Jeff Bridges Double Feature – Winter Kills (1979) & Cutter’s Way (1981)

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Greetings all!

Coming off a hectic few weeks of family reunions and furniture moving. I’ve let my mind wander into dark corners and crevices of film history and lore. Finding. Picking apart and discarding some of the contemporary media’s ideas of legacies and generational handing down of the family’s thespian trade.

Martin Sheen (nee Ramon Estevez) and his sons may be contenders for a later edition. After Jon Voight and his daughter, Angelina Jolie. Though, for a premiere, you want to bring out they heaviest hitters first. To that end, allow me to introduce one the progeny of one of the last great character actors of the Hollywood firmament.

Jeff Bridges: Coming Off the Blocks.

I’ll be picking up from when the younger Mr. Bridges first caught the nation’s and world’s eye in Peter Bogdanovich’s The Last Picture Show and Michael Cimino’s Thunderbolt and Lightfoot. And focus on two films where his talents are placed front and center.

Winter Kills (1979)

WinterKillsPosterIn a better than average and surprisingly satiric adaptation of the best selling novel by Richard Condon. Young Mr. Bridges plays the spoiled, pampered and influential younger brother of assassinated President Timothy Keegan (Read: JFK). Who happens across a dying man who admits to being the gunman nineteen years earlier.

Which opens up a skein of slowly unraveling loose ends as young Nick stumbles about and starts following leads from Philadelphia. To New York and a meeting with his corporate magnate father, Pa Keegan (A slightly more slimy take on patriarch Mulwray, from Chinatown). And his unintentionally funny, fidgeting, near stuttering, paranoid neurotic head of security, John Ceruti, (Anthony Perkins). Plus the gift of a blackjack with sentimental value from Pa. Should Nick need protection slightly more legal than an unlicensed pistol.

Moving westward with his girlfriend, Yvetter Malone, (The beguiling Belinda Bauer) through major cities to L.A. Avoiding death’s touch by mere seconds as those with information fall mysteriously by the wayside. Punching more and more holes in the recently published Congressional Investigation. Revealing clandestine connections to organized crime through Ralph Meeker’s “Gameboy” Baker and Eli Wallach’s Joe Diamond.

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Top Pics: Anthony Perkins and Belinda Bauer

Things become a bit murky with the introduction of Richard Boone’s protective hand holder, Keifitz and an oddly miscast, long haired and bearded Sterling Hayden’s Sherman tank driving, World War II re-enactor Z.K. Dawson. Then clear up as the prodigal son returns to Pa’s corporate headquarters and a final confrontation.

Now. What Makes This Movie Good?

Tall, lean, initially naive Jeff Bridges being the impetus of a near last minute shake down cruise to find and erase any lingering flaw or problems that surround and are part and parcel of the highest of visibility hits. Unearthing those who were not directly involved, but more of the underlings and middle men who shine light upon where to travel next.

As Mr. Bridges shares time with a plethora of cinematic veterans. Each adding their own takes and two cents to the changing and developing plot. Where eventually all roads lead back home to Pa Keenan and his near maniacal desire for power. If not his own, then his chosen scion, Timothy.

.What Makes This Film Great?

A cross country tale that begins in snowy, cold and damp Philadelphia and the quietest murder of a potential witness on film. And travels quickly north and west. With mood setting on location cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond. When not presenting ultra modern, computer bank laden, world wide commerce, “Big Board” futuristic surroundings of the dimly lit security offices Ceruti calls home. Or presenting parts of the deserts outside White Sands that Sterling Hayden’s Dawson calls home in the most creatively inhospitable ways.

Interspersing crowded city streets, elegantly opulent restaurants. High fashion that occasionally rubs elbows with the seamier criminal element. Amidst missing gunshots and badly timed explosions.

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And through it all, young Mr. Bridges maintains an even strain through changing and sometimes tragic events. While never losing his focus and discovering more. A role that helped cement my opinion early on Mr. Bridges’ supremely seamless comfort and ease in front of a camera and giving memorable life to any role.

