Nine Reasons to Watch 'Thunderbolt and Lightfoot'

Who doesn't love a good crime caper movie? Okay, how about one starring two of Hollywood's most respected stars? And what if I said that this particular film was one that went largely ignored in its day despite the fact that it's entirely worth your time?

That's my set up for 1974's "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot," airing 9 p.m. this Sunday on KCET. It stars Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges, but it ranks among the least-seen films in either of these actors' filmographies. Why is it so obscure? That's a great question: It's stylish but fast-paced, popcorn-ready but open to analysis by "thinkier" viewers. It's a buddy film, to an extent. It's a road movie -- or at least a film where people drive a lot. And, of course, there's a big heist. In short, it's a movie that won't waste your time, but in case that single sentence description isn't motivation enough to tune in, here are nine more reasons.

Eastwood and Bridges in their hunky prime. I won't beat around the bush with this point: When "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" hit theaters, Eastwood was 44 years old and Bridges only 25. They're freaking dreamboats. And while both may specialize today in playing grizzled, manly types, they've got a wonderful, youthful vibe in this film.

Jeff Bridges in drag. Hunkiness notwithstanding, there's also a point in this film where Bridges' character, Lightfoot, dresses like a woman. Yes, it's central to the plot. Yes, it's part of a heist. But that doesn't detract from the strangeness of seeing The Dude himself done up like a dudette.

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The ending. Without giving anything a way, I'll tell you now that it may surprise you. And if you don't see it coming, you may have opinions about when it hits.

Michael Cimino. Though he'd also have "The Deer Hunter" and the "Dirty Harry" sequel "Magnum Force" to count among his box office successes, director Micheal Cimino's career took a definite hit with the 1980 film "Heaven's Gate," an infamously over-budget mess that nearly bankrupted United Artists. Today, it's next to impossible to mention Cimino without also bringing up the colossal floppiness that was "Heaven's Gate," but Cimino's cinematic track record was untainted when "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" hit theaters. It's nice to imagine him before "Heaven's Gate" became a Hollywood codeword for "bomb."

Daisy Dukes herself. Catherine Bach -- the actress who played the original Daisy Dukes, the character for whom the ladies' ultra short-short was named -- appears as Melody, the kind of loose woman who'd hook up with a drifter. It's a brief role, but it's the most prominent female role in the whole film.

Also starring: an angry raccoon and a trunk full of white rabbits. It's sad but true that Hollywood doesn't offer a great many acting gigs for raccoons or rabbits, but how many movies feature both? In a car chase sequence no less? It's a strange enough take on that '70s action movie staple, the car chase, that I'll preview it right here:



George Kennedy says a mean thing to a little kid. He's driving an ice cream trunk and he tells a kid to "buck a duck." Only it's not "buck" but an obscenity that rhymes with "buck." The scene will almost certainly be edited from KCET's broadcast, so this is the only place to hear about it, but whether you know Kennedy better from "Cool Hand Luke," the "Airport" movies or the "Naked Gun" movies, none of his previous roles will prepare you for the snarling grump he plays in "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot."

Your mileage may vary. Is this a crime caper about two guys who just happen to cross paths and end up attempting a heist? Or is it... something more? It's entirely up to you how you view this film, but there's a reading of this film that places the relationship between Eastwood's Thunderbolt and Bridges' Lightfoot somewhere deeper than just heist buddies. In fact, a simple Google search reveals an entire message board thread devoted to whether there's a gay element to the film. Is there? Only Michael Cimino knows for sure. But keep this in mind when you watch the scene at the 15-minute mark in which Bridges' character, despite barely knowing Eastwood's, seems unreasonably broken up about their possible separation.

And perhaps greatest reason to tune in... It's not streamable on Netflix and you can't rent it on iTunes. So if this article piqued your interest, KCET may be the simplest way to watch "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot."

About the Author

Drew Mackie, associate producer of new media, liked shows about old British people before it became fashionable. He also says silly things on Twitter.
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