Thursday, 29 August 2013

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

Lowdown: With the aid of a youngster that saves him along the way, an ex-criminal makes a comeback to redo a notorious robbery.
Back when I was a boy, the bulk of the films I got to watch shared common themes. I watched most of them on TV; they were usually set in rural USA; they usually featured criminals in central roles, often the hero’s roles; and they were focused around action scenes, most of which involved car chases. Obviously, many films, from westerns to sci-fi, fall under the above criteria; but there was that firm commonality and the relatively small standard deviation feel to it. The genre probably peaked with The Blues Brothers, but till then there was plenty of action on the American plane.
1974’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot seems to reside firmly at the average point of my childhood's movie experience. It tells the story of two men, Thunderbolt (Clint Eastwood) and Lightfoot (a young Jeff Bridges) who meet one another under weird circumstances to say the least. Thunderbolt is a priest whose church is raided mid ceremony by a killer keen on the preacher; he is saved by Lightfoot, who happens to be driving a car he had just stolen, bump into the would be killer, and get away with from the scene with a grateful, if aching, Thunderbolt. Friendship follows suit, as the pair goes through a set of adventures in their escape: adventures with the would be killer, again, and adventures with women.
As events unfold we discover more about Thunderbolt’s background. He is a famous bank robber on one hand, but he’s an ethical one at that. Or at least he seems to have a certain code of ethics that makes lovable before movie audiences but allows him to still. Between the killer chasing him, the loot he’s unable to locate, and pressure from Lightfoot, he might join forces to try and recreate the crime that brought him his fame.
At its core, it seems Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a caper story. However, there is more to it than just a caper: there is fine acting, there is the tale of developing male camaraderie, and there are some good action scenes about. I argue that seen from a 2013 perspective, what we have with Thunderbolt and Lightning is a good mirror into the USA of forty years past. A much simpler USA than it is today, as evidenced by the poor special effects when judged by today’s digital standards. A USA that is much less over the top, much emptier, but also much rougher. Thunderbolt and Lightning thus presents a combination of things that were better and things that used to be worse, and works to highlight the differences quite well.
I will therefore argue that beyond the good caper tale, Thunderbolt and Lightning works to provide an enjoyable spectacle in this day and age because it is so different from our regular contemporary servings. It is a two hour history lesson, and a good one at that.
Interesting scenes:
Virtually all the scenes involving women are grossly non PC. I’m not talking about the nudity, although there is some in here; I’m talking about molestation that borders on rape and which was acceptable back then. It reminds me of that line from Grease, “Tell me more, tell me more... Did she put up a fight?”
How times have changed!
Then again, while social standards changed, it is a pity movies feel the need err on the other side of the PC continuum. Obviously, times did not always changed for the better.
Overall: A real blast from the past, which will therefore receive 4 out of 5 stars from me.

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