THE UNDERRATTED-THE SPORTS EDITION: THE BINGO LONG TRAVELING ALL-STARS & MOTOR KINGS

007_ I am going to hazard a guess here and say that outside of maybe ContinentalOps, who by my calculations has seen nearly every movie ever made, nobody else has seen this vastly underrated gem from 1976, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. Not only is the movie an underrated sports movie but it is also an underrated movie period and it probably has one of the best titles in the history of film.

Here are the basics of the story: It is 1939 and all-star Negro League pitcher Bingo Long is fed up with being, as he says, “a slave to colored club owners who should know better” and forms his own barnstorming ball club made up of fellow all-stars poached from teams around the Negro Leagues. The Traveling All-Stars become wildly successful with their Harlem Globetrotter-like antics during games and by great ball playing as they travel around the mid-west playing local teams. Of course this new business model does not sit well with the owners of Negro League teams especially Sallison Potter, owner of the team Bingo pitched for and who hounds the All-Stars until they agree to the Big Game. This big game is a one shot deal that pits the Bingo Long All-Stars against the remaining Negro League All-Stars, winner take all. If the Negro League team wins, Bingo quietly folds his tent and all his players return to their original teams. If the Bingo Long All-Stars win, they become newest team in the Negro League.

There you go, that’s the flavor of the movie and during the course of this review I’m going to talk about the plot more in depth but I figured I needed to tell y’all a bit of the story since, like I said, I bet most of you have not seen the movie or even heard of it. If I didn’t provide some info, this review would be more confusing and disjointed than usual.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings was directed by John Badham and he did a great job at the helm. Badham recreated the late 30’s perfectly and took a group of excellent actors and got them to elevate their work to a higher level. It helped that Badham was working from a tight script written by Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins and adapted from the novel of the same name by William Brashler. The writers did an excellent job of translating the book to the screen and should be commended for not losing much of the book’s nuances and yes, I have read the book.

This movie has a large ensemble cast so I am just going to stick to the top billed members of the cast but before I do, I would like to say that the entire cast does great work. They seemed to really take to portraying Negro league players and everyone treated their characters with the respect they deserved.

There is a point I would like to make before I go on. This movie is a very, very thinly veiled tale of real people and events although it occurs about 8 years before the real events happened. Bingo Long is the story of the Negro Leagues at their height and Jackie Robinson who was the first black player to make it into the all white world of professional baseball in 1947. For the most part they used the real story of Negro League players and just changed the real player’s names in the movie. Also, the Traveling All-Stars are based on a real barnstorming team from the 30’s, the Indianapolis Clowns. Let’s take a quick look at the main characters and the actors that portrayed them and the real people they are based on.

006_ Bingo Long is played by the suavest, most coolest cat in movies, the King of Malt liquor himself, Billy Dee Williams and man did he sink his teeth into the role of Bingo Long, who is really famous Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige. Seriously, they used real life incidents of Paige’s life when his team was up 1-0 in the ninth ending and Paige pulled his outfielders from the game, pitched out of a jam and won. Williams was downright magnetic in this movie.

005 James Earl Jones played catcher and power hitter Leon Carter who is based on catcher and power hitter Josh Gibson, a legendary hitter of the Negro League. His story might be one of the saddest of the movie. Because of his skin color and fear of his talent, Carter (and Gibson in real life) was denied the opportunity to compete at what was considered the highest levels of professional baseball.

Jones took what could have been a slightly one dimensional character and infused him with nobility, pathos and humor that was downright breathtaking to watch. Jones was every bit as compelling as Billy Dee Williams.

001 Richard Pryor, who was excellent as right fielder Charlie Snow, a.k.a. Carlos Nevada a.k.a. Chief Takahoma. All the a.k.a.’s are because Charlie Snow spent the entire decade of the 1930’s trying to break into Major League Baseball by pretending to be Hispanic or Native American or any ethnicity that’s not Negro and thus acceptable to MLB. Many Black ballplayers tried that gambit during the segregated days of MLB and as far as I know only one guy was successful. That guy, who’s name I can’t remember, managed to pass himself off as a Cuban and made it all the way to triple-A ball before he was found out. Snow is based on the real life ballplayer named Charlie Grant.

I always seem to forget that Richard Pryor had legitimate acting talent beyond just being funny and in this movie he put it all out there for the world to see. Sure he was funny as hell as Charlie Snow in a bitter, world beaten way but he was able to show the dehumanizing and soul crushing cost that segregation demanded from humans under its sway.With a person that had lesser talent then Pryor I don’t think they would have been able to bring the depth to the character that Richard Pryor did.

Lastly there is “Esquire” Joe Callaway, played by Stan Shaw, whose character represents Jackie Robinson or as he is called, “The Chosen One”, at the end of the movie. Shaw played Callaway as a semi-naive wide eyed kid that while unsophisticated compared to the other all-stars, is not stupid. He knew he was faster, stronger, had a better arm and could hit better than Leon Carter but he also knew that going to the majors would doom the future of the Negro Leagues.

Observations like that last bit, which are laced throughout the movie in a subtle weave, are why I recommended watching The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. Bingo Long could have stuck to the easy road of banging on segregation and it does but it also goes deeper and looks at why men compete and strive to be the best in the face of an evil system like segregation. The movie has the balls to tackle black racism and classicism (if that’s a word). It’s a multi-level view of complex social issues but it is also able to maintain a lighthearted and joyful tone and never preaches. It also helps that the baseball scenes are well filmed and the big game has a lot of tension to it. If you get a chance check out The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings. You might just have a good time.

Mahalo,

Xiphos

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

About Xiphos0311

Sporadic genius but mostly IDGAF.

37 responses to “THE UNDERRATTED-THE SPORTS EDITION: THE BINGO LONG TRAVELING ALL-STARS & MOTOR KINGS”

  1. lordbronco says :

    Cool-I’ll have to check this out! Speaking of which, i just gor Gates Of Fire by Pressfield! Holy Shit, you weren’t kidding-that guy can *write*- just read 3 chapters in one sitting-this book ain’t gonna last long-thanks for the recommendation.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Yep Pressfield is good. He has a new book out in paperback about the British Long Range Desert group in WW2(The Desert Rat TV show from the 60’s is based on them) they were a hard hitting forward operating unit tasked with killing Rommel. I have not read it yet but a friend of mine who isn’t a reader liked it.

      The Afghan Campaign is another excellent book and relevant to current events. It is about the Macedonian invasion of Afghanistan under Alexander and is told from the point of a young Mack soldier.

      I like Tides of War which is about Alcibiades and the Peloponnesian war. That book is very heavy on Greek history and politics at the time of the golden age of Greece.

  2. Continentalop says :

    Great review Xi and, oh yes, I remember this movie. I was just thinking about it not to long ago and thinking I have to see it again. I always liked this movie, but it has been years since I have seen it so parts of it are becoming vague…the old owner having a funeral home…the battleaxe female owner who in my mind’s eye was played by Fred Sanford’s sister-in-law…Richard Pryor with the white woman…the dwarf who joins the team…Jones jumping across the plate to hit an intentional walk…all of those things are in my mind but I am not 100% sure they are in the movie. Will have to check it out again to refresh my memory.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Good memory Conti. the only thing you missed was that the battle ax wasn’t on Sanford and Son but played Mama on What’s Happening.

  3. Continentalop says :

    And as for seeing every movie, I think that title definitely goes to Bartleby/Echo, especially in the modern era.

  4. Droid says :

    Really good review of a movie I have never heard of. Sports flicks are one of my favourite genres, and this sounds really good. I’ll have to try to track it down.

  5. Tom_Bando says :

    I caught some of this on TV long ago. I remember Billy Dee playing Satchel Paige of course. You had guys like Mule Suttles and Turkey Stearnes and Rube Foster who were just flatout great players who were boned by the racial divide in the country at the time. It’s a shame.

    One of the first Cubans to make it in the bigs was Dolph Luque, who pitched for the Reds etc back in the 20’s. But he was more Desi Arnez in looks than Clemente, so there ya go, he ‘passed’.

    This was a good rec. there Xiphos—James Earl Jones as Josh Gibson. I will have to search it out again and see it.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Tom since you are a Baseball fan and obviously know about the Negro League I would suggest that if you ever find yourself in Kansas City Missouri check out the Negro League Museum then get some great BBQ, it makes for a good day.

      • Tom_Bando says :

        Never have been anywheres NEAR KC, that is an idea though. I would certainly welcome a tourist trip there.

