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  Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, The Take Me Out To The Ball GameBuy this film here.
Year: 1976
Director: John Badham
Stars: Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor, Rico Dawson, Sam 'Birmingham' Brison, Jophery C. Brown, Leon Wagner, Tony Burton, Stan Shaw, Otis Day, Ted Ross, Mabel King, Sam Laws, Alvin Childress, Ken Foree, Carl Gordon, Ahna Capri, Marcia McBroom
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In 1939, the world is on the brink of war, but things do carry on, and in the United States the baseball diamonds are host to ball games as they have been for decades. However, the sport is segregated between the white players and the black players, which means the latter play in the Negro League, and that tends to be run by opportunists. Bingo Long (Billy Dee Williams) is one of the players, and as he discusses with his friend and catcher Leon Carter (James Earl Jones) a lot of the participants are growing tired of this exploitation. After one of their teammates, Rainbow (Otis Day), suffers an injury during a game and is banned, they realise this has to change...

This film was one of those historical efforts where genuine facts and people were adapted and renamed to fit a more audience-friendly narrative, so many of the characters here were based on real players, and the incidents portrayed were not a million miles away from what actually happened to them. Nevertheless, you could accuse this of sugarcoating the segregation aspect, for it is not mentioned throughout, though that may have been down to it featuring a largely African-American cast who in this telling kept themselves to themselves; with very little mixing of the races, you may wonder why there was a push to integrate the two Leagues at all when there was no pressure to.

Of course there was as a matter of record, but this was set a few years before Jackie Robinson was becoming one of the game's biggest names, just on the cusp of the breakthrough that saw black and white legally allowed to play on the same team, never mind against one another. What Long does is establish his own team, a roaming one that shows up in various locations around America and plays the local team, so a leftist "controlling the means of production", as Leon puts it, will guide them around the business. And as much as it was a sporting movie, this was a business movie too, delineating the ins and outs of overseeing a sporting side and the subterfuge that accompanies it.

The leader of the Negro League, who has the backing of other team owners, is Sallie Potter, played by Ted Ross, one of a number of talents this Motown production raided the likes of Broadway and the music industry to appear. But there were real baseball players in this as well, acquitting themselves with some skill when it came to the acting aspect, and a nice change from all those seventies American football players who dotted the cinematic landscape as far as sports stars were concerned. All this guaranteed the baseball fans would be well-disposed towards it, though that also had the effect of rendering it a very American entertainment and like other baseball movies from The Bad News Bears to The Natural to Major League, they did not travel wholly successfully out of that market.

Nevertheless, there were good reasons to give this a go, one being a very fine ensemble cast that might have given its ostensible leading man Williams less to do than he really should have, but did provide virtual guest stars like Richard Pryor with interesting scenes to play, both comedic and serious. Though billed as humorous, it was not exactly a laugh riot, and while there were scattered chuckles when the jokes were delivered, primarily it felt a lot more serious minded than was given credit for. The strongarm tactics employed by villainous Potter were tantamount to attempted murder in some instances, which was none too hilarious, and the liberal use of the N word was an indication why this faded away from television showings down the years. In a parallel universe, Steven Spielberg followed Jaws with this instead of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (it was penned by the writers of his The Sugarland Express), but first timer John Badham was more holding it together here than a dominant voice. Still, it was well-performed and unusual in subject matter. Music by William Goldstein (kind of ragtime, with songs).
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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John Badham  (1939 - )

British-born, American-raised director of mostly medium-sized hits. He progressed from television in the 1970s to direct The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings, but his second film was the blockbuster Saturday Night Fever. After that came a remake of Dracula, Blue Thunder, classic Cold War sci-fi WarGames, Short Circuit, Stakeout, the underrated The Hard Way, Nick of Time and Drop Zone, amongst others. He moved back into TV in the 2000s.

 
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