Which guides us to the less known follow on (Though some may disagree) film of this End of Summer Double Feature. One that had no real ad or preview campaign to speak of. Had its title changed from the original Newton Thornburg novel, Cutter and Bone by the suits at United Artists. After holding their nose at the thought of marketing the film. Then gladly disavowed it the next day.

A film whose premise would be right at home under the deft touch of Bud Boetticher twenty years earlier. Given a few modern twists. With an arrogant real estate mogul replacing the evil cattle baron. The way he treats the businesses and people of his small town outside Santa Barbara. Add an odd murder. And follow how a few of the local town folk go about their way of seeking justice.

Cutter’s Way (1981)

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One of the first and most notable modern Noirs. Splitting its time between Yacht and Country clubs. Quiet suburbs and what goes on between the rows of vineyards, just starting out Mom and Pop shops, expensive stables, horse farms and rising. Sprawling, near completed suburbs. In other words, prime, ominous shadow country.

That begins on the night of a late night torrential summer downpour. And segues nicely under the roof of a awkwardly stalled convertible. Where past yacht club party boy, Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) glimpses what looks like someone taking something large out of a ominously dark limo and tossed into a Dumpster.
Bone is at first a suspect. Spends the night in jail and doesn’t think much of it until he relays the tale to his friend, Alex Cutter. A badly wounded and disfigured Vietnam veteran, who’s gotten on the wrong side of a frag during an ambush. John Heard doesn’t even bother setting limits on a righteously angry man with a hard on for everyone and sees conspiracy everywhere.
And Cutter and Bone have a resplendent back yard to go sleuthing after evenings spent drinking with Cutter’s lithe, hot and far too smart for her own good, Lisa Eichorn’s ‘Mo’. Leaving plenty of room for Bone to be charmingly low key and discreet. Where Cutter is used to being ignored, leaned on, pushed around or slugged at the drop of a pertinent question. Becoming the beleaguered Battle Axe to Bone’s rapier as layers of mystery are tugged on and fall away as an onion.
Leads start to slowly reveal themselves and fall into place. As the parcel that was dumped
may well have been a mistress of evil land developer, J.J. Cord (Stephen Elliot). Who Bone believes he recognizes during a weekend fiesta. Pressure increases as time begins to run out as an opening for a confrontation appears with the post fiesta party on Cord’s estate. Invitation only, but that doesn’t slow down Cutter or Bone…

Now. What Makes This Film Good?

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Enjoying director Ivan Passer‘s visual style. Alternating between brightly sun lit, rough and tumble, hard scrabble acreage that is now the land of milk and honey. Expensively opulent and slipped yachts and the most frightening and depressing “dark and stormy nights”. An excellent backdrop to a mystery that moves at its own sedate pace as mood and atmosphere vie for equal footing with just how different life is for the filthy rich.
Cinematography by Jordan Cronenweth is top notch. Revealing the cleverness first hinted at in his earlier Rolling Thunder, Altered States and would be expanded upon with Blade Runner. Original soundtrack by Jack Nitzche is sparse, but heightens mood expertly when the need requires.

What Makes This Film Great?

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The teaming up of Mr. Bridges’, laid back, content and lackadaisical Richard Bone. Who has never had to take a hard decision in his life. With perpetually angry, eye-patched and one-armed John Heard‘s Alex Cutter. To whom most of society is an obstacle meant to be challenged, scaled and conquered. With no real friends outside of Bone and his wife, ‘Mo’.
And who may not be averse to the idea of Mo and Bone getting closer together. Though Cutter is the more explosive and volatile, Cutter often acts a moral conscience to keep his friend in check. Lest it draw too much attention from Cord and his minions. At first. Though Cutter becomes the driving force during and just after the Summer Festival.

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Thoughts on Jeff Bridges and/or either one of his earlier films? Let it be known in the comments.