Thunderbolt (1929 film)

Directed by Josef von Sternberg
Produced by B. P. Fineman
Written by Charles Furthman
Jules Furthman
Herman Mankiewicz
Starring George Bancroft
Fay Wray
Richard Arlen
Tully Marshall
Eugénie Besserer
Cinematography Henry W. Gerrard
Edited by Helen Lewis
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • July 20, 1929 (1929-07-20) (U.S.)
Running time
85 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Thunderbolt is a 1929 American Pre-Code proto-noir film which tells the story of a criminal, facing execution, who wants to kill the man in the next cell for being in love with his girlfriend. It stars George Bancroft, Fay Wray, Richard Arlen, Tully Marshall and Eugenie Besserer.

The movie was adapted by Herman J. Mankiewicz, Joseph L. Mankiewicz (titles) and Josef von Sternberg from the story by Charles Furthman and Jules Furthman. It was directed by Sternberg.

Bancroft was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.[1][2]


Thunderbolt Jim Lang (George Bancroft (actor)), wanted on robbery and murder charges, ventures out with his girl, "Ritzy" (Fay Wray), to a Harlem nightclub, where she informs him that she is going straight. During a raid on the club, Thunderbolt escapes. His gang shadows Ritzy and reports that she is living with Mrs. Moran (Eugenie Besserer), whose son, Bob (Richard Arlen), a bank clerk, is in love with Ritzy. Fearing for Bob's safety, Ritzy engineers a police trap for Thunderbolt; he escapes but is later captured, tried, and sentenced to be executed at Sing Sing. From the death house, he successfully plots to frame Bob in a bank robbery and killing. Bob is placed in the facing cell, and guards frustrate Thunderbolt's attempts to get to his rival. When Ritzy marries Bob in the death house, Thunderbolt confesses his part in Bob's conviction. He plots to kill the boy on the night of his execution, but instead at the last minute his hand falls on Bob's shoulder in a gesture of friendship.


Rest of cast listed alphabetically:



A pressbook for this film calls it "a story of a hard-fighting man who lives outside the law in the hidden places of the Negro district." Quoting director Josef von Sternberg on casting for the Harlem scenes, the pressbook continues, "we were fortunate that Los Angeles has a miniature Harlem of its own in its Central Avenue district. A thorough search gave us scores of Negroes who have really lived in Harlem. Harlem, which extends from 125th to 140th streets, New York, brings heart-beats of southern plantations to metropolitan civilization. Sensation-seeking Broadwayites make these cafs possible, coming to dance shoulder-to-shoulder with habitues of this black metropolis to the beat of staccato jazz."


  1. The American Film Institute Catalog Feature Films: 1921-30 by The American Film Institute, c.1971
  2. Thunderbolt at
  3. imdb Missing or empty |title= (help)
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