Bad Company (1972): Benton’s Directing Debut, Demythologizing the West, Starring Jeff Bridges

Robert Benton’s feature directing debut, based on his and David Newman’s scenario, Bad Company is set during the Civil War and deals with draft dodging.

Drew Dixon (Barry Brown) is a Northern boy who heads out West to avoid getting drafted. While there, he befriends Jake Rumsey (Jeff Bridges), an easygoing con artist. Drew joins Jake’s gang of bandits, who live by their wits and try to avoid confrontation with adult criminals like Big Joe (David Huddleston).

Drew eventually saves Jake from hanging, even though he realizes that his intervention could lead to his own demise.

Jeff Bridges, right after making a strong impression in the 1971 “The Last Picture Show,” gives a stunning performance.

Benton and Newman had previously written Bonnie and Clyde (1967), a seminal picture of the New American Cinema.  There are some thematic similarities between Bad Company and Bonnie ad Clyde.  The (anti) heroes in Bad Company are idealistic youths trying to survive, but ultimately victims of romanticized accounts that push them to the wrong side of the law.  Benton shows greater concern with the demythologizing of the American West rather than a more realistic depiction of the Depress era.

Benton would go on to make more prestigious (but also more conventional films, such as Kramer Vs. Kramer, which swept the 1979 Oscar Awards, including best Picture.

Production values, especially cinematography by Gordon Wllis and score by Harvey Schmidt, are excellent.

This modestly budgeted film became a sleeper due to its entertaining nature and relevant text: Bad Company was released during the height of the Vietnam War, when many Americans wne to Canada to avoid the draft.

 

Credits

Released by Paramount

MPAA: PG

Running time: 92 minutes.

Directed by Robert Benton

Screenplay: Benton and David Newman

Editing: Ralph Rosenblum

Music: Harvey Schmidt

Art Direction: Robert Gundlach