Bad Company (1972; d. Robert Benton)
Robert Benton made his directorial debut with this decidedly modest picture, set during the American Civil War in 1863. The original script by Benton and his writing partner David Newman, like their breakthrough Bonnie and Clyde, is highly episodic; like their screenplay for Joseph L. Mankiewicz's There Was a Crooked Man..., set during the 1880s, it works hard to bring relevance to a period film. And, like both, Bad Company begins in light-hearted territory before traveling into murkier, more violent regions.
Jeff Bridges is the leader of a small group of young men who live by their wits, or lack thereof. Bridges is impressed by Barry Brown, a conscription-notice dodger who fights back after Bridges tries to rob him for a second time, and invites him into the gang. Heading west, the petty thieves make slow progress, while amply demonstrating their general incompetence, in a series of aimless episodes.
Benton and Newman's screenplay introduces likable but thin characters and then gives them little to do. In today's terms, it's a lo-fi project that plays well, chiefly due to Bridges' youthful charm and a cast that would later do better things, including John Savage and a gang of somewhat older criminals, played by the likes of Geoffrey Lewis and Ed Lauter, and led by David Huddleston. Gordon Willis' cinematography makes the outdoors look dark, even in the middle of the day, and the version that is streaming on Amazon does his work no favors.
Released in October 1972, the film attracted little fanfare, but it provided Benton with experience in the director's chair; five years later, he drew good notices for The Late Show and followed that up with Kramer vs. Kramer. Bridges, who had gained great exposure with The Last Picture Show, continued to build his career with a series of strong performances throughout the decade. His 21-year-old co-star Barry Brown, however, fared less well; he was part of the wreckage that was Peter Bogdanovich's Daisy Moon, and then was exiled to television guest spots. Sadly, he committed suicide in 1978.