Thursday, May 29, 2008

Olde Review: Bad Company

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 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 Clyde." "Bad 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

* 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.

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


Anonymous said...

hi, thanks for the mention of "Bad Company" there is a website to the late Barry Brown with a lot of information about his career and also the film.

Yojimbo_5 said...

semper, fi:

Usually, I delete comments that use the comments section for promoting their own web-sites, but in this case, I'll make an exception because Fiona Gell has done a herculean job of cataloging the work of an actor who was really good, and too little known.

We'll never know why Brown took his own life, and given some of his history one could make some idle pointless speculations.

But I remember his work in "Daisy Miller" (he, basically, held it together), and had forgotten he was in "The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid" (probably the best film about the James Gang, still)
and "The Disappearance of Aimee."
Probably more people saw him in Joe Dante's "Piranha" than these other fine films. Sad.

But, it did clue me in to the fact that "Bad Company" IS available on DVD (albeit in a bare-bones presentation). That is good news, and I'm amending my post-scripts to reflect that and including a link to its place at The viewer ratings are interesting--no one's given it a 1-star or 2-star review, which given the high "whack-job" factor of Amazon's typical reviews section says a lot for the film.

Joe-Bob says "check it out."

Octavia said...

Despite the dissimilarities of their personalities, Barry Brown and Jeff Bridges "clicked" as the teenaged "antiheroes" of "Bad Company." If only this movie had enjoyed more success when it was issued initially; had a series of subsequent movies been made, chronicling the events of the duo's
criminal misdeeds, who knows to what heights the careers of both young actors might have risen. (Barry Brown had already been nominated for an Emmy at the age of 19, and more than one reviewer denominated him to be "Academy Award material.")

But, a gem of a movie came out at the wrong time, and is only being rediscovered, albeit a generation later. What might have been...

Yojimbo_5 said...

Thanks for the comment, Octavia!

As a film-teacher of mine once said, "Enthusiasm beats the alternative..."


Given the way westerns died a slow death in the 70's, I doubt that even a successful run of "Bad Company" would have spawned a series of sequels. Might have done some interesting alternate time-lines for the careers of Robert Benton-David Newman, though.

And if you look at Jeff Bridges' career, he's done extraordinarily well. Any actor who can call his own shots as Bridges does is a phenomenal success, given that typically fugacious calling.