        Did you ever see ‘Bang the Drum Slowly’? DeNiro as a ballplayer?

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Yes sir I know Bang the Drum Slowly. It is on the list for review.

        I think for right now since Baseball season just started I might be doing s series of reviews with a baseball theme

      • MORBIUS says :

        Baseball!!! I thought ‘Bang Herdrum Slowly was Japanese Porn, who could’ve guessed!

      • koutchboom says :

        i’ve been meaning to watch Banging Drums for a while. I didn’t realize how early it was in Bobby’s career.

  6. MORBIUS says :

    I too, saw this ‘back in the day’, and like Conti, feel the need to refresh my memory of its awesomeness.
    Nice article Xi.

    Possible follow-up could be Pryors ‘Greased Lightning”…

    the true life story of Wendell Scott, the first black stock car racing champion in America…although there are those that would say stock car racing isn’t a sport…foot on the gas, turn left…turn left…turn left…ad infinitum.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Morbi,

      yeah I was thinking about reviewing Greased Lighting at some point. Good suggestion.

      • Stuntcock Mike says :

        Another one you may consider is The Last American Hero starring Jeff Bridges as Junior Johnson, Gary Busey as his brother, and William Smith as Richard Petty. It also features Valerie Perrine’s tits(I can’t remember but I think she was bare chested at some point)

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Mike interesting suggestion. I have not heard of it before but I will track it down and give it a look.

        At the very least Valerie Perrines Juggs are worth a gander. Damn she was fine back in the day.

  7. Continentalop says :

    Greased Lightning is another movie I haven’t seen forever. Beau Bridges was pretty good in that if I remember right.

    • Tom_Bando says :

      Do you remember Burt Reynolds in Gator?

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Great movie Tom. at one time I was going to do a white trash film retrospective and Gator and White lighting were going to be on it.

      • Tom_Bando says :

        I think Burt made some good flicks then. What else was there—W.W. and the Dixieland Dancekings? the End? stuff like that. Hooper is good too. Sure he became Superstar Burt Reynolds(TM) and made one too many Smokey and the Bandit knockoffs-but you look back there-some good stuff.

      • Stuntcock Mike says :

        Gator is excellent. Jerry Reed is such a great bad guy.

      • xiphos0311 says :

        And Jerry Reed is a kick ass musician.

      • Tom_Bando says :

        I felt bad when I heard that Jerry Reed had died a couple years back, seems he was All over the place in the 70’s-those Burt movies, Hee-Haw, Grand Ole Opry, ‘Amos Moses’, Scooby-Doo(sad but true I first heard of him there) etc.

        Always thought he and Bo Hopkins should have played brothers at one time just because. There’s a resemblance.

        Plus as Xiphos said-the guy was a mean guitar picker, no joke.

  8. Continentalop says :

    One on One with Robbie Benson is another underappreciated sports movie IMO.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      ah yes the classic Bball movie from like 79-80 right? If i remember Benson didn’t look like he even knew what basketball was let alone be a star player.

      I was considering the movie Inside Moves from 1980 when I get around to Basket Ball.

  9. Stuntcock Mike says :

  10. Stuntcock Mike says :

    Another one(nothing to do with sports though):

  11. xiphos0311 says :

    Mike I didn’t think you were into sports movies or is it just cool white trash cinema and driving movies?

    • Stuntcock Mike says :

      White trash and driving movies, oh yeah. Sports, not so much. Although Bull Durham is a nice bit of hilarity.

  12. redfishybluefishy says :

    never saw this. sounds like it’s worth watching. i’m not much for watching baseball, but behind-the-scenes movies based around social issues that seem so ridiculous to me are always fascinating to watch.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Fishy a majority of the baseball scenes outside of the BIG GAME are full of Harlem Globe Trotter like antics. The Barnstorming games were more then just Baseball they were an athletic performing art.Those scenes are very well put together.

  13. ThereWolf says :

    Considering how memorable the title is I’m amazed I’ve never heard of it before. John Badham as well…

    In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen James Earl Jones looking that young in a movie!

    Another to be added on The Amazing Ever Expanding Not Seen List.

  14. herr milflover says :

    Billy Dee and James earl in the same movie in 1976?
    No wonder Lando betrayed Han Solo to the Empire.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: