Grade: B
Entire family: No (older teens and up)
Crime comedy-drama
1974, 115 min., Color
Rated R for brief nudity, profanity, and violence
Kino Lorber
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: C-
Amazon link

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is an offbeat heist film that also fits the buddy cop/criminal mold, so it holds strong appeal for fans of those genres. Just be aware that the R rating isn’t only for language that now would be considered relatively tame. There’s also one brief scene of full female frontal nudity and another instance where a naked man and woman are shown tied up together with minimal body parts showing—though both scenes are comedic.

This 1974 light drama from director Michael Cimino featured Clint Eastwood at the height of his Dirty Harry popularity, playing opposite a young and perpetually smiling Jeff Bridges, who had already received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for The Last Picture Show and would earn another one for his work on this film. Eastwood, meanwhile, would have to wait nearly 20 years for his first acting Oscar nomination (Unforgiven) . . . but he would take home the statue.

A chance meeting pairs an infamous heist mastermind hiding from some of his disgruntled gang (Eastwood, as The Thunderbolt) with a young drifter looking for adventure (Bridges, as Lightfoot). As Thunderbolt’s problems become his own, Lightfoot suggests they do something audacious: partner with the gang to repeat the celebrated heist, step by step. Hit that Montana bank again, using the same anti-tank gun that the gang did initially.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot has a kind of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid feel to it—a modern “Western” that celebrates the wide-open spaces of Montana as much as it does the carefree yet defiant attitude that partially defined the anti-heroes that emerged in the late sixties and early seventies. In fact, film buffs will recognize George Kennedy in this film from his appearance as the prison top dog in Cool Hand Luke. Gary Busey (the villain in Lethal Weapon) also turns up, as does Catherine Bach (The Dukes of Hazzard). Meanwhile, another seventies’ icon, singer-composer Paul Williams, lightens the mood with the song “Where Do I Go from Here,” and the film gets an infusion of seventies-style quirkiness with a huge number of white rabbits (Calling Grace Slick!).

Dated as the style of the film can seem, the writing, acting, and plot hold up pretty well, but it does reinforce one thing: Eastwood played the same type of character over and over, with that taciturn “speak-softly” yet be ready to beat the crap out of somebody demeanor and the perpetual half-scowl of RBF. It works when best when he’s got people to play off of, and he and Bridges do make for an engaging “couple.”

Language: A handful of f-bombs and a few other minor swearwords, but compared to current films the use of bad language isn’t nearly as frequent

Sex: In addition to the two main scenes featuring brief nudity there’s a man looking at nudie magazines that again are shown, but for comic effect, and one main character brings two “girls” to their hotel room for obvious reasons

Violence: Fistfights, a carjacking, and a violent stomping of a main character—though again tame by today’s standards, both in severity and frequency

Adult situations: These are criminals in the New West, so of course there’s at least one scene where they’re in a bar having a drink—a single drink

Takeaway: Thunderbolt and Lightfoot doesn’t get the props that other Eastwood or Bridges films receive, perhaps because of a title that sounds a little too high-concept for a quieter heist film that takes the time to explore a relationship rather than worrying about when to insert the next car crash or chase scene