Cast & Crew
In 1863 in Greenville, Ohio, when Union troops stop at the Dixon house to conscript young Drew Dixon into the army, Drew's mother protests that they have already lost their elder son in battle and that it is not fair to take another son from her. Unsympathetic to her plight, the officer in charge orders that the house be searched for Drew, but when the soldiers are unable to locate him, they leave. Drew then comes out of hiding, after which his parents give him his brother's gold watch and $100, which he hides in his boot, and instruct him to go to Virginia City, Nevada, which is outside Union jurisdiction, and wait there until the war is over. Upon arriving in St. Joseph, Missouri, where he plans to join a wagon train headed West, Drew observes a long line of travelers waiting to book passage. As Drew walks to the end of the line, he finds himself in front of the army recruiting station and nervously rambles on. Drew's furtive behavior is noticed by Jake Rumsey, a fast-talking young man about his age, who stops Drew and warns him that there is a six-month waiting list for the wagon train. Drew, who has been advised by his God-fearing mother to seek out a "good Methodist family" upon reaching town, asks Jake to direct him to the Methodist church, after which Jake leads him into an alley, knocks him out and robs him. Upon reviving, Drew knocks on the door of the Reverend Clum's residence, where Mrs. Clum welcomes him and asks him to wait while she delivers lunch to her husband at the church. Meanwhile, Jake meets up with his ragged band of street urchins to examine the plunder they have gathered in their escapades. The homeless boys, consisting of brothers Jim Bob and Loney Logan, Arthur Simms and ten-year-old Boog Bookin, have banded together with Jake to rob the local citizenry and pool their ill-gotten gains to finance a journey West. Upon counting the boys' paltry take, Jake decides to raise more money by returning the purse that the boys have stolen from Mrs. Clum. Approached by Jake just as she is leaving the house, Mrs. Clum asks him to wait inside until she returns. When Drew sees Jake in the Clums' kitchen, he pounces on him, and in the ensuing scuffle, the boys throw each other around the kitchen, demolishing the Clums' cabinets in the process. When Drew demands the return of his stolen money, Jake tries to cajole him into joining his gang. Drew refuses until Mrs. Clum returns, prompting the boys to survey the ravaged kitchen and flee. Back at the camp, Jake presents Drew to the others, but Loney insists that Drew prove himself by robbing a store. Drew, who has sworn to "keep straight and narrow," takes twelve dollars from the money in his boot, rips his shirt and makes up a story about robbing a hardware store. Some time later, as the boys head West across the prairie, they come upon a homesteader driving a wagon who, after warning the boys to go back East, offers them the sexual services of his female traveling companion, Min. When Drew, who has been taught to save his virginity for his wedding night, demurs, Jake is shocked. Later that night, as they sit around the campfire, Drew, the only literate one in the group, reads to the other boys. After the others have gone to bed, Jake comes to take over the night watch from Drew, who lends Jake his treasured watch so that he can tell the time. Jake falls asleep, however, and the next morning, as the boys slumber, a gang of outlaws led by Big Joe Simmons robs them of their provisions and paltry supply of cash, but Jake manages to conceal Drew's watch from the thieves. Discouraged, hungry and beginning to doubt Jake's leadership ability, the boys come upon a farm, which Jake decides to rob. However, when the boys are met by the farmer wielding his shotgun, Drew quickly proposes trading Boog's pistol for some food. The farmer grudgingly sets a table for the boys, but when he glowers at them as they eat, Jake challenges him, prompting him to run them off the farm. As Drew tries to make peace among the angry boys, Jake spots a stagecoach approaching on the horizon and proposes robbing it. Although Drew objects and refuses to take part, Jake assigns Arthur to run out and flag down the coach while the others lie in wait. Jake and the boys watch incredulously as Arthur stops the coach, climbs onboard and rides off in it. Soon after, the boys come upon a farmhouse, and when Boog steals a pie cooling on the windowsill, the inhabitants begin firing, killing Boog with a bullet to the head and wounding Drew. Rebelling against Jake's inept leadership, Loney and Jim Bob pull out their guns and announce they have had enough, then ride out with Jake and Drew's horses and Drew's watch. Left with only a mule, Jake and Drew plod on along the trail, and soon find Loney and Jim Bob's bodies hanging from a tree, the victims of Big Joe and his gang. Nearby, Big Joe and the others have just settled down for dinner when they spot Jake and Drew in the distance. Although Big Joe refuses to interrupt his meal, the others ride out to confront Jake and Drew. When Drew asks about his watch, Hobbs, one of the gang, antagonizes him by dangling it from his hand. To outwit the outlaws, the boys start firing at them, chasing them into the woods where they are able to take cover and kill them. As Drew goes to reclaim his watch, Jake spots his money peeking out of a hole in his boot. Enraged that Drew has been holding out on him, Jake knocks him out and takes his mule and money. Vowing to kill Jake, Drew is trudging through the prairie wasteland when he sees a barn burning in the distance. Upon reaching the farmhouse, Drew discovers the marshal and his posse interrogating a member of Big Joe's gang. The man is to hang for killing the farmer, but before the execution, the marshal urges him to reveal where the rest of the gang is hiding. After the man directs them to an abandoned house, Drew asks him if Jake has joined the gang. When the man nods yes, Drew asks to join the posse. At the renegade's hideout, the posse opens fire, killing all the outlaws except Big Joe and Jake, whom Drew personally captures. Jake and Big Joe are sentenced to be hanged the next morning, but when Drew confronts Jake about his duplicity, Jake points out that Drew lied to him about the hardware robbery, and reminds him that he refrained from stealing his watch. Forgiving Jake, Drew tries to convince the marshal to spare his life, but when the lawman remains unconvinced, Drew unties his friend and they ride out together under cover of night. After camping for the night, Drew awakens to see that Jake is about to ride off without him. After Drew pulls out his gun and demands that Jake return his money, the two realize that they have become kindred spirits and so ride to the next town, where they enter the Wells Fargo office and declare "stick `em up."
