In his debut as a feature film director, writer Michael Cimino fashioned a film that was part road movie, part heist film, and all character study with the affecting Thunderbolt and Lightfoot.
The Production: 3.5/5
In his debut as a feature film director, writer Michael Cimino fashioned a film that was part road movie, part heist film, and all character study with the affecting Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. Like many movies of the 1970s, the America being shown is not always a welcoming place despite the country’s natural beauty being all around, but despite numerous examples of ugliness and cruelty, the overriding feeling of mutual respect and affection that develops between two title drifters manages to blot out some of the baser aspects of mankind which are also on display. Twilight Time’s quick sellout of its initial 2014 Blu-ray release of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot has necessitated this encore edition. Apart from different artwork on the case cover, Blu-ray disc, and the enclosed booklet, the disc contains the same transfer and extras as the previous release from two years ago.
On the run from fellow thieves who think he stole the proceeds of a bank job from them, Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood) meets up with a fellow drifter named Lightfoot (Jeff Bridges) at the very moment that some of his former cronies-now-enemies catch up with him. Despite their best efforts, they’re finally apprehended by Red Leary (George Kennedy) and Eddie Goody (Geoffrey Lewis) who are both exceedingly angry when they learn the place where the cash had been stored, a one-room schoolhouse, has been replaced by a modern structure. But Lightfoot has a bright idea: why not rob the same bank again? The plan is at once both crazy and smart, and despite intra-gang hostilities, the team begins to plan the job with each one of the four being given a to-the-second itinerary of what has to happen in order for them to be successful.
Though new director Michael Cimino doesn’t quite milk the heist part of the plot for all of its built-in suspense elements, there are plenty of other compensations in this memorable buddy picture from the 1970s. The characters are truly unforgettable with the title characters especially unique among the buddy pairs of the period. Though affable and agreeable and filled with comedy especially in the early going, there’s such an undercurrent of sadness present in the film that the characters’ ultimate fates become truly haunting images one carries with him long after the end credits begin to roll (as with so many films of this era, endings for characters are usually not very jolly and in some cases are downright horrific). Cimino goes out of his way to film things interestingly, whether using a plethora of camera angles or starting a focus on a character in a car side mirror before picking him up for real as he passes by. The landscapes that the characters traverse are astoundingly beautiful, and while Cimino doesn’t dwell on them, he does make it possible that we get good, long enough looks at them at select intervals. All kinds of quirky characters have been built into the story: most get only a scene to establish their eccentricities, and yet it’s part of the film’s uniqueness that they don’t seem tacked on or added just for the sake of their oddities but form a vital part of the fabric of the film. We’re surrounded by a star cast of unusual people, so it makes sense that those in their orbits should also be a little off. (The characters who aren’t offbeat certainly seem to be weirdoes when surrounded by these unique characters.)
Jeff Bridges earned the film’s sole Oscar nomination as Lightfoot, and his character definitely is one of his most unique creations. Fun-loving and eager-to-please and yet ignorant of boundaries around those who are less welcoming of his bouncy personality, Lightfoot is a true original of the period. Clint Eastwood’s Thunderbolt isn’t the taciturn loner he had often played either making this one of the actor’s more startling and ingratiating characters. George Kennedy returns to the gruff, no-nonsense sadist from his early movie days, and Geoffrey Lewis once again plays the goofy sidekick who often is only barely cognizant of things as they are. In a large cast of character actors who get only a scene or two to show their stuff, look for effective cameos from Garey (as he spelled it then) Busey, Jack Dodson, Burton Gilliam, Bill McKinney, Vic Tayback, Dub Taylor, and Gregory Walcott.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s 2.35:1 Panavision theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is most often excellent apart from a couple of isolated instances, and color is strong throughout with generally accurate flesh tones (occasionally, skin colors may get just a bit rosy). Black levels are only fair, but there is plenty of detail in the images. The film has been divided into 24 chapters (the previous release had only 12 chapters).
The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix is very typical of its era. Dialogue, the sparse music score by Dee Barton, and the sound effects all mesh splendidly into a single track with better than average fidelity. No age-related artifacts like hiss or crackle spoil to succinctness of the sound design.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Audio Commentary: producer Nick Redman, screenwriter Lem Dobbs, and film historian Julie Kirgo engage in a highly enjoyable and quite interesting discussion of the film, its subtext and style, and the effectiveness of Cimino’s directorial debut with a firm hand like Eastwood guiding his steps.
Isolated Score Track: presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0.
Theatrical Trailer (1:58, HD)
MGM 90th Anniversary Trailer (2:06, HD)
Six-Page Booklet: contains color stills and illustrations, original poster art on the back cover, and film historian Julie Kirgo’s pithy summary and analysis of the movie.
Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is one of the most haunting and effective of the 1970s road movie/buddy pictures, and this Blu-ray release presents it by far in its best-ever light. Those who purchased the release two years ago won’t find the few artwork alterations and the clear keep case reasons enough for a repurchase, but those who missed out before now have a second chance. There are only 3,000 copies of this Blu-ray available. Those interested in purchasing it should go to either www.twilighttimemovies.com or www.screenarchives.com to see if product is still in stock. Information about the movie can also be found via Facebook at www.facebook.com/twilighttimemovies.