"I'd like to get my hands around the throat of the son of a bitch that told me to go west."
I was discoursing the other day (I kinda do discoursing) on the abysmal quality of early-1970s Westerns (click here for those pearls of wisdom) and indeed many of those movies were shockingly bad. But they weren’t all terrible. I'm not saying that Bad Company is a great film, certainly not, but it’s no shocker either, and parts of it are rather good.
Jeff Bridges, then 22, topped the billing as Jake Rumsey, though in reality it is Barry Brown, as Drew Dixon, who is the central character. Mr. Bridges, son of another good Western actor, Lloyd, has become something of the grand old man of the Western since his role as Rooster Cogburn in the Coen brothers’ version of True Grit, but this was his first outing in the saddle. He went on to do Rancho Deluxe and Hearts of the West, take a smallish part in Heaven’s Gate, then star for Walter Hill as Wild Bill.
Jeff's first Western
Posse of kids
Ohio Methodist trying to stick to the straight and narrow
Lewis as bumbling outlaw
Marshal Jim Davis is arresting officer, judge and jury
Not a nice man
It’s filmed in a kind of washed-out color designed, I guess, vaguely to suggest sepia. It was shot in some nice Flint Hills, Kansas locations by Gordon Willis, who did The Godfather parts and various pictures for Woody Allen, but this and Comes a Horseman were his only Westerns.
There are two scenes which were shocking – to me, at least. One was where a homesteader returning from a failed life out West casually sells his wife for sex to the boys, a scene played for laughs, really, but chillingly unfunny, and the other when the small boy is shot in the head for stealing a pie, this latter all the more effectively done by not showing the murderer: we just hear the shotgun blast from the window.
He is bored. She is used to it.
As Roger Ebert said, “The boys are held together by no greater bond than the fact that they happened to start out together. They steal each other's horses and guns, abandon each other, save each other's lives and then cheerfully pull a double cross. Their world is totally pragmatic.”
He also wrote, “The movie is built as a series of more-or-less self-contained episodes, and the episodes that work are worth the effort. But we get the feeling the movie doesn't know where it's headed and the last scene (one of those freeze-frames that's supposed to crystallize a significant moment for us) left me suspended in midair. If there were ever a movie that just plain stopped, instead of arriving at a conclusion, this is it. Still, there were some good moments along the trail.”
Buddy movie - sort of
Brian Garfield said of the movie, “I found it banal and tasteless”. Myself, I see what he was getting at but on the whole found it better than that. It even had some charm. It’s violent and cynical in an early-70s way, yes, but I think it’s the hopeless naivety of the boys that is quite endearing, in a twisted fashion.