Joshua Hill Lewis
Stanley R. Jaffe
Howard Koch Jr.
Terry Morse Jr.
Bad Company (1972)
The story opens in Greenville, Ohio in 1863 as Union troops round up all available young men in the area to serve in the army. One of the locals, Drew Dixon (Barry Brown), manages to avoid enlistment and heads westward with only a gold watch and $100 on him, hoping to reach Virginia City, Nevada which is outside Union jurisdiction. When Drew reaches St. Joseph, Missouri, he is quickly befriended by Jake Rumsey (Jeff Bridges), who turns out to be a con-artist and thief. He knocks Drew unconscious and steals his possessions, leaving Drew no choice but to seek charity from the local Methodist church where he is taken in by the Reverend's wife. After a surprising turn of events, Drew ends up reunited with Jake and becomes a member of his gang of young misfits. As they make their way west across the plains, the ragtag group becomes more demoralized and desperate as they encounter hostile farmers and run afoul of the notorious Big Joe Simmons gang. Jake ends up joining Big Joe's band of cutthroats while Drew signs up with a posse determined to lynch the criminals. Eventually Jake is apprehended and faces hanging but Drew intervenes and the two of them strike up a new partnership which is revealed in an ironic final freeze-frame.
A showcase for young talent, Bad Company provided excellent roles for both Jeff Bridges and Barry Brown as well as such up-and-coming actors as John Savage (The Deer Hunter, 1978) and Jerry Houser (Slap Shot, 1977) as disgruntled members of Jake's gang. Bridges was already being groomed for leading man status when he signed on for Bad Company, having previously appeared in The Last Picture Show (1971, he received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for his performance) and John Huston's Fat City (1972). His portrayal of Jake Rumsey is among his best early work, displaying a mixture of braggadocio, tough cynicism and a mischievous sense of fun.
Barry Brown, in his first major film role, was more familiar to television viewers for his appearances on such series as The Mod Squad and Marcus Welby, M.D.. He had actually worked with Jeff Bridges previously, though in a much smaller role, in the racial drama Halls of Anger (1970) but Bad Company should have brought him greater opportunities. Unfortunately, except for the male lead in Peter Bogdanovich's poorly received Daisy Miller (1974), Brown's career stalled in the mid-seventies and, beset with personal problems, he committed suicide in 1978.
In an interview with Kurt Lassen on the making of Bad Company, Brown said, "Jeff [Bridges] wanted to play my part - you know, the nice kind of kid. I admit it, I'm a bit wild at times, and I saw myself in the part Jeff got...When I got the part in Bad Company I was supposed to be a nice kid from Ohio. I don't know how people speak in Ohio, so I got some friends of mine to make me a bunch of tapes of people talking and I listened to them for hours, then began talking as Midwestern Ohioans speak. The director didn't know I did it. He must have thought that's how I talked. Nobody else that sees the film will probably know either. But that's not what I found important. When I hear myself in that part I know that in some measure I get at the truth of the character I was supposed to be and that made it worthwhile for me."
