FF130 - Carter's Army

Intro by John Roderick

Lately I have been watching The Partridge Family with my 9-year old daughter. For our younger listeners, let me explain that The Partridge Family was a groovy sitcom from the early 1970s. In each episode, a super-relatable whitebread family, led by mega-cute single mom Shirley Jones, breezes through a domestic issue, a social issue, an issue specific to a family that has a hit record and whose drummer is seven years old, and then finishes with an awkward lip-sync to a pop song that falls somewhere between a ballad by The Archies and a Mormon 5th Dimension.

It is basically the greatest American sitcom, and it should be taught in schools. One of its great pleasures is the revolving door of guest stars like Dick Clark, Johnny Cash and Howard Cosell, often playing big parts in a veritable Who's Who of young actors in their first roles: Mark Hamill as a teenage boyfriend, Farrah Fawcett as a girl in a mini-dress outside a bank, Jodie Foster is there, Cheryl Ladd and Rob Reiner. Every episode is an easter-egg hunt and occasionally one of the songs is even kind of good. Also, the costumes alone should have been given a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

So imagine my surprise and delight when on the episode we watched earlier tonight, the guest stars were Richard Pryor and a young Lewis Gossett Jr. It was: Wow! See, there was a mix up. The Partridge Family showed up to their Detroit gig, thinking it was supposed to be in a posh hotel lobby, only to find out that it was in a derelict inner city fire station.

Richard Pryor and Lewis Gossett Jr explained that they were expecting The Temptations. It seems that the booking agent intentionally switched the bands as part of a nefarious real estate plot and presumably The Temptations were just then arriving at a posh hotel in Tucson for a show they imagined was booked in a derelict fire station.

The actors gamely plow their way through a script where Shirley Jones suggests a block party to Richard Pryor, adorable 10-year old Danny recruits a bunch of barely toned-down-for-TV black nationalists to play violins, and David Cassidy collaborates with Pryor on an Afro sound number that gets the people dancing and saves the day. It is hilariously improbable, excruciating to watch, and exquisite.

We talk a lot about race on friendly fire because war movies quite frequently make race a central issue because race and racism are often prime motivators of war. We joke that the 1990s were a time when America desperately wanted to be a post-racial society and Hollywood kept putting Denzel in the unenviable position of being the first black detective or spy or submarine officer or whatever whose race never came into it once. And we have to rue that fantasy also. We watch all our movies with a modicum of the wisdom of retrospect, we have a sous sant (soupçon?) of the present moment, and I hope always an eye on a better future.

We watched Carter's Army several months ago. The quarantine has allowed us the luxury of building up the nice catalog of advanced recordings, so this episode was made well before Da 5 Bloods came out and months before the killing of George Floyd and the resurgence of Black Lives Matter. If we recorded the show today, we would of course be contextualizing many of the movie's themes in these recent terms. Yet, despite this lag the relevance of Carter's Army didn't escape us then. The specific gravity of the culture has changed radically in the last six months, but the motivating forces have not. Black lives mattered six months ago, too.

Richard Pryor appeared on The Partridge Family after he made Carter's Army, and although the Partridge Family episode, which - did I mentioned was titled Soul Club (S01E18) - was the more spectacular failure of the two, both programs were trying hard to redress an imbalance, to make a statement, to turn the conversation, to increase understanding, and to heal wounds. They both date from prime time television 50 years ago. "I wish to God that righteousness could save our lives, but…" Today on Friendly Fire: Carter's Army.


B: Welcome to Friendly Fire, the war movie podcast that wants to know who we would be saluting if we saluted. I am Ben Harrison,…

A: …, I am Adam Pranica, …

J: …, and I am John Roderick!

Image quality, strange cuts in the middle of the music

B: I feel like 1970 is one of the more touchpoint-y years on our list. Tora Tora Tora in 1970, a lot of strange stuff pops up in 1970: MASH. This is a TV movie!

J: Now, this is crazy! Did we ever watch a TV movie before this?

B: I don't think so. This one was really the perfect format for you to watch on your watch in the bathtub!

A: For someone who wants to take many breaks!

B: Somebody illegally copied the DVD release of the TV movie and then uploaded it somehow to Amazon Prime. It feels like stuff is missing. Instead of fading out, it hard-cuts.

A: Back in the days when people used to record TV movies on VHS tapes and then have entire bookcases full of stuff that they had taped off of the TV, this seems like that for sure!

B: In between scenes the music cuts hard in a way that makes me think that they trimmed out establishing shots or just cross-fades to the Movie of the Week logo.

A: That is what I think it actually is: The transitions where it crossfades into commercials or logos, and we just cut before we even see that.

J: Those musical cuts are so abrupt that I started to laugh every time and then it became a Leitmotiv where I was just waiting for the next time that this big swelling orchestral score would just *clam*and it became one of the things I found most delightful about the film.

