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Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Kino // R // April 28, 2015
List Price: $19.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Randy Miller III | posted April 1, 2015 | E-mail the Author

Dirty Harry-era Eastwood and a young Jeff Bridges in a buddy flick about bank robbers driving through Big Sky Country? Sure, why not? Throw in the second film appearance of Catherine "Daisy Duke" Bach and cameos by the likes of Gary Busey, Vic Tayback (Papillon), and Bill McKinney (Deliverance), and you're got a recipe for entertainment. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974) also doubles as the directorial debut of Michael Cimino, years before his rise to legendary status for The Deer Hunter (1978) and the almost career-ending reception of Heaven's Gate two years later.

Eastwood stars as "Thunderbolt", a nickname given to him by the press after his daring theft at Montana Armored a few years ago with three associates. He's currently hiding out as a small-town preacher before one of his three "old friends" tracks him down at gunpoint, right in the middle of Sunday sermon, over a dispute about their money that remains hidden in a secret location. After escaping, Thunderbolt---who's called "John" exactly once, so let's assume that's his real name---literally runs into "Lightfoot" (Bridges), who'd just stolen a car and accidentally struck the man with the gun. The two get along almost instantly and form something of a mentor-disciple relationship: Thunderbolt's obviously secretive of his past, but the charismatic Lightfoot still manages to read him like an open book.

The first half of Cimino's film, which he also wrote, lets us ride shotgun as their "anything goes" road trip unfolds around constant attempts to avoid Thunderbolt's remaining "old friends", Red (George Kennedy, Airport) and Goody (Geoffrey Lewis, The Wind and the Lion). Whether it's talking about the past, flirting with waitresses, or the occasional trunk full of rabbits, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot virtually bounces around at random before finally settling down during the film's second half, a daring duplicate attempt to pull the very same job at Montana Armored. The stakes are a bit higher and the team is different, but they've got every confidence that things will go off without a hitch.

Unfortunately, their nighttime escapade almost immediately spirals out of control after what appears to be a clean getaway, leading to a number of unfortunate left turns and a climax that's every bit as unpredictable as what came before it. First-time viewers will be drawn in by the film's twisting narrative, wide-open landscapes and peppered suspense, not to mention terrific performances by its lead and supporting actors and a loose structure that helped create a blueprint for buddy films during the next several decades. In hindsight, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot's only missteps are a few too many disjointed, random encounters early on, as well as the repetitive and misogynistic treatment of at least 80% of its limited female cast. Still, this largely enjoyable adventure holds up well and remains a career highlight---or at least an interesting diversion---for almost everyone involved.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot first appeared on DVD roughly fifteen years ago, in a relatively barebones package that eventually went out-of-print and commanded high prices from third-party sellers. Last year, Twilight Time finally came to the rescue and gave the film a much-needed Blu-ray upgrade that even threw in a few extras...but, as expected, the limited edition release quickly sold out and commands similarly high prices. Kino Lorber's new DVD splits the difference: though Twilight Time still holds the rights to Thunderbolt and Lightfoot in high definition, this SD release uses the Blu-ray's source elements and easily eclipses MGM's old disc. So while it's second place to Twilight Time's edition in every department, this (comparatively) low-priced effort is still an appealing option.

Quality Control Department

Video & Audio Quality

Twilight Time's out-of-print Blu-ray represented a huge leap in quality over MGM's 15 year-old DVD, and thankfully this release uses that newer source material as the basis for its solid 2.35:1, 480p transfer. Image detail is quite good and colors pop nicely during outdoor sequences (especially that American flag); dirt and debris is scarce and there are no flagrant digital imperfections along the way. Nighttime sequences obviously don't fare as well: shadow detail is limited and there are moments of persistent flickering, but it's nothing major and likely due to the source material. Overall, the visuals are quite good from start to finish, showcasing big Montana landscapes that make good use of that wide aspect ratio. Unless you're completely adamant about owning the Blu-ray, there's a lot to like here.

DISCLAIMER: These compressed and resized screen captures are strictly decorative and do not represent DVD's native 480p resolution.

The audio is presented in its original Dolby Digital mono format and defaults to a two-channel spread, with a moderate and almost surprising amount of depth at times. Dialogue and background effects are well-balanced and don't fight for attention, while a few stray moments of low end support several of the music cues along the way. Defects are minimal, though I did notice some tinny distortion during at least one of the many interior car scenes; this is most likely a source material issue. Thankfully, optional English subtitles have been included during the main feature.

Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging

The disc's interface replicates an original poster design and key moments from the film; it arrives in a standard black keepcase with cover artwork identical to the menu. It's dual-layered with a switch right after the 65-minute mark.

Bonus Features

Just the film's rough-looking and spoiler-heavy Theatrical Trailer (2 minutes), as well as an exclusive Poster Gallery that includes a dozen or so domestic and international designs in 16x9 format. This means, of course, that Twilight Time's excellent audio commentary and isolated score are not included, but that's not exactly a surprise.

Final Thoughts

Though not without a snag or two along the way, Thunderbolt and Lightfoot holds up as an entertaining road trip with great performances from Eastwood, Bridges, and the supporting cast, while the film's "anything goes" attitude maintains a broad and lasting appeal for new and seasoned fans alike. If you were lucky enough to snag a copy of Twilight Time's Blu-ray last year, consider yourself lucky...but Kino's new DVD package is a perfectly suitable runner-up. This appears to use the same source material as its Blu-ray counterpart, but it's obviously limited to standard definition (480p video, lossy audio) and doesn't include a few Twilight-exclusive supplements. Die-hard fans may want to save up for the superior Blu-ray, but everyone else will appreciate this more affordable option. Recommended.

Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.
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