The 1970s was a strange time in the movies, in the sense that you could seemingly get any damn thing on the big screen. The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings is a 1976 comedy about Negro League baseball. Billy Dee Williams stars as a Satchel Paige-like pitcher and James Earl Jones as a Josh Gibson-like catcher. They are getting screwed by the owners so they decide to create a barnstorming team and hit the road. For some reason, Richard Pryor is in this, as an outfielder who is trying to pass as Cuban so he can get a shot at the big leagues. This sounds like it could be an interesting insight into the end days of the Negro Leagues. It is not. It is a very silly comedy that falls back on the most ridiculous comedy bits of the old Negro Leagues–giant gloves, clowning around, using midgets–as a way to be accepted by white audiences. Had this been interrogated at all by the film or had the players themselves been given the chance to talk about the bitterness of having to do this, that might have been interesting. Instead, the largely white audience watching this film is invited to laugh at the ridiculousness too. It feels as much like a minstrel show as anything else.
I’m not sure who thought this was a good idea, but it was a pretty big production. Motown Records founder and general exploiter Berry Gordy was behind the film, so that probably explains part of it. I’m surprised the owners weren’t the heroes of the film given this fact! Evidently, Spielberg was quite interested in directing this, but when Jaws went huge, he had bigger things to do. So John Badham directed instead. You might not know Badham by name, but you most certainly know his work, as he went on to direct Saturday Night Fever, War Games, and Short Circuit. In other words, he was the kind of steady Hollywood director who is far from being an auteur, but could produce capable work, though not so much in this case. This was his first feature movie, having done a dozen or so TV movies.
Somehow this was well-reviewed at the time, with everyone from Roger Ebert to Stanley Kauffmann mostly liking it. I….why?
The whole thing is available on YouTube, so have at it.