The year before super-duper-star Reggie Jackson signed his first free-agent contract with the New York Yankees, this rollicking road show–about a group of players who mutiny against the Negro Leagues to form their own barnstorming club–hit theaters.
Billy Dee Williams, as Bingo Long, has never been livelier onscreen, and James Earl Jones looks positively Ruthian as power-hitting catcher Leon Carter. Throw in comedian Richard Pryor as an outfielder looking to break into the majors by pretending to be Cuban, and you’re in for a wild base run.
Set in 1939, John Badham’s directorial debut captures an era gone by but also a spirit very much alive. Bingo leads the rebellion against Sallie, the ruthless owner of the St. Louis Ebony Aces. Empowered by Leon’s quotations from W.E.B. Du Bois, Bingo takes control of his economic destiny and forms the collectivist “Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings.” In response, Sallie and the other Negro League owners conspire to destroy Bingo and his dream.
And then the race card is played: When Sallie’s violent thugs prevent local all-black teams from playing Bingo’s ball club, the team responds by playing all-white teams–and making more money. As for Bingo, baseball is the vehicle to individual freedom and money, money, money. With talent for the game, how can he lose?
Well, Bingo can’t lose, of course. Just like Mr. October, he knows how the game is played.
Cast: Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor, Rico Dawson
Director: John Badham
Producer: Rob Cohen
Novel: William Brashler
Director of Photography: Bill Butler
Composer: William Goldstein
USA / Universal / 111 minutes / 1976