Feb 12th: “Cutter’s Way” (1981)

Stephen Radford ♫♪
5 min readFeb 12, 2021


Celebrating 28 days of underrated 80s cinematic treasures.

This movie stunned me.

I had no idea it existed, and I almost went crazy trying to track it down to watch for this project. I didn’t want to miss out on something that could very well be the quintessential underrated movie of the 80s. This could even be one that symbolises the sad reality that comes with becoming a gold nugget in a mountain of dirt, only to be washed away with the storm. The 80s were a storm of attention seeking movies. The age of the blockbusters had arrived, and the smaller movies were taking the hit. Movies that I couldn’t find —the Coalminer’s Daughter being one — are still out there waiting to be rediscovered. Small films started to slip between the gaps in the 80s.

On one side there was the blockbusters, but on the other, made-for-tv movies had fast become the vessel for reaching audiences at home. Those that came through were either science fiction b movies, most of which became bundled on compilation dvd packs, or smaller films that contained stars before they were famous, tacked onto front covers as if the movie was all about them. They usually weren’t. Cutter’s Way was somehow left behind. It’s not the brightest or the most life changing movie, but it’s right up there in the profound.


The one factor for a movie being underrated is availability. Cutters Way is a treasure that, even upon release, was not an easy find.

John Heard, as Cutter.

The story itself is straightforward: Richard Bone, played down with nuance by the masterful Jeff Bridges, spots a man dumping a body, and decides to expose the man he thinks is the culprit, along with his friend Alex Cutter — a war veteran, who lost an eye, an arm and a leg in combat in Vietnam.

The bad guy.

Cutter, played with consumed passion by John Heard. Cutter was a tormented soul. A wounded bird. The eye patch worn by Cutter is reminiscent of the classic pirate, and indeed, John Heard leans in with that thought very much in mind. It is hard to believe that only two months after the release of Cutters Way, Escape from New York came out, with the same eye patch, the same hair, and almost the same grit and grime style of wardrobe worn this time by Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken.

John Heard and Jeff Bridges. Cutter, and Bone.

In an interview, John Heard referenced Snake’s character in relation to significant differences. Cutter was an intelligent upper middle class man who was sent out to Vietnam, and merely came back with half a body. He came back with a focus on the outrage. “He felt the need to get even.” John Heard said of his character. “It wasn’t Escape from New York. He had enough education to know that what went down behind the curtain in Vietnam was wrong.” — he merely brought that fight into everyday life.

Thankfully neither part had any forced pirate speak: being 14 years too early for International Talk like a Pirate day, which now falls traditionally on September 19th each and every year since it started in 1995.

But I digress.

Most people think of, or remember John Herd as being the Dad in Home Alone. But that role barely scratches the surface when it comes to his acting abilities, which, in the early eighties was a tour de force of character transformation. Most of this work came from the theatre, with award winning Broadway/off-broadway credits and heavy hitting Shakespeare roles to his name.

By 1981, Jeff Bridges had become one of the most likeable actors in Hollywood. Having come from an actors family dynasty, he found his opportunities very young, and even an academy award nomination for, The Last Picture Show, at the age of twenty-two. In Cutters Way and in many films that came after this, Jeff Bridges was never one to chew the scenery or show-off unless the script demanded it. He kept himself contained within his characters, and for the sake of balance, As Richard Bone, supported John Heard’s Cutter as he battled his way through the movie, with a part sighted glare, a limp and a stagger, with grit and punch.

Since the disaster that was, the movie Heaven’s Gate, United Artists had become sensitive about all things to do with getting a movie to our screen. The stakes were high, and there was nothing cosy about the business anymore. They were tight on budget, tight on casting and tight on scheduling. They weren’t going for the big one, but for many little ones that at the very least turned a profit that satisfied shareholders and guaranteed a future in film production. Once the film was wrapped, they spent $63,000 on promotion. Cutters’ Way wasn’t going to be known or seen by many and indeed, with its budget of 3 million, it was a flop, raking in a meagre 1.7 million domestically. Incidentally, the aforementioned companion eye patch movie, Escape from New York was double the budget and raked in a healthy $25.5 million at the box office. The nature of each story proved that there was really nothing wrong with the characters, but the lack of push for Cutters Way that has made this a very hard to find movie, even now.

It makes me wonder why the studio bothered with this movie at all. Of course, it was the early eighties, and the home video rental market was in full swing — although still yet to peak. Since getting a BluRay release, the movie has finally more visible. It was an unpopular, visually smoky, dialogue heavy, forgotten movie that at the time, wasn’t pared down to suit an intended audience. The audience of today may however find it in them to rinse away the flaws and allow this gem to shine on. It’s a movie that stays with you. That’s something worth holding on to.

Written by: Stephen Radford



Stephen Radford ♫♪

Author, writer Editor, and Story Developer. Podcast, Radio, Film, Music, and Performance — workshop tutor and professional writing mentor.