightfoot comes up with the idea of doing the Montana heist again at the same company, just with a slight variation. And this is where we keep going with the insanity.
I don’t want to spoil the film for the people who haven’t seen this 70’s classic. A film that deserves a revisit, not only from the ones who have seen it in the past and liked it, but from cinephiles and critics everywhere. Just like Criterion has been doing with some off beat choices, such as Jonathan Demme’s fantastic Something Wild, they’re giving new life to films that might have just been forgotten by most. Which is a shame in general, but thankfully there’s a company who is eager to do so with any and all films.
Michael Cimino is a director that most know for making a classic (The Deer Hunter) and one of the hugest bombs of all time (Heaven’s Gate). What’s sad is that I prefer his first film Thunderbolt and Lightfoot to The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate is so much better than the notoriety of it being a bomb has put upon it. Cimino crafts a story here about two guys who pretty much no good, but we can’t help but fall in love with the both of them, right from the start. They rob, the cheat and people die when getting involved with them, but when you have Bridges and Eastwood towing that line of a true bromance and hamming it up, you have cinematic gold in my eyes.
Cimino deserves a ton of credit when it comes to this film. It’s gripping, it’ll make you laugh and ultimately you will shed a tear or two by the end of the film. And to me, getting the likes of a superstar of Clint Eastwood’s stature (he was just coming off of the Dirty Harry sequel Magnum Force) and an up and coming star in Jeff Bridges (only 3 years removed from his amazing performance in The Last Picture Show), we have a dynamic pairing I wish would have led to more pairings of both actors with one another. Even though they have just met, we get this sense that they are friends from another life.
And now’s the right time to get a special edition Blu-ray out there from Criterion. Why do you ask? Well, for starters, the DVD is one of those out of print MGM discs. The bane of my existence, considering right now it’s a bare bones release that’s fetching up to 60 dollars on Amazon and Ebay right now. That to me is the time Criterion needs to strike another deal with MGM and produce a packed to the brim special edition. One could only hope for a commentary track with Eastwood, Bridges and Cimino, but I don’t see Cimino doing any of them in general, so sometimes one could also be okay with a film scholar of some sort coming in. Preferably someone who deals with 70’s cinema.
I would also love sit down interviews with all three of the main components of the film. Especially with Jeff Bridges on a recent tear through cinema, with his Oscar win and starring in big budget blockbusters like Tron Legacy and the Coen’s True Grit remake, now’s a great time for Bridges to talk about this early role, his appearance in drag (which you can see below in the trailer and the For Criterion Consideration Three Reasons video) and how it is perhaps the earliest depiction of his Dude character. Eastwood is a treasure trove of stories as well, so I’m always interested in what he has to say about the business, what it was like back in 1974 and what has changed since then.
If any behind the scenes footage was filmed while this was being made, I would die to see that included in a release. Retrospective interviews with George Kennedy, Geoffrey Lewis and Gary Busey (who is great in this film) would be ideal, considering they’re still with us and able to talk candidly about the film and what it meant to them. There’s tons of stories that are known, such as Clint Eastwood being the only man to say ‘no’ on the set, especially when it came to anything past 3 takes. I’d also love it if they went back to the locations for the film, showing them almost 40 years later. It’s a film that I just want to devour any and all information that would come from a special edition it so rightly deserves.
Of course we’d want the film to be remastered, the way Criterion knows how to do best. Especially this film, which has beautiful landscapes depicted and I can only imagine how it could possibly look on Blu. Plus Eastwood, being as grizzled as he is, reminds me of why Toshiro Mifune is perfect for Blu-ray. Something about someone having a rough face makes me smile when it comes into HD. One can only imagine more Bronson films on Blu.
That is my case for what I consider an essential film from the 70’s, the one and only Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. What would you want on a Criterion release of this film? Let us know and any other films you think deserve the Criterion treatment.
And an amazing Three Reasons video made by Robert Nishimura.