Director Robert Benton later revealed his own impressions of Barry Brown in an interview (posted at www.barrybrown.info): "I had conceived of Bad Company in the spirit of those Anthony Mann Westerns with Jimmy Stewart and Arthur Kennedy; you know, where the men were friends when they were younger, probably on the wrong side of the law, but now one of them has gone straight and the other has remained a criminal. Well, I wanted to do a kind of prequel, a movie about those same men when they were young. So when I cast Barry I was looking for a young Jimmy Stewart. However, when he (came in), he started talking about Montgomery Clift. I kept saying "Jimmy Stewart." He kept saying "Montgomery Clift." So I went to David Newman and said, "Here's the first important monologue the character has; write it so that if Daffy Duck did the part he would sound like Jimmy Stewart. David did a wonderful job, and when I gave the pages to Barry, he read them and said, "You've won." Now, I used to think that was an amusing story, but the truth is, I never really gave him a proper chance. With hindsight, my guess is he was closer to being right than I was."
Bad Company was filmed in the Flint Hills region of Kansas near Emporia over an eight week period with individual scenes shot in Neosho Rapids and Elmdale. Costume designer Anthea Sylbert based the look of the characters' clothes on old Montgomery Ward catalogues. Some portions of the film feature voice-over narration by Barry Brown as he reads entries from Drew's diary.
The film was the first production of Jaffilms, the independent production company of the former President of Paramount, Stanley R. Jaffe. He originally read the screenplay when he was still at the studio and took it with him upon his resignation as President. Upon completion, Bad Company was given a prestigious premiere at the 1972 New York Film Festival but reviews were decidedly mixed. Pauline Kael of The New Yorker wrote, "There's dazzle in the script by Robert Benton and David Newman, but Benton's direction is tepid, and the yellow-brown autumnal West is getting very tired. The movie is sparked by a caricature of a big-time movie director (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, to be specific) in the character of the cynical robber chief, Big Joe (David Huddleston)." The New York Times called it "naturalistic, irreverent and sometimes broadly comic" while Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun-Times admitted "it has a nice, blunt, slice-of-life quality about it that grows on you." He also noted that "The movie is built as a series of more-or-less-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....left me suspended in midair."
Bad Company enjoys a much more favorable reputation today and some critics feel it might be Robert Benton's best film, surpassing such later efforts as The Late Show (1977), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Places in the Heart (1984). Tom Milne of TimeOut stated that Bad Company was "a Western good enough to make everything he [Benton] has done since seem disappointing by comparison...it offers Vietnam parallels for the asking, but is really more concerned with the old mythologies as the innocent young hero sets off in best Horatio Alger fashion to seek safety, fame and fortune out West...Elegantly and engagingly funny, it is filmed with a loving care for period detail which gives the images the feel of animated tintypes."
Producer: Stanley R. Jaffe
Director: Robert Benton
Screenplay: David Neman and Robert Benton
Cinematography: Gordon Willis
Art Direction: Robert Gundlach
Music: Harvey Schmidt
Film Editing: Ron Kalish and Ralph Rosenblum
Cast: Jeff Bridges (Jake Rumsey), Barry Brown (Drew Dixon), Jim Davis (Marshal), David Huddleston (Big Joe), John Savage (Loney), Damon Cofer (Jim Bob Logan).
by Jeff Stafford
Bad Company (1972)
I resolve never to do a dishonest act, or take part in any thieving, robbing, or false undertaking. I will always keep to the straight and narrow, so help me God. It's still a sunny day.- Drew Dixon
I'd like to get my hands on the son of a bitch that told me to go west.- Big Joe
I'll tell ya boys... I'm the oldest whore on the block.- Big Joe
Say, how'd that Jane Eyre turn out?- Jake Rumsey
Oh, fine, fine.- Drew Dixon
Stick 'em up.- Drew Dixon
You go ahead and eat your beans, Joe. Me and the boys can take 'em easy. There's only two.- Hobbs
My boy, if it was a blind woman in a wheelchair, I'd still give her the odds.- Big Joe
Portions of the film are presented with a voice-over narration by Barry Brown as "Drew Dixon" as Drew writes entries in his diary. Filmfacts noted that location filming was done in the Flint Hills region near Emporia, KS. Bad Company marked the directorial debut of screenwriter Robert Benton and the first production by Stanley R. Jaffe's independent production company, Jaffilms, Inc. According to publicity materials contained in the film's production file at the AMPAS Library, Jaffe originally read the screenplay when he was president of Paramount Pictures Corp. Upon resigning from Paramount, Jaffe decided to take the screenplay with him.
Released in United States October 7, 1972
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1972
Re-released in United States on Video January 25, 1995
Shown at New York Film Festival October 7, 1972.
Released in United States Winter January 1, 1972
Re-released in United States on Video January 25, 1995
Released in United States October 7, 1972 (Shown at New York Film Festival October 7, 1972.)