BAMF Archives: THE BINGO LONG TRAVELLING ALL-STARS & MOTOR KINGS

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BAMF Archives: THE BINGO LONG TRAVELING ALL-STARS & MOTOR KINGS

Set during the end of the 1930s, this light-hearted film stars Billy Dee Williams as Bingo Long, the star pitcher for the Negro League baseball team, the St. Louis Ebony Aces. Fed up with the shitty way team owner “Sallie” Potter (Ted Ross) treats him and his teammates, Bingo leaves to form his own team with the help of homerun king Leon Carter (James Earl Jones). As Bingo and his rag-tag crew of all-stars take to the road, they face not only racism, but opposition from the other owners in the Negro Leagues, who will stop at nothing to destroy the team, so that the various members of the All-Stars & Motor Kings will be forced to go back to the teams they originally played for.

THE BINGO LONG TRAVELING ALL-STARS & MOTOR KINGS is one of those examples of the sort of mainstream black film born out of the blaxploitation genre. It is a safe film that takes the story of the segregated Negro Leagues and makes it as palatable as possible to the widest audience possible. The result is a film that never takes any chances or pushes any envelopes. In fact, on a subtle level, the film works to subvert the theme of political empowerment within the black community. When Bingo and Leon split from their respective teams — whose owners they refer to as “masters” — they create their own team, which is formed on the principles of communism and socialism. When the owners of the other teams are not able to destroy the self-governing, self-reliant All-Stars & Motor Kings, who exist outside the paradigm of the Negro Leagues, then those owners allow the renegade team to join the league. By joining the league they initially spurned, Bingo and his teammates are doomed to become what they fought to escape — capitalists. Or maybe I’m just reading too much into this film.

Whatever your take on BINGO LONG is — a subtle, pro-capitalism film that discourages socialism, or a light-hearted comedy — the film is ultimately a vehicle for its great cast (and not much more). The film steps to the plate with two major strikes against it (did you really think you’d get through this review without any trite baseball references?), the first being a weak script populated with one-dimensional characters. John Badham’s direction also fails to hit a homerun (pun intended), and can be best described as “really well done made-for-television.” Interestingly, Steven Spielberg was originally considered for directing this film, but wound up helming JAWS instead.

The thing that makes BINGO LONG TRAVELING ALL-STARS & MOTOR KINGS a film worth watching is the performances. Williams and Jones are great, and rather than competing on screen, their unique personalities work to complement each other. Williams was one of the most versatile leading men during the seventies, but his career was hampered by too many films like THE TAKE and MAHOGANY, and not enough like LADY SINGS THE BLUES. The rest of the supporting cast, which includes Richard Pryor, Stan Shaw (TNT JACKSON), Tony Burton (ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13), Dewayne Jesse (HALLS OF ANGER), Ken Foree (DAWN OF THE DEAD), and Mable King (THAT’S MY MAMA!), all help to give the film a fun charm, in spite of its shortcomings.

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