Destructive ‘Bad Company’ Deconstructs Western Themes, Conceptions

It’s the company you keep that makes a person, you know?

That’s sometimes true. In Bad Company, the 1972 acid western from Robert Benton, young Drew Dixon (Barry Brown) is skipping town in a protest-fueled refusal to join the army in the civil war era. His family wants nothing of it, so they’d rather send Dixon packing on his own.

Dixon, in an attempt to head west, runs into some trouble in Missouri. He meets Jake Rumsey, a young rapscallion bandit played by an equally young Jeff Bridges. Rumsey robs Dixon. Dixon confronts Rumsey later. Rumsey invites Dixon into his gang of morons. Dixon accepts Rumsey’s invitation.

And so driven by the idea of creating their own lives in the old west, Benton’s acid western has the gang of six seeking new life and new locations. Dixon is Benton’s golden boy. He is religious, on the straight and narrow and wouldn’t harm a fly unless that fly tried to wrong him. He is representative of the decisions we all have faced, must face now or will face in the future. He’s a good young man, bounded by his morals, but in a moment of desperation and survival turns to his last hope: a rag tag group of thieves.

Benton fully deconstructs the outlaw dreams and stereotypes the boys impose on the viewers. When they run into trouble (real bandits!) they rethink the idea of living on the edge and against the law. Until then they’ve been driven to live this life and survive by any means necessary. It all starts to come undone between Rumsey and Dixon, who after a rough start had begun a great friendship. Their paths and journeys toward death and destruction intersect again and again on one rocky road.

A bit of a side note, but it was absolutely amazing to see David Huddleston’s character Big Joe be the biggest obstacle for Rumsey and company. Huddleston played Lebowski alongside Bridge’s Lebowski in The Big Lebowski. The fact that they worked together in the 1970’s and that it was hidden in this wonderful western was unknown to me. I am now glad I know.

Benton breaks down the walls of the classic American western and does so by placing romanticized youth into the shoes of our main characters. They don’t know what to expect when they set out on a final journey that transforms them into desperate survivors. But when the moments comes, they must find whether they really want to go down this road. Can they change? Can they challenge? Can they be the men they dream of being?

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