A Movie A Day #152: Bad Company (1972, directed by Robert Benton)


Missouri during the Civil War.  All young men are being forcibly constricted into the Union army, leaving those who want to avoid service with only two options: they can either disguise themselves as a woman and hope that the soldiers are fooled or they can head out west.  Drew Dixon (Barry Brown) opts for the latter solution but his plans hit a snag when he’s robbed and pistol-whipped by Jake Rumsey (Jeff Bridges).  When Drew coincidentally meets Jake for a second time, he immediately attacks him.  Jake is so impressed that he insists that Drew join his gang of thieves.

Jake’s gang, which include two brothers (one of whom is played by John Savage) and a ten year-old boy, is hardly the wild bunch.  They spend most of their time robbing children and are, themselves, regularly robbed by other gangs, including the one run by Big Joe (David Huddleston).  Their attempt to rob a stagecoach goes hilariously wrong.  Less hilarious is what happens when they try to steal a pie from a window sill.

Bad Company was the directorial debut of Robert Benton and it has the same combination of comedy and fatalism that distinguished both his script for Bonnie and Clyde and several of the other revisionist westerns of the 1970s.  While the interplay between Drew and Jake may remind some of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the film’s sudden bursts of violence feel like pure Peckinpah.  Fortunately, the combination of Robert Benton’s low-key direction and the excellent performances of Jeff Bridges and Barry Brown allows Bad Company to stand on its own.  Brown and Bridges make for an excellent team, with Bridges giving a charismatic, devil-may-care performance and the late Barry Brown holding his own as the more grounded Drew.  (Sadly, Brown, who appears to have had the talent to be a huge star, committed suicide six years after the release of Bad Company.)  This unjustly forgotten western is one of the best films of the 1970s.

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