Sunday, February 13, 2011

Bad Company (1972)

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


Jamal said...

I am a big fan of the western, and "Bad Company" is one of my favorites.Young Jeffery, young Johnny and the young actor Barry Brown who died really young so we didn't get to see who he would become as an actor. Sad.

squeak said...

Liked Bad Company---it's rarely ever shown on TV, and dosen't seem to be on streaming, so I got it on VHS years ago. What's unique about it is that it comes off like a deconstruction of the typical Western, in that neither one of the main characters are heroes, one of them is trying to avoid getting drafted into a war, and they're both basically running away to try and find a new life in what turns out to be a very tough frontier with no idea of the troubles and crazy people they're run into. Something horrible happens to a child, which is something you rarely see in westerns. Actor Barry Brown, who played the young guy trying not to get drafted, unfortunately committed suicide only a few years after appearing in this film and a few others---I've read he struggled with depression, and that he was also gay, but the latter was more of a problem for him. He's very adorable and good in this film as the good guy, though.