CUTTER'S WAY is a film noir in the sense that it deals with a mystery, fatalism and fringe characters. A drifter gigolo named Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) is introduced to us while shaving his mustache with a woman's electric razor after he and said woman have had apparently unsatisfying intercourse. She nonetheless ends up giving him twenty dollars (almost seemingly out of pity) and he goes on his way. Bone then ends up witnessing a man dump a girl's body into an alley trash can that same dark and rainy night. He doesn't think he got a good look at the guy, but he has s moment of epiphany where he thinks he sees him at a parade. The guy he's id-ing happens to be a rich and powerful local oil man. Bone would just as soon not get involved, but he's got one little problem: his friend, Alex Cutter (John Heard in what is perhaps his greatest performance), an alcoholic, crippled Vietnam vet with a limp and one eye. Cutter seizes on the idea that this rich guy killed the girl and will not let go of it. Things kinda spin out from there. The movie is a bit downbeat, but the characters speak in snarky back and forths and Cutter in particular is like some kind of mad genius poet laureate. He talks very intelligently and yet is one of the most self-destructive characters I've ever seen. He's truly given up on life and has been wallowing in his own misery and booze for who knows how long. This murder situation is seemingly the closest he's been to inspired in some time. So he and Bone dive into it and not surprisingly find themselves in over their heads. In her very eloquent essay (included in the booklet with this disc), Julie Kirgo compares CUTTER'S WAY to CHINATOWN. I had never thought of the two together, but I can absolutely see it. CUTTER'S WAY is a similarly labyrinthine mystery - albeit less epic and sprawling than CHINATOWN. Both are California noirs, with CHINATOWN taking place in and around Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley and CUTTER'S WAY playing out in the coastal community of Santa Barbara. A lot of things about CUTTER'S WAY are more laid back and that certainly starts with its central location. Richard Bone and Alex Cutter's investigation and contrived "plan" to trap the murderer are not all that well thought out and kind of naive in their over-arching simplicity. That all plays into the noir fatalism as far as I'm concerned though. These outsiders could be seen as losers who have just decided to seize an opportunity to take down "the establishment" (as they have personified it). The other key components to this tale are the women. Cutter's wife Mo (played exquisitely by Lisa Eichhorn) has become a worn down alcoholic herself after years with him. She and Bone have a complicated relationship. He definitely harbors some lustful feelings for her (which Cutter is aware of and sometimes teases them both about), but she seems to have kind of written him off a bit despite him being a near-permanent fixture in she and Alex's home. Mo is lonely though and Bone is one of the only people who can even remotely understand what she is going through day to day in her dealings with Cutter.
Also entangled in things is Valerie (Ann Dusenberry), the sister of the murdered girl whose intentions with regards to her sibling's demise seem somewhat less than completely selfless. The three 'crusaders' (Cutter, Bone and Val), feeding off each other's paranoid energy and suspicion, carry out their plan to the best of their ability and things climax in a remarkably enigmatic way. This ending (which I love) could not have and did not help the film's relationship with its studio and that resulted in re-titling and re-cutting and a general casting aside of this amazing movie. Truly the makings of a sleeper favorite (a situation which isn't quite as prevalent these days). It has been on my radar and a favorite of mine ever since I stumbled across Danny Peary's mention of it in his book Cult Movies 2. I must shamelessly excerpt some of Peary's writing on the film:
"Admittedly, I was slightly disappointed in CUTTER'S WAY when I first saw it. I agreed with those who complained it was boring in spots, confusing, and had three of the most infuriating lead characters in cinema history. But as I have come to learn, it is a picture that demands several viewings to be judged fairly, simply because it takes that long to break bad viewing habits. CUTTER'S WAY can be enjoyed only by those willing to accept certain facts: a movie with a whodunit needn't be about the mystery; the lead characters needn't be crowd pleasers; ambiguity can be intentional, and also profound."
I do agree with Peary that this film can certainly hit its stride with you during your second or third watch. I've seen it at least four or five times now and it has truly become a favorite. Though the characters can be a bit self destructive (to say the least), they are unapologetically portrayed as the damaged humans that they are. I find myself relating to the film more and more as I get older. Cutter's outlook, though dour as hell, has something inside of it that rings true. Through all his sarcasm and anger, it's possible to see what he is trying to seek out by latching onto this one mission as the thing that will be his latter-day legacy. After all, aren't we all kind of looking for our own legacies?
For more chatter on the film, listen to Josh Olson's for Trailers From Hell:
CUTTER'S WAY can be purchased via Twilight Time's site here:
THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT (1974; Michael Cimino)
Road movies were a wonderful staple of the 1970s. They were different than the road movies of today (as were most 70s takes on the types of films we still see today). The road films of the 1970s were much more existential and certainly something like TWO-LANE BLACKTOP is the quintessential example of this kind of thing. THUNDERBOLT also has a certain kinship with EASY RIDER as well. These movies could kind of be called "road to nowhere" in that were often much more about the journey itself than the destination. There are many reasons that THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT has stood the test of time and has a solid cult following to this day. You can start with the cast of course. Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges together are some kind of dynamite combination. After that you have one of the most remarkable galleries of character actors of any film I can think of. Let me just lay out the roll call for you: George Kennedy, Geoffrey Lewis, Gary Busey, Catherine Bach, Bill McKinney, Vic Tayback, Dub Taylor and others (including some faces that will be familiar to Sam Peckinpah fans).
After the cast you have a young director named Michael Cimino who wrote the script and was making his first film here and it's up there with the best debut films ever in my opinion. For me, it's my favorite Cimino film ever. This movie is also one of those lovely 2.35 to 1 widescreen films of the 70s. It is a gorgeously shot (mostly in Montana I believe) film with fantastic landscapes, fast cars and lots of young ladies.
Twilight Time's Blu-ray does the film plenty of justice in the transfer department. Lovely to look at. In addition to that, the folks there have included another crackerjack commentary track from Lem Dobbs, Nick Redman & Julie Kirgo (see my recent Twilight Time reviews for more praise of these folks and their commentaries). When I see that one of these tracks is to be included on a TT disc, I absolutely cannot wait to listen to it. This commentary is no exception and may be my favorite of the commentaries they've done due in no small part to the fact that I just adore this movie and was anxious to hear what they had to say about it. It fits right in with the string of commentaries I've heard from Twilight Time this year already. Great stuff. Tons of excellent observations, analysis and so forth that I really enjoyed. One thing they point out here is that this film was a Malpaso production (Eastwood's company) and that Clint undoubtedly had an impact on Cimino and the filmmaking in THUNDERBOLT. Eastwood is of course famous for his "we got it, let's move on" mentality of very few takes for each scene (whereas Cimino would later become famous for just the opposite style). Apparently Eastwood said that directors who did tons of takes were more "guessers" and that directors who knew what they wanted and what they were doing didn't need to do that. Very insightful (as is this whole track which is a splendid supplement to this fantastic film). As I've said before, it's always outstanding to hear a scholarly commentary track that isn't dry and is clearly being done by people that truly love the movie they are talking about.
THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT can be purchased via Twilight Time's site here: