Jeff Bridges has been going great guns since his best supporting actor nomination for his portrayal of small-town Texas jock Duane Jackson in 1971′s “The Last Picture Show,” his first major film role.He’s been very selective about the characters he’s taken on in the wake of that first success, and his choices have been on-target more often than not, nailing such memorable filmic figures as the young boxer Ernie in “Fat City” (1972), Clint Eastwood’s hapless young partner in crime in “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” (1974), the lovable extraterrestrial hero of “Starman” (1984), and, of course, the king of all pothead slackers in “The Big Lebowski” (1998) — to name a few.
But perhaps one of his most memorable yet relatively little-known performances can be found in director Robert Benton’s (“Kramer vs. Kramer”) Civil War-era black comedy “Bad Company” (1972), in which Bridges excels at playing draft-dodging, double-dealing, sneak-thieving, irresistibly likable young scoundrel Jake Rumsey, leader of a like-minded gang of runaways who survive by guile and guts.
The story, penned by Benton and writing partner David Newman (“Bonnie and Clyde”), centers on the cautious friendship that develops between scruffy Jake and dapper Drew Dixon (Barry Brown), a boy from a God-fearing Ohio family who has to prove he’s tough enough to run with these ruffians who are trying to work their way West and as far from the war as they can get.
David Huddleston is hilarious as Big Joe, the competent but constantly frustrated leader of a gang of bungling outlaws (among them a very funny Geoffrey Lewis) who rob Jake and company and live to regret it. Jim Davis also brings chuckles as the U.S. marshal leading an army-sized posse that casually hangs every outlaw it captures, on the spot. When Big Joe offers to entertain the lawmen with some fancy gun-twirling, a deputy empties a revolver before handing it over, which causes Big Joe to enviously comment to the marshal, “You’ve got some real thinkers in your outfit.”
This obscure Western gem is now available from the Warner Bros. Archive Collection, manufactured on demand.
— Gene Triplett