Continuing the groove of their previous scripts Bonnie and Clyde (1968) and There Was a Crooked Man . . . (1970), screenwriters Robert Benton and David Newman explore colorful crooks from yesteryear in Bad Company, a soft-spoken adventure following a pair of hapless young Civil War-era draft dodgers (Jeff Bridges and Barry Brown) who become outlaws in the wilderness that eventually became middle America. Benton also made his directorial debut with the picture, which is tasteful and understated almost to a fault. A very ’70s story about wandering losers who puff themselves up with bluster and pretense, the movie is gorgeously photographed by Gordon Willis (The Godfather) as a series of moody tableaux, and composer Harvey Schmidt links the film’s episodes with an old-timey score played on solo piano. Presenting the picture as a museum piece delivers sumptuous artistry but sometimes undercuts the wit of the storyline; moments with potential to explode into broad comedy, like a ridiculous brawl in a kitchen, play too seriously because of the gravitas of the photography and storytelling. Yet some funny bits connect just like they should, especially the scenes with priceless character player David Huddleston as the cranky leader of an incompetent criminal gang. Tonal peculiarities aside, Bad Company has many admirable qualities: The dialogue is appealing and authentic from start to finish; Bridges and Brown effectively inhabit their respectively arrogant and sensitive characters; and a very young John Savage appears as one of the heroes’ ill-fated cohorts. Somewhat randomly, Bad Company also contains a tart homage to legendary All About Eve writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who helmed Benton and Newman’s script for Crooked Man. As the capper to his final scene, Huddleston spouts a line that infamous cynic Mankiewicz often used to describe himself: “I’m the oldest whore on the block.” Like many things in Bad Company, the line is slightly out of place but nonetheless memorable.
Bad Company: GROOVY