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Sunday, August 26, 2012

THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (1974)

Clint Eastwood took a smart gamble on this quirky caper pic, giving the reins to newbie writer/director Michael Cimino. Handsomely shot & well-acted, but already showing the unearned grandiosity that would sabotage his career, Cimino immediately establishes a nice rhythm in this buddy/buddy tale of young drifter Jeff Bridges (in blue socks & magically dirt-resistant, hitched-up white slacks) and on-the-lam bank robber Clint Eastwood, hiding as a traveling preacher when not being chased by ex-partner George Kennedy. Moving north thru a series of escapades & tight escapes, Cimino puts too much eccentric whimsy into every character. But once all the boys gather to restage an old robbery, there’s nobody left to introduce, and the film gains real suspense & excitement. Cimino brings off some big set pieces like a pro, cars & gun play are no problem, but he can’t get his angles to work on a simple fist fight . . . or a bit of sexual horseplay. Which brings up the odd preponderance of homosexual flirtation between Bridges & Eastwood. Platonic buddy/buddy relationships are a staple in this genre, but Bridges goes much farther here, leaning in as if hoping for a kiss, showing off his healthy hetero ways with too much bravado, sharing post-caper cigars with Clint like some post-coital ritual. And Cimino works up the angle, too, needlessly dressing Bridges in drag (fetching drag at that) for his part of the caper and remembering that Shakespeare used the phrase ‘to die’ as a reference to sexual orgasm.* The film’s no classic, but who’d have guessed its promise would turn so empty so fast for its writer/director.

DOUBLE-BILL/SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Bridges, who is just fantastic here, is obviously aware of the gay angle, but did Eastwood get the memo? (And did he check out the poster?!-see above) Perhaps, like Charlton Heston in BEN-HUR (to a jilted Stephen Boyd) or like Ralph Richardson’s Othello to Larry Olivier’s Iago, they didn’t let Clint in on the underlying motivation. Howard Hawks’ buddy/buddy relationship stories are full of this stuff, and never more so than in THE BIG SKY/’52 with Kirk Douglas & Dewey Martin.

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