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.

Check out Jack’s other posts and reviews


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

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

  1. Awesome write-up. Ya know Bridges is an interesting case for me. He was actor that I really payed practically no attention to until later in his career. Now I appreciate his work a lot more. Not sure why that was the case. Anyway, there are plenty of his films I need to go back and catch up with.

    1. jackdeth72

      Welcome, Keith!

      Thanks for the great catch and starting the conversation.

      Jeff Bridges is like any quality character actor. Constantly working and honing his craft in films large and small. Though they always seem better with his inclusion. A lot like Jack Lemmon and Robert Mitchum in that respect. Consistently and solidly punching away until the right role (“The Dude” leaps to mind) appears on the horizon.

      Thanks very much for the compliment. I had a ball aligning and writing this one up!

  2. Jeff Bridges looks different at a young age compared to now. I remember watching him as a kid in films like Tron, Starman and King Kong but didn’t realize it was him until a few recent years ago. Still haven’t seen either of the films you featured but they do sound interesting!

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Asrap!

      Jeff Bridges has been blessed with a baby face. That allowed him to play much younger characters in his very early films, like Peter Bogdanovich’s ‘The Last Picture Show’. Also Robert Benton’s ‘Bad Company’ and ‘Lolly Madonna XXX. While his role in ‘Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’ is Bridges and Eastwood having a ball under Michael Cimino’s direction.

      Which made him a recognized and “bankable” name for ‘Starman’, ‘King Kong’ and other later films.

      I’m glad my critique piqued your interest.

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Michael:

      I caught ‘Winter Kills’ ages ago when Kennedy conspiracy films like it and the Burt Lancaster backed ‘Executive Action’ had their fifteen minutes of fame and faded away. And as a conspiracy films goes, ‘Winter Kills’ works quite well.

      While ‘Cutter’s Way’ is a sadly under appreciated marvel., A laid back California Noir along the lines of ‘The Long Goodbye’. With more sunlight, rain and less Chandler. Very well cast, scripted and executed.

  3. Have to rewatch both of those movies Kevin since I haven’t seen them since around the time of Betamax. LOL.

    It’s a shame DP Jordan Cronenweth is no longer with us. I loved his work on Altered States even if the great Paddy Chayefsky disowned the movie because of not seeing eye to eye with director Ken Russell. In 2003 The International Cinematographers Guild chose the 10 most influential cinematographers which included Jordan along with Billy Bitzer (Birth of a Nation), Conrad L. Hall (Cool Hand Luke, In Cold Blood), James Wong Howe (The Thin Man, Hud), Sven Nykvist (over 20 films with Ingmar Bergman), Vittorio Storaro (Apocalypse Now, The Conformist), Gregg Toland (Citizen Kane), Haskell Wexler (Days of Heaven, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), Gordon Willis (The Godfather, Manhattan), Freddie Young (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago), and Vilmos Zsigmond (The Deer Hunter and yes… Winter Kills). Good company indeed.

    It’s nice to see his son Jeff Cronenweth carrying on the tradition doing Fincher’s bidding with Fight Club, The Social Network and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.

    Hard to believe character actor John Heard has sunk to the level of Sharknado. There’s not much of substance in his filmography going all the way back to 2001. He’ll always be lil Kevin’s oblivious dad to me.

    Wow I thought I recognized Lisa Eichhorn from somewhere when I looked her up on IMDB.. She was quite memorable on the very first episode of the BBC’s MI-5 (aka Spooks in the UK).

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Dave:

      Superb catch on the handing of the torch generationally in regard to Jordan and Jeff Cronenweth! The elder had a great sandbox to play in while filming ‘Cutter’s Way’. And it shows. With wide distant vistas, glamorously expensive yacht clubs during the day. And pitch black rainy night later.

      While son, Jeff has a way of packing as much into the confines of a lens and nearly work magic. A trait shared by Mr. Zsigmond in ‘Winter Kills’. Revealing ripening talents along snowy, damp Philadelphia and other major city streets. That would only improve with time.

      It’s a shame about John Heard. Who has become a kin to Bill McKinney. Who’s great in front of a camera whenever the occasion occurs. Sadly, it hasn’t been often.

      I still have my Betamax. Better control and freeze frame clarity than VHS.I break it out from time to time to play my multi-cassette recording of the 1970s BBC production of ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’.

      And yes. Lisa Eichorn still rocks!

      1. A little tidbit which you may already know. What killed Betamax? VHS’s longer recording times (American RCA felt the need for 4 hr recording times to be able to record NFL Football games where the Japanese Sony Corp. didn’t wan’t to sacrifice recording quality by halving the speed or increase the tape width causing degradation), movies studios choosing VHS meaning less titles for Betamax, VHS machines and cassettes were cheaper and lastly BETA was a proprietary format which was strictly licensed whereas VHS was much looser about their licensing. I know… hard to believe the american people would chose quantity over quality. LOL. Of course people today watch full length movies on their cell phones and crappy VHS quality YouTube videos so it seems like things haven’t changed much, have they Kevin?.

        1. jackdeth72

          Hi, Dave:

          I’m very much in “The more things change. The more they stay the same” camp. Going from vinyl to reel-to-reel, to 8 Track and cassettes and CDs. Visually, from Betamax to VHS, more’s the pity. To DVDs. Which have become vehicles for advertising while leaving the mass marketed story behind.

          Thankfully, I have an old cell phone and a short list of numbers to call.

          And I still miss the pops and sizzles of vinyl!

        2. Also a note on Bill McKinney… after the “squeal like a pig” scene in Deliverance I’m not sure I ever wanted to see him in anything else ever again. LOL. To this day Ned Beatty still won’t talk about that scene much like Jodie Foster won’t talk about Taxi Driver.

          1. Hi Kevin and Dave! Thanks for enlivening up the discussion and enlightening me on your amazing film knowledge guys, hope you’ll take part in this month’s Five for the Fifth as well, curious to hear what you think esp. on Werner Herzog 😀

          2. jackdeth72

            I liked a nearly silent Bill McKinney as one of the recruited assassins in ‘The Parallax View’. And was pleased to see Clint Eastwood include in his stable of actors, actresses, camera, set and stunt men and assorted staff during his early directing films.

            Ned has a hard row to hoe with having his debut film role in ‘Deliverance’.

  4. Ted S.

    I’ve always been a fan of Jeff Bridges, the first movie I saw him in was with Eastwood in Cimino’s Thunderbolt and Light Foot. I’ve never seen these two films though, nice write up on some lesser known films there Jack!

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Ted:

      I was introduced to Jeff and his older brother, Beau when they guest starred as kids opposite their dad, Lloyd in his and Ivan Tors’ TV series, ‘Sea Hunt’.

      Then met him again in the “Must See” date film of the day, ‘The Last Picture Show’. There was a clumsy goofiness about young Mr. Bridges early on. That worked surprisingly well in it. And ‘Fat City’, ‘Bad Company’, ‘Thunderbolt and Lightfoot’ and ‘Starman’ later on.

      I’m glad I’ve given you some titles and food for thought!

    1. jackdeth72

      Welcome, InSession!

      With Jeff Bridges there is a lot to love. Assembling a respectable body of work before being noticed in ‘The Last Picture Show’. Then again for ‘Starman’ long before becoming ‘The Dude’.
      Stepping into and out of the spotlight. Then back in again. In lead and sometimes secondary roles. And always delivering more than was asked or required.

      Thanks very much for commenting! I hope my double bill has pleased and piqued your interest. And I hope to see you drop by and opine more often.

  5. BIG THANKS once again Kevin for these excellent reviews! I’m intrigued by both of these, since I haven’t seen a lot of Bridges’ earlier roles. He does have a baby face in his younger days, in fact, he’s pretty cute, ahah.

    1. jackdeth72

      You’re more than welcome, Ruth!

      I wanted to add some eye candy for the ladies in attendance. While highlighting two very good, but not widely known films. A kind of progression of young Mr. Bridges slipping through the supporting ranks. And proving that he could handle the leads with style, grace, occasional very human klutziness and surprising ease.

  6. Great piece, Jack. A couple of very intriguing films here. I’m especially interested in Cutter’s Way (you had me at “noir” :D). I have been wanting to see more of Bridges’s earlier work ever since falling in love with The Last Picture Show. I’ve also heard good things about Fat City, though that one seems hard to track down…

    1. jackdeth72

      Hi, Eric!

      I was wondering when you would drop in so graciously.

      ‘Cutter’s Way’ is most definitely worth the effort of seeking out. A very laid back, L.A. Noir that moves at its own sedate pace to a splendid payoff.

      Netflix may have it for rent. Though Oldies.com has it to buy on DVD. Probably the same for ‘Winter Kills’ and ‘Fat City’. Which I critiqued for Michael (Leopard 13) several weeks back while focusing on Stacy Keach.

      There was something very human, naive and endearing in Mr. Bridges’ performance in ‘The Last Picture Show’ that warranted closer, later scruitiny. Which paid off well in the films I critiqued here. And ‘Cutter’s Way’ is certainly worthy of a full blown Blu-Ray treatment. With voice over discussions, interviews and the whole nine yards!

  7. Fantastic work Jack. I’ve had Cutter’s Way on my list for ages now but can’t seem to get my hands on it. Hadn’t paid much attention to Winter Kill’s but i will now. Bridges happens to be one of my very favourite actors – definitely in my top 5 – so I’ll watch practically anything he’s in.

    1. jackdeth72

      Thanks very much, Mark:

      Jeff Bridges’ career has been ambling around in the back of my head for awhile. And this seemed a great opportunity to ferret out two of his lesser known roles and give them the proper respect due.

      Glad you enjoyed it.

  8. Victor De Leon

    Oh man, I so dig Jeff Bridges. Both great films! Really good picks. Cutter’s Way is amazing and Cronenweth’s work is astounding. Bridges is such an interesting actor to watch. His turns in “Starman” and “Arlington Road” were incredible. Shoot, I even loved him in “King Kong,” lol. Gotta re-visit these 2 very soon. Thanks!

    1. jackdeth72

      Welcome, Victor!

      Thanks very much for your gracious and insightful comment.

      What’s interesting about Mr. Bridges is his ability to be completely comfortable and familiar with whatever role is given him. Good guy. Bad guy. Sidekick. It doesn’t matter.

      I still think some of his best work was in ‘The Contender’ and ‘Iron Man’ in the bad guy arena. Opposite his role in ‘Arlington Road’ and ‘Against All Odds’ in playing a sap. Also think his shambling, klutzy walk, facial movements when speaking and inability to adapt to Earth’s gravity were inspired in ‘Starman’.

      Great points! I hope to see your thoughts more often.

      1. Victor De Leon

        I recall Carpenter and Bridges went into great discussion regarding how “Starman” should walk and talk. They agreed upon different approaches but what they seemed to really be able to decide upon were the “insect” – like gesticulations and mannerisms. It was meant to be. It garnered Bridges an Oscar nod for his portrayal. And the gravity adjustments you mentioned was indeed a very smart move!

        “The Contender” is another very moody and fantastic role from him. I need to re-watch that as well. Thanks for the reminder and the kind words. I’ll be sure to read more of your very cool posts and pieces. Thanks!

  9. Pingback: » Movie Review – R.I.P.D. Fernby Films

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