Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Appropriately enough for the first movie review of the new year, I take a look at the first western of the list, Bad Company.
(1972) Directed By Robert Benton
Screenply by Robert Benton and David Newman
Tagline: They’re young, desperate, dangerous….a long way from home, but a short way from hell.
What It’s About:
During the American Civil War, young Drew Dixon (Barry Brown) flees home with a hundred dollars and heads to the western frontier to avoid conscription in the Union Army. He winds up falling in with a group of like minded orphans led by charming and swift talking young con man Jake Rumsey (Jeff Bridges). Drew cons the ‘gang’ into thinking he robbed a hardware store and dips into his money to outfit them all with horses and supplies for their joint excursion. Times are hard, and after being robbed by a band of outlaws, the boys turn to crime themselves to survive, schooling each other on honesty and loyalty along the trail.
Why I Bought It:
I’m a big fan of Jeff Bridges and the so-called revisionist or acid westerns of the 1960’s and 70’s (like Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, The Hired Hand, and Dirty Little Billy), and actually bought this movie sight unseen after seeing a couple stills and reading a synopsis. This gambit almost never plays out for me, but this time it did.
The movie is very minimalist, with an almost cinema verite approach (in the same vein as The Culpepper Cattle Company and The Ballad Of Gregorio Cortez – see my post The Reel Real West – Seven Gritty Westerns You’ve Never Seen). It’s very diffuse, almost sepia toned like an old photograph, and everything, the acting, the admittedly meandering plot, and the sudden and extreme violence, is very realistic.
There is a scene I love where the boys surprise a rabbit on the prairie and all open fire on it. After running through a virtual firing squad of misses, one of the bullets finally blows the rabbit open, and when Jake commands the youngest of their number to skin the animal, he quickly finds out to his vociferous exasperation that none of them knows how to clean a carcass. He proceeds to show them, and from his readily apparent disgust, it seems he hasn’t ever done it either. Although the skinning of the rabbit is just offscreen, I can’t believe by Bridges’ reactions that he’s not actually cleaning the kill. He’s too young an actor at that point to be able to portray honest revulsion so well.
The interactions between Brown and Bridges are the highpoint of the movie, with Brown a pampered, well educated, cowardly hypocrite, espousing high virtues at every turn (refusing to actually rob a store, refusing to avail himself of the services of a prostitute etc) and yet every bit the con man Bridges’ character is, and plainly less honest (maybe even, for all Jake’s worldly bluster, a little less naive) and loyal. The movie is a morality tale of sorts, about going bad and yet also about retaining personal honor. Brown’s character allows the rest of the gang to go hungry even though he has nearly a hundred dollars hidden in his shoe the entire time. At one point this actually costs one of the boys’ their lives when they try to snatch a cooling pie off the sill of an open window and the resident shoots them dead.
Young Joshua Hill Lewis does a good job as Boog, the aforementioned boy. There’s a scene where Brown is reading Jane Eyre to the gang and Boog interrupts with a breathless story about his murdered father that plays very nicely.
The movie has a host of familiar faces in great ‘character’ roles. David Huddleston is excellent as outlaw chief Big Joe as are Geoffrey Lewis and John Quade as raggedy gunmen. John Savage plays one of the gang, and Jim Davis (a Republic western veteran who appears in my all time favorite Kung Fu episode, The Soul Is The Warrior) is a severe, authoritarian marshal.
As a western nerd, there are some anachronisms I feel the need to point out. If it’s the 1860’s during the Civil War, it’s maybe eight or ten years before cartridge ammunition and revolvers, but they’re prevalently used here. In a great scene after the capture of Big Joe, the lawmen ask him to demonstrate the ‘Curly Bill Spin,’ a gun trick which he claims to have taught to Curly Bill personally. The Curly Bill Spin (variations of it are shown in Tombstone, Wyatt Earp, Young Guns, and The Outlaw Josey Wales) was when you passed your gun to a man butt first but kept your finger in the trigger guard so as the man reached for it, you flipped it up (or spun it up) into your palm, cocking the hammer and gaining a surprise advantage. It was once known as the Road Agent Spin or Border Roll, but Curly Bill’s name got attached to it because he supposedly employed it to gun down Tombstone Town Marshal Fred White in 1880. Again, nearly two decades after Bad Company would’ve taken place.
Paul Rodgers of the band Bad Company did not take its name from this movie as I had always heard, but their hit song does (“rebel souls, deserters we are called, chose a gun, and threw away the sun”), and actually shares the introductory three chords with the movie’s score.
The movie ends somewhat abruptly, but it’s a great character piece and a fine study on the harsh realities of the outlaw trail and making a living as a scavenger and badman.
Best bit of Dialogue: (Drew, writing home to his family) I shot and ate a skunk today. Taste didn’t enter much into it.
The wild and clumsy shootout and the character revelations concerning Drew’s watch are pretty great, but the scene that sticks out in my mind is when the boys encounter a broken down farmer and his wife headed back east with a wagonload of possessions. The farmer tries to warn the boys that there’s nothing but trials and tribulations on the frontier, and winds up offering to let them have sex with his wife for ten dollars. Jake readily accepts and helps the woman down, walking off with her arm in arm into the grass as the husband rolls a cigarette and the other boys argue about what order they will follow Jake in. Not ten seconds pass when Jake lets out a boisterous crowing and a yahoo and comes stiff-walking quickly back, a huge grin on his face, fastening his belt.
He climbs into the saddle of his horse and declares –
JAKE: THAT was a deal!
The bewildered farmer, who hasn’t even lit his cigarette yet, stares open mouthed as Jake mounts.
FARMER: Are you done already?
JAKE: I do not waste my time, mister. After that ride I gave her, I expect she’ll be too tuckered out for the rest of you boys.
The goofy expression of pride and self satisfaction on Bridges’ face is just priceless. Funny, and at the same time, in the context of the scene with the farmer’s initial warnings, heartbreakingly naive and portentious.
Would I Buy It Again: Yes. Great movie.
Up Next In The Queue: The Beast Must Die