You got to be kidding!

A: I thought those aspects might have crippled the film, but I really didn't think they did at all.

B: No, the film was perfectly capable of crippling itself.

A: Oh, go on!

The plot of the movie, segregation in the Army in World War II

B: It is such a weird movie! The conflict that the movie is centered around is a great pitch, right: Racist officer is put in command of a troop of black soldiers and has to learn how to command them. Sold in the room! But then he is not as stridently racist as all that. He is given a couple of scenes where he calls a black guy boy or whatever, but he never espouses a worldview that is really racially hierarchical or anything.

J: He says that one line where he is like: ”Black boys are doing what they are best at, which is loading trucks and digging latrines, and the Army just gave them a job!"

B: Yeah, but he is made to look bad for saying that and he feels bad about saying it the moment because they are also confronting him with the idea that they wish they had had basic training, but they didn't get it. And he is like: ”Well, that is bad!” If he had been a more hateable guy at the beginning and gone on a bigger journey, there is something here.

J: Yeah, he seems like a southern officer who is just living in the world that he lives in and is confronted by this situation which he just makes natural assumptions about.

A: I wonder to what extent it would be an impossibility to show Carter's story in that kind of. 1970 is a really interesting year because what depictions of black people did we get on TV? This was years before Good Times or The Jeffersons or Sanford and Son were on TV, …

J: Not that many years before!

A: Yeah, but Roots wasn't on TV until 1977 either, and even blaxploitation films didn't begin to get produced until a few years after this, so I wonder if they just didn't think to do it this way because there was no template for it. I am not forgiving them any problems this film has, but I don't think you can expect an ABC Movie of the Week to solve for these representation problems.

B: I don't think that that is really where my criticism is necessarily, but it is a strange thing to watch this movie and puzzle through in your mind: ”What was the audience thinking seeing this?” Did it seem super-didactic? Did it seem like a movie that was scolding a racist American public for their crimes of the past? Or was it super-widespread knowledge that the Army was segregated in World War II? It almost seemed like that came as a surprise to Carter when he shows up.

A: John, you were 30 when this movie came out. What did you think?

J: I was! I was 30 during World War II. It was widespread knowledge that the Army was segregated in World War II.
You could almost have said that that was universally acknowledged.

B: The culture has forgotten that now. I don't think if you grabbed a high school kid and said: ”Hey, what was the deal with segregation in the Army in 1943?”you would get a cohesive answer.

J: And it is too bad because segregation in World War II in particular played a huge role in the civil rights movement of the 1950s because black soldiers in the American army who went to Europe and were fighting Nazi racism were doing so from within a Jim Crow army and you read a lot of the writing of those early civil rights leaders and they are describing the experience of being in occupied Germany after the war and feeling free of racism because the Germans saw them primarily as Americans and they were accorded all this respect as members of the American occupying army and when they rotated back to America they were living in a Jim Crow America. But in the Army during the war… we haven't really watched a movie yet about The Tuskegee Airmen or the Buffalo Brigades, but there were a million black Americans fighting in World War II and it was a very conscious and on the surface struggle, the way the same way that Muhammad Ali, when they asked him why he didn't fight in Vietnam, in one sense made the appeal: ”My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America.” This was a spoken and widely understood problem. The Red Cross had separate blood banks for black and white soldiers. They wouldn't give you a blood transfusion with blood from a different race. It was appalling! They came back to the United States and they were like: ”Look, we fought a war against the racist Germans from within a racist army!” Anybody that was in the war understood it. I read somewhere that some documentarians went looking for footage of black soldiers in World War II because they were going to do a documentary and they could hardly find any, even though there were a million guys serving, in all of the footage they just couldn't find any. A lot of it was because they were peeling potatoes, but even the ones that were in combat: The newsreels just just erased them!

A: When I shot a lot of corporate video, you go into these big workplaces and you get your B-roll, you are often told: ”Don't shoot the guys with logos on their shirts!” or any number of other rules about capturing footage. It makes me wonder to what extent people were just told not to shoot them.

J: Oh, 100% that is what was happening! It was embarrassing within the United States and 1943 was a year where there were race riots throughout the United States, so much so that the vice president went to Detroit and gave a speech that said: ”How are we going to defeat the Nazis if we are having race riots here?” and he made a direct connection in the speech between white supremacy in the United States and racist Nazi Germany. This is something that Roosevelt didn't do. Wallace overtly called it out.

Did you ever wonder what happened to those trenches once you leave?

B: There are some parts that I really liked in the movie. They do persuade Carter that maybe he shouldn't think less of these soldiers for being guys who clean latrines because that is what they were sent there to do and that is the only job they have been allowed to do, basically. That is some pretty heavy shit when they start enumerating all the jobs that he doesn't want that they are stuck with.

