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Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is a 1974 crime film starring Clint Eastwood, Jeff Bridges, George Kennedy, and Geoffrey Lewis, directed by Michael Cimino.

Plot summary

A young ne'er-do-well named Lightfoot steals a car. Independently, an assassin is preparing to kill a minister at his pulpit. The preacher escapes on foot after Lightfoot inadvertently rescues him by running over his pursuer.

The two men steal another car from a middle-aged couple at a gas station, then part in a hotel with two girls. Lightfoot learns that the minister is really a veteran bank robber known as Thunderbolt who was hiding with the guise of a clergyman following a successful looting of an armored car company.

Thunderbolt is the only member of the original gang who knows where the money is hidden. He and Lightfoot journey to Warsaw, Montana to retrieve the hidden loot from the old one-room schoolhouse where it was stashed. They discover a brand-new school in its place and conclude that the money must have been destroyed when the old school was demolished.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot unite forces with the men from the original gang, Eddie Goody and the menacing Red Leary. The mastermind of the old gang suffered a heart attack and died some years earlier, and Lightfoot inadvertently killed their electronics expert in his rescue of Thunderbolt. Lightfoot convinces the others to execute another heist -- robbing the same company with a variation of the original plan.

The team returns to Warsaw, taking jobs as cover to make money while they plan the heist. Thunderbolt works as a welder, Lightfoot with a plumbing crew (borrowing the company van to haul supplies for the heist), and Eddie works as an ice cream salesman in a small truck. Red forces Eddie to surveil escape routes and residential neighborhoods.

The robbery is a success, with Thunderbolt and Red managing the inside game, Eddie taking care of the getaway car, and Lightfoot dressing as a female to distract the only security guard and deactivate the ensuing alarm. Thunderbolt uses an Oerlikon 20 mm cannon to gain access to the inner safe and the team escapes with the loot.

The police are soon pursuing them. Red and Eddie hide in the trunk of the getaway car, and Eddie is shot by pursuing police. Red throws him out of the trunk, leaving him to die on a desolate dirt road. Red then enters the main compartment of the car, threatens Thunderbolt and Lightfoot with a pistol, and forces them to stop the car. Once Red has them out of the car, he pistol-whips them both, knocking them unconscious. He then proceeds to kick Lightfoot repeatedly, carrying through on his near-constant threats of violence towards the youngest member of the gang.

Red commandeers the getaway car and finds himself again pursued closely by police. The police shoot the car, striking Red several times. He continues racing through the streets until he encounters a roadblock. Red reverses course and loses control of the car, crashing into a store. Once outside of the car, he is attacked and killed by the store's watchdog.

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot gradually recover from Red's beatings, continuing to escape on foot. The next day, they see a historical monument - a classic one-room schoolhouse from Warsaw, Montana, moved there by the state a couple of years before the second heist. Now a tourist attraction, the schoolhouse is exactly as it was when Thunderbolt hid the money there. Thunderbolt and Lightfoot retrieve the cash and leave after Lightfoot says his arm has become numb and has some trouble manhandling the blackboard hiding the money.

Thunderbolt buys an all-white Cadillac convertible, something Lightfoot said he wanted to do, and encounters Lightfoot hitch-hiking on the outskirts of town. They drive away, but Lightfoot is in obvious distress, unable to move his left arm and slurring his speech. Lightfoot soon succumbs to the injuries inflicted by Red, leaving Thunderbolt as the only surviving member of both robberies.



The script for the film was originally written on speculation by Michael Cimino. Reading it, Eastwood liked it so much that he originally intended to direct it himself. However, on meeting Cimino, he decided to give him the directing job instead, giving Cimino his big break. Cimino later directed the Oscar-winning The Deer Hunter (1978).

Production and release

It was filmed in Fort Benton, Wolf Creek, and Great Falls, Montanamarker during the summer of 1973.

According to Steven Bach's book Final Cut, the film did respectable box office business, and the studio profited, but Clint Eastwood vowed never to work with the movie's distributor United Artists again due to what he felt was bad promotion of it.


Jeff Bridges was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.


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