Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Olde Review: Bad Company (1972)

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the kid I was back in the '70's a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

Bad Company (Robert Benton, 1972) Bad Company is a wonderful movie. It is wise, it is funny as hell, and it combines death and terror in its comedy. Everyone I know who has seen it has extolled it as a minor masterpiece.

Why, then, wasn't it popular?

Why wasn't it seen by many people?

Well, its stars, although fine actors giving perfect performances weren't "names"--Barry Brown, Jeff Bridges (this film was made soon after he completed The Last Picture Show), John Savage (now on TV),* Jerry Houser (who was an acting dynamo in The Summer of '42), Geoffrey Lewis (the rabbitty Western character actor), and David Huddleston (an all-too-ignored character actor). Gordon Willis, the brilliant photographer of The Godfather and Klute photographed it. And Harvey Schmidt's piano music seems almost a part of the image.
Why didn't it make money? Because it was a modest little production with good ideas and had no Dino DeLaurentiis shelling out $24 million on publicity and gimmicks.**
No, the only things Bad Company had were great unsung performances, an unpretentious direction, and a good story. It is at the time of the Civil War, and a bunch of lads get together to rob, and steal...and survive. They are already outlaws for have refused induction into the military. Drew Dixon decides that it would be best for him to hitch onto a wagon train to the westward territories that are still wild and, more important, are not States of the Union. He falls in with some "rough types" led by Bert Jake Rumsey, and, like Benton-Newman's Bonnie and Clyde, their subsequent partnership results in laughter and death. It was rough out there in the Old West. In the less-than-accomplished hands of one of its own screenwriters, Bad Company became the best adaptation of one of their scripts, better than Bonnie and ClydeBad Company will appear first on the program. Go early and don't miss anything.
And incidentally, Benton and Newman's new movie with Lily Tomlin and Art Carney will be out fairly soon thanks to producer Robert Altman who saw something special in their extra-special little movie and gave them a second film four years after their auspicious debut.***

This was broadcast on KCMU-FM on January 20th, 1977
So...not much to go on as far as description (but I resisted the temptation to change anything in the review), but the film IS good...a little rough in parts, if you're of a sensitive nature—men are shot untheatrically, there are some hangings and a rabbit is skinned (off-camera but the sound design is good). Boys rough-house and, generally, are boys. But, this may be the most unadorned western ever made...with the possible exception of Meek's Cutoff (I should put that one up one of these days). There is literally nothing romantic about this tale of young draft-dodgers heading West to the territorial wild-lands out of perview of the Federal Government. For many, it's an opportunity to start with little, for others it's a chance to plunder what little there is, but there are few rules other than those needed to survive. You sort of make those up as you go. As Huddleston's "Big Joe" says at one point "I'd like to get my hands around the throat of the son of a bitch that told me to 'Go West."
Shot in Kansas, the film is the very definition of "austere." You couldn't even call it "quaint," but, rather, set in "early impoverished." And the performances by the cast are uniformly excellent, with Jeff Bridges in the coltish version of the excellent actor we've come to expect. The one name that might be unfamiliar is actual lead of the film, Barry Brown, who is so good that you wonder why you might not have seen more of him—he starred in Peter Bogdanovich's Daisy Miller, and did a few more bit parts, but committed suicide in 1978. You see him in this and you say, reflexively, "what a waste," but that's true of any suicide.

This is a very good film, and he's great in it. 

* Not sure what this is referring to, although the IMDB has him appearing in a show called "Gibbsville" around the time of this review. Savage would appear shortly in The Deer Hunter.

** Not sure what this means, but I suspect I was making a slam at the new Dino-produced version of King Kong Dino opened it despite my protests.

*** That would be The Late Show which didn't do very well at the box-office as I recall, although Benton would use the old private-eye theme of that film in other movies. And weep no tears for Benton-Newman: they went on to write the first two "Superman" movies. Benton made Kramer vs. Kramer, won the Oscar, and made one of my favorite films Places in the Heart. He's still directing and writing, 2007's Feast of Love, being his last directorial effort.
As of this writing, "Bad Company" (1972) has not been released on DVD. More's the pity, as I'd like to re-acquaint myself with this one. You can buy it on VHS, however.

Since the movie opened, a rock band took the name (inspired by this very movie), and two other films using that title have been released--the latest being a lousy Anthony Hopkins-Chris Rock spy comedy directed by Joel Schumacher. It is available on DVD.

Good news. Bad Company (1972) IS available on DVD--in a stripped-down presentation from Paramount Home Video from 2002. Here is the link to it on

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