J: I know, it really sucked! Can you imagine being in a war where you are watching guys drive by in trucks, loaded for bear, headed up to the front, and you are just peeling potatoes and you know the only reason you are peeling potatoes and aren't allowed to fight is that you are black. It just is like…

B: That scene at the end is really heavy when the guy throws the shovel out the back of the truck at them.

A: It reminded me of the Keep America Beautiful crying Indian ad, also of the same decade. That was the big takeaway. That is as sophisticated as this film could be at the end of it.

J: You are right Adam that 1970 is a weird time: Black liberation movement is in full swing, Vietnam War is in full swing, and who the audience for this movie is? The Movie of the Week aired on Tuesday nights at 8pm or something?

Who is this film for?

A: It is the essential question, John: "Who is this film for?” Is it for the Carters of the world or the Crunks?

B: There is not exactly an anti-racist message in the film. Crunk is terrified and has not been prepared for this and the movie doesn't exactly go out of its way to say: ”There is nothing wrong with Crunk for feeling that way because Crunk was never trained for this!” It has one of the other characters going like: ”What are the white people going to think if they see you cowering in this ditch?” That is how he is persuaded to get back into the fight. He comports himself with a great deal of heroism by the end, but his motivation is put into him by a white writer.

J: It is written and directed by white dudes, so there is all this weird messaging, like: Roosie Grier is the beloved and seemingly would be the best warrior, but they find some wine and get drunk and he gets shot by some farm boy. There are three or four instances where it could be a movie where they were gradually becoming a tighter unit, they were gradually getting into the spirit of being fighters, and then in the end they work together to solve a problem, and what this movie does is it shows us a few examples of how they never got their shit together.

B: Right! The natural environment of these guys is the dice game that we found them at the beginning, but they did do some stuff okay when they had to.

A: Can I just say I love when a movie throws to its own title the way that this film does: ”I guess it is time for me to introduce you to…” and then we cut to and then the music strikes and then we see dice being thrown right at the camera and the title comes up like… I love that moment!

B: And then it cuts back to Carter looking at them, like: ”What the fuck?” and then back to them and it keeps putting up title cards.

A: It is like when the movie becomes self-aware. That is a format to a film of this decade that I just love.

J: It did do the thing that we have interrogated before, which is: A lot of the character of the black soldiers we only see and learn about through the eyes of the white officer. He says: ”Pick up that thing, boy!” and the black soldiers demonstrates some humanity and then walks away and the white officer is left going: ”Huh! Seems like he might actually be a American man! What do you know about them apples?”

B: 3-dimensional human being!

J: But as you said, Adam: Richard Pryor's whole raison d'être through the second half of the movie is just to show Whitey that he is not a coward, rather than generated from inside… He is not on a personal mission at all. At the very end he reveals that he did have some kind of ”Come to Jesus!”

A: What I really like about the Crunk character is that he comes to his decision based on what the Roosie Grier character tells him, which is some form of: ”History is written by the survivors!” and so if you are killed down here in a ditch, someone like Carter is going to write your story and it is not going to be good, it is not going to be a good reflection on you, and then 100 years of black soldiers are going to have to try to reverse the story that is being told by people like him. And that of inspiration I thought was pretty powerful in a film where there was very little power.

B: I really disagree with that because I think that that puts the responsibility for it on the private Crunk character, which: the responsibility doesn't lie with him like.

J: Yeah, that is right. That is the argument that in order to fight coronavirus, black people need to stop smoking cigarettes.

B: Yeah, it is the ”Pull up your pants!” of ”Get in this fight!” and I don't know, I don't trust the movie to be coming from the right place on this when it is a white writer and a white director and…

J: Not just a white writer, we should call him up by name. It is Aaron Spelling. It is Tori Spelling's dad.

B: Yeah, a TV legend. He got a zillion credits on IMDB!

A: It is the reason why the Brandon and Dylan storyline of this film just didn't quite hit home with me!

Looking for a black perspective, is this movie racist against black people?

J: I really looked for some contemporary black commentary on this movie because I really wanted to know.

B: It is hard to find because Black Brigade also refers to some Mussolini death squad.

J: But even under Carter's Army, all I could find was criticism of it in recent years. I don't even know how you would find a movie review of this from an issue of Ebony in 1970. This is that moment where black empowerment is real. There is now a demand for and an audience for emancipated black male voices in the culture, and yet it still has to get filtered through three or four different layers. Marvin Gaye's What's Going On came out a year later, so the public is way ahead of where primetime television is at this point. There is a lot in this movie that is interrogating, it is just really inconclusive! You don't come out the other side feeling like… basically you had a suicide mission where instead of five guys getting picked off in various wartime adventures, you get five guys picked off by snipers or their own lazy drunkenness or the fact that they are deef. They are picked off in the weakest-assed ways. There is no heroism in this movie at all until the final scene.

B: There is such an opportunity to have the stakes of this get operatic in scope and the death of the deaf guy as a betrayal of him by an uncaring army that didn't defer his enlistment because of his disability. I think that it is also just facile writing: If the secret code is ”London Bridge” and the uncrackable password is ”is falling down”, I don't know if you are going to get to: ”We also solved racism in our 1970 Movie of the Week!”

J: Yeah, it was super-clunky. That speech after the deaf guy gets killed and the black lieutenant is like: ”Would you have buried him if he was white?”, I was like: ”Well, probably not on a mission like this if we had two hours to get to the damn. Probably that is not the hill to die on!”

A: I would love to see the operatic made-for-TV movie in 1970 that gets this right. If there is an example of that as a counterpoint I would love to see it.

B: I don't know if it is a TV movie or whatever, but the premise and the characters are really interesting and it is just not executed well, that is what I am getting at I suppose.

A: I don't feel like that was ever possible. I really want to ask you: ”Do you think it was possible to make that movie at the time that this one came out?”

B: I think lots of movies have made challenging statements about race and put new ideas into the conversation in history.

A: It is easy to say in history, man, but I am thinking 1970 is just a different cat. I struggle to come up with anything from a year before or after 1970 that makes that kind of case, and I looked. There is something about this year that is spooky in that way!

J: It is a spooky year!

B: One thing we talked about a lot with Tora Tora Tora was how careful it was with the depiction of the Japanese and how the American producers hired Japanese directors and didn't just treat them as foot clan soldiers.

A: It is hard to hypothesize because none of us were alive at the time.

J: Wait a minute!

A: …, but to what extent was MLK’s (Martin Luther King) assassination a cooling of these issues in popular culture?

J: What?

A: If you are being beamed into the entire country's living room and you are telling a story like this, to what extent are you just prevented from telling the operatic story that would have been necessary at the time?

B: You mean by the studio or by the the network?

A: By all the forces, by cultural forces even!

B: What it seems to me they set out to do was make a movie that provoked white America into rethinking assumptions that they make about black people, and I think that they fail utterly in that regard because the movie is racist against black people.

J: By the time this movie got greenlit you are already way past the point where it is a question of whether or not white America can handle it. So beyond that, then you have your opportunity. And I don't think any studio executive was going to come down and say: ”Wait a minute, you are making these blacks too heroic! Let's dial it back and make them drunks!” I think it was too late by that point, and if Aaron Spelling had written a good script he could have made this a famous movie. Whether or not he was inhibited from doing that by his own either prejudice or lack of complete understanding of what people wanted to see? He may have thought this is what people were ready for, but that would have been his mistake.

The cast of the movie

J: I think with a cast like this, and we haven't talked about the cast, including Billy Dee Williams, Robert Hooks, Roosie Grier, and Richard Pryor,…

A: It is one of the reasons that I totally disagree with Ben's take that this is a film that is racist against black people. This is a blaxploitation film!

J: For all those guys to sign on to make this movie, that is an incredible brain trust! Some of the great actors of our time and comedians and thinkers! Richard Pryor wasn't yet a household name, but he was making the transition that he ended up making to being the comedian of the 20th century, so the guys making this movie had at hand an entire group of people that could have made a real statement picture and it just feels like it was a combination of low budget and as Ben is saying, just a writing failure, a failure of the imagination, rather than that it was from a studio top down ratings worry. Think about what smarter writer and smarter director could have done here?

A: With this wealth of talent on the screen? Absolutely! I grieve for the movie that this could have been given the actors they brought to bear here.

We should stay on the high ground, use the trees for cover. We stay on our road!

B: It is hard for me to think that the actors in this constitute a brain trust because a lot of them are pretty early in their careers when they signed onto this. Richard Pryor had credits as early as 1966. He was a standup, but he was just starting to get into acting.

J: But Robert Hooks and Billy Dee Williams were both in their mid-30s, and by this point in time Moses Gunn was almost 50, veteran stage actors!

B: Yeah, but casting a thing doesn't necessarily mean you have a lot of say over what happens in it, and I am wondering if they were the kind of actor that could pass up a role in a TV movie because they didn't totally agree with the statement it makes, or whatever.

J: Well, yeah. This was exactly the era that you as a black actor could protest a thing and say: ”I am not working on this ofay thing, but Robert Hooks was a producer, he started the Negro Ensemble Company… all these guys were not just actors that were signing up for roles, they were the heart and soul of the black actor caste. They were the founders of what became the African-American temple of acting.


