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.

Guest Post: Six directors’ career who got derailed by box office bombs

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Film directors know that it’s hard to make movies in Hollywood; it’s even harder to actually make a successful one. So when some of them hit the jackpot and make a box office hit, studio executives and fans are expecting nothing less from them in their next film. In the last few years, some filmmakers like Spielberg, Nolan, Fincher and Scorsese seem to be able to churn out hit after hit, but for some, that’s not the case. Below are some directors who’ve had one or two box office hits but haven’t made another successful film since.

1. Andrew Davis

Davis is a native of Chicago and shot most of his films there, and he started in the 80s making small-budget films. Then he got a shot at his first action film, Code of Silence, followed by another action flick, Above the Law. The first film starred Chuck Norris and the latter was Steven Seagal’s debut film. They were modest hits but nothing spectacular. In his next film he got to work with couple of big-name stars. He made The Package starring Gene Hackman and Tommy Lee Jones, but unfortunately the film was a failure at the box office. Nevertheless, he made a name for himself with those three pictures, so he reunited with Seagal and Jones for his next film: Under Siege, his first big hit. He followed that with his biggest hit ever, The Fugitive. After The Fugitive, he was offered a lot of big tent pole projects, but he decided he wanted to make a smaller film. He didn’t know it, but that was the biggest mistake of his career. The following year he made a film called Steal Big Steal Little, a dramedy that was ignored by both the critics and audiences alike.

He went into panic mode to recover his career, and then made a very awful movie called Chain Reaction (starring Keanu Reeves who was also in a slump). Fortunately for Reeves, he bounced back a few years later with a little film called The Matrix. For Davis, on the other hand, the damage was already done and all the offers from the studios disappeared along with his fading career. I think the last film he made was The Guardian, which ironically starred another has-been, Kevin Costner.

2.  Michael Cimino

Cimino directing Christopher Lambert in The Sicilian

Cimino’s career started out on a high note. He first wrote a screenplay to Dirty Harry’s sequel Magnum Force, and he then directed Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (a much underrated film from the 70s). His next film, The Deer Hunter, turned out to be his biggest hit. Not only was the film a box- office success,  but it also won best picture and Cimino took home the best director award at the Oscars in 1979. Unfortunately for Cimino, his next picture was his downfall, the godfather of all box office failures, Heaven’s Gate (one of Hollywood’s ‘forgotten’ misfires). The film not only destroyed Cimino’s career, but it also bankrupted the studio that financed it, United Artists. Cimino did a few films after the Heaven’s Gate fiasco, but he couldn’t recover his career. He’s now pretty much disappeared from Hollywood.

3. Kevin Costner

This might be a controversial pick since Costner only directed three films. Well,  he also directed parts of Waterworld after that film’s original director walked off the set. Anyhoo, his first directing gig turned out to be his biggest box office hit: Dances with Wolves earned close to $200 million at the box office and won several awards at the Oscars—including best picture and director. Unfortunately for Costner, his next directing gig, The Postman, was one of the biggest box office duds of the decade. His next film, Open Range, was very good but it didn’t earn a lot of money and it earned little respect from top critics. He’s currently attached to direct a film called A Little War of Our Own. Since his leading man status is way behind him, he should just focus on directing films. Who knows? He might have a big comeback with his new film.

4. Antoine Fuqua

Fuqua started out directing music videos, and then made a couple of low-budget action films. His breakout film was Training Day; it’s still his highest-earning film. Unfortunately for Fuqua, his next two films, Tears of the Sun and King Arthur, were box office misfires, and they cost a lot of money to make. He was supposed to direct American Gangster right after King Arthur, but he was fired from that picture because he demanded more money and wanted to shoot the film entirely in NYC. The studio wasn’t willing to oblige him since his previous films were huge failures. Currently he’s attached to a few projects, and he’s not sure if any of them will make it to the big screen. I don’t know if he’ll ever have the success he had with Training Day. I think he’s a capable director—but nothing special.

5. Renny Harlin

Harlin’s biggest hit was Die Hard 2; he followed that up with Cliffhanger, which was a modest hit. In 1995 he made Cutthroat Island, and that is still considered one of the biggest box office flops of all time. The film cost more than $100 million, but it only earned about $10 million. The next year he made The Long Kiss Goodnight, another big-budget action film that tanked. Even though his two previous films failed at the box office, Warner Bros. still gave him $80 million to direct Deep Blue Sea. It opened in the summer of 1999 and was considered a modest hit. In 2001 he reunited with Stallone and made Driven, another $70 million picture. Unfortunately the film only earned about $30 million, and Harlin’s career was pretty much in the dump. He made a few films after Driven, but most of them either went directly to DVD or never opened in American theaters.

6. Jan De Bont

De Bont on the set of Tomb Raider 2 w/ Gerry Butler & Angelina Jolie

Jan De Bont started out in the film industry in the 1960s as a director of photography. Some of the famous films he shot were Die Hard, The Hunt For Red October, Basic Instinct and Lethal Weapon 3. His directorial debut was a 1994 summer flick, Speed, and it turned out to be a huge hit. He followed that up with another summer flick, Twister, and again it was a huge hit. So with two huge box office hits in a row, studio executives were kissing his butt and he decided to do Speed 2. Well, as it turned out Speed 2 was his kryptonite. The film cost more than $160 million to produce and reportedly De Bont was a mad man on the set. He and his leading man Jason Patric were constantly fighting during the shoot. The film opened in the summer of 1997, the critics tore it to pieces and most people ignored it. The film ended up being one of the biggest box office busts of the 90s.

De Bont had a couple of big films he intended to direct after Speed 2.  One was a huge budget action-adventure picture about a group of elite special forces hunting down the world’s worst terrorists. Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon films, Die Hard films, The Matrix films) was going to produce and they were eyeing either Eddie Murphy or Wesley Snipes for the lead role. For the younger readers out there, Murphy and Snipes were quite big stars back in the 90s. The other project was the Godzilla remake. If I remember correctly, De Bont asked Sony to give him $200mil to make the film. Of course he didn’t get to direct either of those since Speed 2 was a huge failure and studio executives didn’t want him to be in charge of their tent-pole pictures anymore.

Somehow De Bont was able to get $80 million from Dreamworks to make The Haunting, another bad film. It wasn’t as big a failure as Speed 2, but by this time it’s clear De Bont’s not in the A-list director class anymore. The last film he directed was Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, another bad film that tanked at the box office. That was the last film project he was involved in, and he hasn’t done anything since.

Article edited by Bob Filipczak


Well those are some directors who have had one or two hits in their resume, only to watch their career fizzle after one bad movie. It goes to show how tough it is to stay on top of your game in Hollywood. Now some of these directors might have another hit in the future. If I was a betting man, I would pick Kevin Costner as the one with the best shot of returning to the top again.