A blog about movies and filmmaking.

When sidekicks die…or get hurt real bad

In Actors, drama on June 23, 2009 at 4:04 pm

Just as a warning: This post is going to contain spoilers for the endings to movies – and more importantly, characters that die; or get hurt real bad (see the title) – so, feel free to skip this post, or continue reading at your own peril. (See what I did there? I’m the main character, cuz it’s my blog, and you – the reader – are the sidekick, sort of, and it’s your peril…nevermind.)

So one of my favorite movies of last summer was PINEAPPLE EXPRESS, and in that movie there is a character named Red who repeatedly gets abused and disfigured and shot and blown up and all kinds of crazy stuff…and then at the very end while our heroes are sitting in a diner, he dies. Seemingly. But, seeing the things that this character (played magnificently by Danny McBride) goes through was the first thing that I thought of – after crying a little bit – after seeing one of the movies I’m going to talk about.

First, is the 1974 movie written and directed by Michael Cimino – in his first directorial role – and starring Clint Eastwood and George Kennedy, with the sidekick role played by Jeff Bridges. THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, is about two guys who seem to accidentally run into each other (literally) and go on a little jaunt of stealing cars, screwing women and plotting bank robberies. Thunderbolt (Eastwood) and Lightfoot (Bridges) are forced to join forces with former partners of Eastwood’s – played by Kennedy and Geoffrey Lewis – and put into effect robbing the same armored car company that they hit a number of years ago.

The movie is mostly light and fun, for the most part. There’s the never-ending threats of violence to Lightfoot, by Kennedy’s character, the intricate – if eventually unnecessary – plot to keep the alarms from going off, Bridges both on camera (and apparently off-screen) attempts to just Eastwood to laugh. The movie spends a good amount of time showing the characters getting jobs to surveil the place and delivering ice cream. Eventually, after the successful heist, the plan falls apart and Lewis’ character winds up getting shot and dumped out of the car, but it’s Kennedy’s final double-cross, where he pistol whips Eastwood and then viciously beats and kicks Bridge’s Lightfoot, that leads to this fun, young character down the road to dying in a very sad and tragic way.

After awaking from their beatings, they both catch a ride and get out of the small town. They’re taken to the outskirts of a place where after Eastwood’s previous robbery, he had hid the money in a one-room schoolhouse, that had seemingly been torn down. And while walking along a highway, they come upon a site where a number of historic buildings from the town had been relocated and turned into a tourist stop. Going inside, they find that the money is still there, hidden behind a chalkboard. It’s during this scene that Lightfoot starts going unconscious and not being able to use his left arm. Soon, the whole left side of his body has gone numb and he’s slurring his speech.

During the final scene when they’re driving in their new white Cadillac convertible, Bridges finally succumbs, just being there one moment then gone. It’s a horrible scene to see this exuberant character reduced to a half paralyzed man on the verge of death. And it’s sold even more by the reaction to Eastwood’s Thunderbolt, seeing his friend and partner die in front of him. This is something kind of echoed in the movie UNFORGIVEN, where the kid who talks Eastwood’s Will Munny into going on that job quits after realizing that the life of an outlaw isn’t for him. (That movie also containing the tragic death of a sidekick character.)

Bridges received and Oscar nomination for his role in this movie, and is great throughout.

The other character is in a smaller role, but with his death and the resulting battle, I felt more sympathy for those characters than I did for the leads. The movie is the 1992 Michael Mann written and directed story based on the James Fenimore Cooper story THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, starring Daniel Day Lewis, Madelline Stowe, Wes Studi and playing Lewis’ adopted Mohican brother and father, Eric Schweig as the titular character, Uncas and Russell Means as Chingachgook. During the climax of the movie, Stowe and her sister, Alice (played by Jodhi May) have been taken by Studi’s character Magua. Lewis’ character is able to get Stowe’s character released, but the sister is lead away and when Uncas attempts to save her, in a short fight he is quickly dispatched by Magua, only to then be thrown off the cliff they’d been walking along.

This is sad enough, but then when Alice, instead of continuing on with she also jumps off the cliff. It’s meant to be the payoff to a not too well developed romance between these characters, but it’s still very poignant. Having seen this, Chingachgook, runs after Magua where they then face off and Magua is killed and then Lewis and the father mourn the loss.

This little scene was more effecting to me than the rest of the movie and I have to say that for a movie called THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, and seeming to not really develop the character that the story seems to be about; it’s amazing that his death is still the part that really stuck with me.

Sidekicks dying or being severely hurt are not uncommon in movies, and usually played to pull on the heart-strings and usually it seems kind of cliched, but this time these movies got me.

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