J: There is another thing, and I hesitate to get into it: The experience that African-Americans have of having their story translated to the screen and to records is that the intermediaries for the black experience in the 20th century were often American Jews: Producers, writers,… and there is a lot of black anti-Semitism in America because that is a very complicated relationship. It is very often a Jewish writer writing the black American experience, or a Jewish producer, and that is a close relationship between two minority groups in the US and when we talk about the black experience being translated for a white audience, it almost always isn't being made by some racist Tennesee director…

B: It is not Captain Carter making those movie?

J: No, it is always being filtered through that additional level of experience of disenfranchisement that is coming through what is a very sympathetic lens of Jewish identity. It is just that in that experience you often find that the Jewish writer maybe extends his own cultural experience to include the black experience and then black artists look at that and say: ”The parallels don't all work! Your sympathy for us is unidirectional!”, because the Jewish writer can pass in the world in a way that a black actor or writer can't.

B: Watching this movie I was mainly excited by the idea of a modern remake.

J: Aren't there those? What is the Tarantino movie where it stars Jamie Fox and Leonardo Tarantino?

A: Django Unchained!

B: Leonardo Tarantino?

J: Django Unchained! And Spike Lee, too! You could do this exact movie, except as either a 21st century blaxploitation movie or a total revisionist movie, and that was the other risk of this: It could have veered into total revisionism where the white officer was just a dupe and a cook in the black guys were all mega commandos.

B: It seemed like it may be setting that up in the scene where they are throwing knives at the tree. I was like: Oh, is it going to make the case that because Billy Dee Williams’ character is a born again hard guy from Harlem he is going to be just as capable in the context of killing a bunch of SS troops that are guarding a dam?

J: I wondered that, too and after it didn't happen I was like: ”Maybe that would have been better?”

B: Maybe the revisionism would have been good?

J: Maybe the revisionism would have at least been more fun?

A: I am looking at David Kidd's writing credit. He did Carter's Army, a bunch of other TV movies, and then he pivoted into The Swinging Cheerleaders, Act of Vengeance, and Sixpack Annie, and a few of those writing credits he took the pseudonym Betty Conklin. A lot of these movies don't look good, is my point.

B: Yeah. Is Sixpack Annie about a girl that drinks beer?

A: Sixpack Annie seeks to help her Aunt Tess raise $5000 for the family diner by trying to find a rich daddy.

B: She is the pop-top princess with the recyclable can!

J: Whoa!

Sixpack Annie! She is dyn-o-mite!

A: I think John's point was really interesting about the perspective that a lot of these stories are written by. It may work from Aaron Spelling's angle, but I don't think it works necessarily from the David Kidd angle.

B: It occurs to me that it is a somewhat similar premise to Glory, in which Ferris Bueller has an idea of himself as a moral man who is there to prove a point about the capabilities of the black soldiers he is leading, but: ”God!”, Glory is such a high watermark for movies we have watched on this show, and also a movie that is very much from a white perspective about the idea of black soldiers.

A: The ending for Glory is so unambiguous, and it is one of the reasons that film is great. Broderick’s character wasn't a racist in the same way that Carter is in this film, but he is buried with his soldiers at the end, so his transcendence from being superior to the people he leads to, being reduced to their equal, is never a question in the way that it is in this film. Because at the end of this film I fully believe Carter is going to keep going on continuing to be a racist, and Crunk is going to go on to dig latrines.

J: I mean, Carter throws that shovel down in disgust at the fact that Crunk got dissed by those soldiers, so maybe Carter was completely transformed and became a civil rights activist? Maybe he put Crunk in for a Medal of Honor and Crunk became a civic leader? He became the mayor of Atlanta?

Production quality, the airplanes used

A: Man, the blocking of the convoy coming through and the APC driving by with the General Lee on the hood was pretty dark stuff, not even close to center frame, but the foreshadowing of something bad happening was super present, I thought. Did you get that, or no?

J: I missed that! There was a General Lee on top of one of the trucks?

A: On top of one of the convoy trucks, yeah!

J: I got to say: This was at a time when you could make a TV movie like that and have almost no special effects or really anything even interesting in the movie, and yet still you could find a World War II era fighter plane and hire a guy to come strafe your set… (A: That was incredible!) … 200 feet off the deck. Everything else in this movie was stuff that they found lying around and then all of a sudden for the space of one shot…

A: We got a Bf 109 and we have got a day. Let's go get it!

J: I couldn't tell whether the message of that… I didn't rewind it, but it seemed like that airplane had invasion stripes on it and I wondered whether that was a friendly fire incident, whether that strafing was… were there any German airplanes in the sky by this point in the war, that were just out running sorties, strafing guys on a road?

B: It is a very smashed audio track on this film. It is a mono VHS to DVD to digital, it is very badly compressed, but it seemed to me that they were layering in the sounds of airplanes and distant explosions all the way through the soundtrack.

J: Yeah, they were, but the implication of that was that we were in the very final days of the war and there was shelling all around them.

B: Right, and does this movie even care if there were German planes in the air at that at this point in the war or not? Because it is focused on a totally different thing that it is trying to say about the war.

J: I feel like that was just between me, Adam, and the people on Facebook that do The Planes of Friendly Fire.

A: That was a very exciting moment, and if that was a real Bf 109: even better! Really cool!

J: I felt like the silhouette of it was a P-40 Tomahawk, but maybe I am wrong!

A: John! Nicely done! It is a P-40 Warhawk and it has got Luftwaffe markings applied to the wings, so based on silhouette alone you nailed the spot!

J: All those years of looking at those little silhouette books, with a one second shot of that airplane I was like: " "Something is not right here!”, the 11-year old in my head was like: ”Wait a minute!”

B: The plane is on the poster of the movie!

A: The plane is on the poster, but Carter is gone. You don't want Carter on your movie poster!

B: No, he is not putting asses in seats!

J: But wait, it is not the Black Brigade poster. There appears to be a rebranding of this that happened in recent years.

B: Yeah, I think it got renamed when it was released on DVD two Black Brigade.

Which side are you on, man?

A: Was there a moment of pedantry in this film, Ben?

B: I couldn't find any parents complaining about anything specific.

A: I think we just did it with the P-40 in the Bf 109 thing. Good job by us!

B: You guys, make sure to add that to IMDB after we are done recording today!

Was that movie meant to be funny at one point?

A: What I liked in this film was Susan Oliver's broken English German accent. I thought she spoke pretty capable German. She was the character, and I think this was conscious, this was intentional, who portrayed a German that had less racism than the white American, so she was just very briefly hat-tipping to the whole issue of black soldiers feeling like they got a better treatment in post-Nazi Germany than they did in their own United States of America.

A: It feels awful, once it is revealed the relationship she is made to have with that German officer. She is fighting her own war, too!

J: I wonder whether this movie intended to be funny whether the dice playing and the slap-a-dash-ness of them, of the brigade at the beginning and the casting of Richard Pryor and Roosie Greer, for that matter….

B: Yeah, when they come back drunk it feels like there is an implied laugh track!

J: Could it be that at some point in the making of this film they were trying to figure out where to find the tone between almost a MASH level of dark comedy, and then somewhere along the line there was no comedy, they just never found their rhythm?

B: That totally explains the smash-cut-to-craps-game as the reveal on the soldiers. The one guy that is writing his diary of the war and it is fictional is super fucking tragic, and the fact that he dies from not having enough bullets because he didn't put them in the spot in his belt where he is supposed to because he had cigarettes there, that is super fucking tragic, but if the movie thought it was funny it makes more sense to me, putting all that stuff in? That character is such a painful idea, but maybe the movie thought it was jokes?

J: You could see it all being played for sardonic laughs, but none of that is there really, there is no joy in it!

A: I don't speak 1970s comedy, so maybe it was just lost in translation, in the same way that I didn't really get MASH?

J: I speak it fluently and it was not lost in translation!

B: Are the olds that got mad at us for not liking MASH going on write in again and say we just didn't get this one?

J: The olds!

A: It will take a long time for their typewritten letters to get to us.

J: Oh my God! I am going to put both of you in quarantine!

J: That is the briar-patch for me, baby!


Rating the movie

A: Each film gets its own custom rating system, and early on this film is telling you what it hopes to be and not what it is, and what I had hoped this film was going to be was Carter challenging all of his soldiers and getting his ass kicked in the process, but one of the earliest scenes of this happening is when Carter challenges Lewis to that knife throwing contest and Lewis’ Billy Dee Williams is just the coolest character in the whole thing. Not only does he have a knife, he is great at throwing it because Carter throws his at a tree and then Lewis bull's eyes his own knife through the back of Carter's knife. It is great! What I thought from here was that it was going to be every character one-upping Carter in such a way that Carter would finally see the folly of his thinking, and see these people around him as capable soldiers, but that is not the film that we get! So on a scale of 1-5 throwing knives we are going to review Black Brigade. I think this is a really challenging film for this project and it is not just because of its TV movie-ness. It did provide an interesting challenge in that way, and how easily I was able to ignore the idea of all of its awkward transitions. I really loved the fresh-faced cast that it worked with and it was really fun to see a youthful Richard Pryor. Richard Pryor is doing stand up at this moment in his life, but to see a 30-year old Pryor on screen, foreshadowing his own comic film career, I thought was a great experience. This is the ultimate Friendly Fire movie that we would never see without this podcast. This film really hinges on its ending to me, and the idea that only one type of character changes, and it is not the white characters, and if this were a modern film I would say it was a missed opportunity, but for a film made in 1970 I am just not even sure that that was possible for it. The Carters and the Crunks of the world get something very different from this film. I do like how in the end it is Crunk that does become a hero, and we started to talk about this earlier before turning away from it, but my point with Big Jim giving Crunk his Notre Dame fight song speech was less about the darkness of… Ben, I am trying to paraphrase you and I don't want to do that incorrectly, but you said something like: It is not Crunk’s character's responsibility to prove himself to Captain Carter, but my point about that scene was that Jim was willing to tell him anything to get him up out of the ditch and keep him alive, and that was a moment between two soldiers, whether or not they are black or not, that I thought was one of the few poignant parts of the thing. That is why Big Jim is my guy, by the way.

B: Whoa! Cart before horse!

A: I know the film isn't good, but there are some really complicated reasons for why it isn't. I don't think this is a film that the average Friendly Fire subscriber should go see, but I think it is a film that the graduate students and the completionists probably should. I think there will be better blaxploitation war films to come with more complex things to say and I am looking forward to seeing those, and to see this one as the first of its kind in this project is a tone setter. I am at a loss for how to grade it and given that I am going to give it a 3 knives treatment. I think it is worth studying and all of its flaws are worth seeing for a certain type of person, but I don't think this is the complete story of blaxploitation war films, but it starts a conversation that makes it important. So: I am going to go right down the middle with the three and I think I could see this receive some really bad scores for all of the ways that it fails, but that is what I am going to give it.

B: Yeah, there is a temptation to just brutalize this movie on the score, but I agree with you that it does serve as an interesting artifact of its time and I am really grateful for the conversation that we have been able to have about it. In an interesting way this movie bites off way more than it can chew when it comes to the race relations and issues that it is trying to tackle, but one thing I really appreciate about the film is that the actual mission, the storyline surrounding the actual mission, is dead simple: ”Get these guys, go to abandoned farm, use the radio, go to the abandoned winery, go to the bridge, shoot some Germans!” There is nothing to it!

A: Yeah, it is a straight line!

B: … and they never go off that line, the map is so clear! I think it is worth trying to make this kind of movie, and the most cynical read I have is that the movie is here to make white people feel good about the progress they haven't actually made on racism, but I think it does sneak at least a couple of challenging ideas past the goalie, despite that. I guess I will give it 2.5 throwing knives. Not a great movie, but definitely an interesting artifact of its time and a short movie, so it is not even that big of a commitment if you want to see what this was.

A: That helps!

B: It is less than 90 minutes, isn't it?

J: Yeah, 70 minutes. I had a really complicated reaction to this film and the net result of that was that I was on the edge of my seat for the entire film. I was never bored.

B: Oh yeah. It is not boring!

J: No! Partly it was that I was waiting to see what crazy jump-cut was going to happen next, but when that plane arrived, when that P-40 flew over, I was like: ”Anything goes now! This movie could have a submarine in it!” What do they have access to, right? They are filming this movie clearly in the same Southern California environment that they made the television show MASH and it looks nothing like Germany, it is high-altitude California, it looks like a wildfire about to happen. At the same time you get Billy Dee Williams in it, who is just sitting over there, absolutely gnawing the scenery every time the camera is on him, but given sort of nothing to do. As a consequence of that, the many layers of it, like the super home movie level of production, but the sheer star power charisma of the cast, the fact that the writing was really unclear what point they were trying to make, and at the end it is like: ”Wait a minute! Was I meant to come out of this feeling like all black soldiers were drunk gamblers who were deaf chickenshits? Was that the top line of the script?” Maybe it was just the night that I watched it, but I loved it! I loved it! It was such a wonderful 1970 trash fire that we don't get to see. We don't get to see behind the curtain this much. Adam kept bringing us back to 1970, like: "What the hell was going on in 1970?” and that is a great question! What the hell was going on in 1970? Everything! Everything was going on in 1970, and this was made for $100.000 basically to fill up a Tuesday night primetime slot because ABC was behind in the ratings and they couldn't get Anthony Perkins for this week, so it is like: ”Oh shit, let's do a thing about…”

A: Boy! Anthony Perkins as Captain Carter certainly refuses to sing with some pathos!

J: Right! The whole thing would switch around. If they had taken one definitive step in any direction of the five directions they could have gone, it would have been a better experience, but also you wouldn't have been able to see the… this is the type of thing where I kept waiting for a boom mic to get into the shot. I loved it, and for me it is a 4 throwing stars movie. I think everybody should see it. It only takes 70 minutes, you will get something out of it, and it is not a comfortable watch. You definitely don't feel good at the end. Partly why it is important is that racial politics are still a major, major, major, major feature of the civilization we are trying to build right now. We are coming back, we are fighting the battles of the last 150 years over again every day in small ways, and all the times along the way that we thought that maybe we were in the clear, we had finally figured it out, we were on the cusp of a post-racial society, and then the house of cards all falls down again. It is just interesting to go back to 1970 and see where we were, not definitively, but through the eyes of this one totally messed-up production, and just try to put ourselves in that moment and just like: ”Huh, they weren't not trying, they weren't not taking a shot at it!” and this is what we got. If this movie came out today, if this movie was watched by a film studies class, boy, I would love to be a fly on the wall!

