“You only gotta pretend! And they don’t know we’re pretending, so we’s one up on ’em!”
After being pushed around once too often by their controlling manager (Ted Ross), baseball player Bingo Long (Billy Dee Williams) and his teammate Leon (James Earl Jones) convince a number of other colleagues to join a traveling team of their own making — but can they survive when Ross is determined to sabotage their efforts?
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- African Americans
- Historical Drama
- Race Relations and Racism
- Richard Pryor Films
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this “flavorful, spirited period piece” about a group of “malcontents” who “barnstorm around the country, playing local teams and really putting on a show” is “full of nice moments, including the final scene between Bingo and Leon, which leaves viewers feeling good.”
He argues that while “it starts out as an interesting look at exploitation of blacks by blacks and a sharp leftist political satire (‘Seize the means of production’ is Bingo’s motto),” it “unfortunately dissolves into a familiar farce” — though I don’t quite agree with this assessment. Rather, director John Badham — working from a script by Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins from a novel by William Brashler — affectionately but incisively shows the resilience and creativity of those forced to play for the Negro Leagues (which finally folded in 1948, more or less, due to integration).
According to one historian in a fascinating short documentary on the topic:
“In a period when cinema was still in its infancy, and there really wasn’t radio — and there certainly wasn’t television — it was things like the circus and the carnival and these road shows coming to town that was everybody’s entertainment. So it wasn’t just a baseball game: the players also played musical instruments, or wrestled, or put on comedy routines… This was a three act show, that the baseball game was just part of.”
This film most certainly gets that playful and creative energy across. Williams and Jones are both excellent in leading roles, and Richard Pryor has fun in what is essentially an extended cameo role as a player determined to convince the White leagues that he is Cuban so he can play with them.
Note: Be sure to watch director John Badham describing the film in his appearance on Trailers from Hell.
Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:
- Billy Dee Williams as Bingo Long (loosely based on “Satchel” Paige)
- James Earl Jones as Leon Carter (loosely based on Josh Gibson)
- Fine cinematography and production design
Yes, as an enjoyable historical flick.