BAD COMPANY: 50 Furious Westerns Series
Every now and then we at Furious Cinema turn to one of our favorite classic genres, the western. We’ve previously posted a list of 50 Furious Westerns, and to build on that, we’re launching a series of in-depth looks at some classics of the genre. No rules.
Bad Company (1972) Directed by Robert Benton
In 1863 during The Civil War, the Union Army is seeking out and capturing any draft evaders. One of these is a young man named Drew Dixon (Barry Brown) from a well to do Ohio family who has successfully avoided the law and is headed to St. Joseph, Missouri. From there he will take a train to Virginia City where The Union hasn’t taken control yet.
While Drew is walking on the bustling streets of St. Joe, a young transient named Jake Rumsey (Jeff Bridges) tries to make small talk then knocks him out in an alley and takes his cash. A dazed Drew wakes up and stops at a nearby family friend’s home to rest. Coincidentally, Jake also shows up there and quietly tries to steal some items but when he accidentally makes a noise, Drew inspects what’s going on and the two get into a scrappy brawl. When they finally take a break from beating each other up, Jake asks Drew if he wants to join his gang of teenage thieves. They include Jim Bob (Damon Cofer) Loney Logan (John Savage), Arthur Simms (Jerry Houser), and the youngest, Boog Bookin (Joshua Hill Lewis). Drew reluctantly agrees and the boys begin making their way West together.
As they travel through the badlands, their initial expectations of living carefree and finding fortunes turns to dissapointment and desperation. In one telling scene they kill a rabbit but noone know how to clean it, so Jake takes the critter and skins it. As he rips the flesh and digs out the bloody guts, the others look on in disgust. When Jake completes the task, it’s obvious they’ve all lost their appetites and he just flings the nasty carcass away. One night around the campfire, Drew reads from his copy of Jane Eyre to entertain the gang and keep spirits up. They next meet a friendly traveler who offers his wife for their pleasure since they’ve gone without some lovin’ for so long. Jake and the boys happily oblige but Drew decides to not take part as he has his own set of morals he won’t break.
One morning the gang are awoken by a ruthless man called Big Joe (David Huddleston) and his band of roving cutthroats (played by Geoffrey Lewis, Ed Lauter, John Quade et al). They hold the startled boys at gunpoint then steal all their cash. With no money left Jake & Co are forced to try to set up some more robberies. After a scared Arthur flees to go home and young Boog is killed, it causes a rift within the group. Loney and Jim Bob then decide to take off on their own, leaving Jake and Drew feeling betrayed and angry. The two friends must go to more extreme lengths to survive their situation. Drew soon finds that he is capable of acts he never thought he’d take part in. Although the characters in this story don’t fight in the actual Civil War they still find themselves in their own mini-wars with each other and those who try to prey on them.
Bad Company is part of the “acid western” subgenre which was essentially born out of the surreal Euro Westerns and the late 60s counterculture/Vietnam era. These offbeat, nihilistic films were usually bleak demystifications of the Old West. Other examples would be titles such as: Greaser’s Palace (1972, Dir: Robert Downey Sr), The Shooting (1971, Dir: Monte Hellman,) and Jeremiah Johnson (1972, Dir: Sydney Pollack).
The screenplay was written by David Newman and Robert Benton of Bonnie and Clyde fame. Like that classic it showed the realities of living the outlaw life and how it was not glamourous at all. This was also a movie that subverted the more sentimental Hollywood Westerns of the 40s and 50s, and showed the period for the down n’ dirty, cold, dangerous time it truly was.
The overall look of the film with its muted aesthetic helped to convey the realities of the era extremely well. There are no brightly lit sets and clean cut heroes, just overcast skies and flawed human beings trying to survive any way they can on the frontier. As dark as the movie gets, the Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn adventure aspect keeps the story from sinking too far into the deep muddy. The great acting and humor presented equally helps the movie never lose momentum as an enthralling, realistic journey into the unforgiving 19th century West.