B: Oh, boy! The liberal arts colleges would be burned to the ground if this movie came out today.

A: And that would be too bad!

J: Well, yeah! I could see film students running out of the room on fire, running out of the theater themselves, personally on fire.

A: We have got to see more things that make us uncomfortable and this is an important document in the way that John has described in that respect.

J: But not like Fires on the Plane!

A: Sure! Important can mean a lot of things.

J: Yeah, right! It is 70% unintentionally important, but I thought it was amazing.

A: I like how our groupings for the ratings are getting further and further apart. This is a fun trend!

Who is your guy?

A: Well, as I said before, my guy is Big Jim, and there are a couple of reasons for that. It is because 1) he is the roller in the Craps game during the title scene, and if you have ever been a high roller in a Craps game you know there is no feeling like it. It is great! It is the greatest! And he is loving it, he is winning cigarettes for everyone, but also in a less fun way he is the philosopher of the group. When Crunk gets scared and he says he doesn't want to die, he tells him: ”There ain't nothing to it, just curl up inside yourself!” and whether or not it was intentional or accidental, I thought that was really profound of him and I am going to think about that a lot after this movie, whenever I am scared.

J: Hmm. Just curl up inside yourself!

A: Yeah! What about you, Ben? Who is your guy?

B: Well, if you have ever played an open world video game where are you are collecting resources, and if you are anything like me you are never sure which ones to get, in your Skyrims, in your Fallouts. I am always filling my utility bag with lots of stuff, which makes my character move super slow, and Brightman is definitely my guy because he is susceptible to the same misjudgment of what is going to be an important resource to amass around yourself. He fills all his ammo pouches with cigarettes because those are the thing that are most valuable in the context that he exists in, and then he is taken outside of that context and he doesn't have bullets when he needs them most, and I feel like I would be the guy that makes that kind of mistake if I ever had to go to a war. So private Brightman is my guy.

J: My guy is 100% Susan Oliver.

B: You just like her because she is in the first episode of Star Trek!

J: She is! She is the Orion slave girl, painted head to toe in green in the first episode of Star Trek, and also appears in the end credits, I am surprised you guys didn't call her out for that.

A:I am just shocked that you pronounce the name of that show the way you did!

J: I choose her because she is a classy lady and I think she is very pretty and I always love a fake German accent, I don't care who doesn't, but I think hers is great, but also she was a pioneering pilot in real life, she was only the 4th woman to ever fly a transatlantic solo flight in a small engine plane (A: That is amazing!), so I feel like she is definitely my guy.


Choosing the next movie

B: I think it is time to pick the next movie. John, do you want to… What color is your dice?

J: Hmm.. It is a green dye. It is a sleeve dye from the planet Orion.

A: Oh, wow! There it is!

J: Okay, let is see here! I got to empty out my dice cup here. Okay, here we go! 79! The year Adam was born!

B: Okay, we are going to hit our World War II hattrick. This is a 1942 movie from Britain directed by Noël Coward called In Which We Serve, the story of a ship, the British destroyer HMS Torrin, is told in flashbacks by survivors as they cling to a life raft.

A: Cool!

B: Wow! Written, directed by, and starring: Noël Coward.

A: Awesome!


B: Wow, damn! Well, that will be next week, and then of course we will sort the World War II films off of the potential list, but for now I am just looking forward to watching In Which We Serve, so for John Roderick and Adam Pranica I have been Ben Harrison. To the victor go the spoiler alerts!

R: Friendly Fire is a Maximum Fun podcast hosted by Ben Harrison, Adam Pranica and John Roderick. The podcast is produced by me, Rob Schulte, our theme music is War by Edwin Starr, courtesy of Stone Agate Music, and our logo Art is by Nick Ditmore. Looking for some more Friendly Fire to listen to? Last year we covered Raiders of the Lost Ark from 1981, a World War II fantasy film about an archeologist on his adventures with the supernatural. Friendly Fire is made possible by the support of listeners like you! You can leave a positive rating and review on your podcatcher of choice, and you can also go to maximumfun.org/join to pledge your support. If you do, you will gain access to our monthly porkchop episodes, as well as all of the other Maximum Fun bonus content. You can now follow Friendly Fire on Twitter and Instagram under the handles FriendlyFireRSS in addition to the discussion group we have on Facebook. So join in the conversation! Thanks for listening, and we will see you next week on Friendly Fire!

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