Universal Studios Home Video presents
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976)
"This is the best thing that could happen to a ballplayer. That's right. Better than being on Sallie's plantation."- Bingo Long (Billy Dee Williams)
Stars: Billy Dee Williams, James Earl Jones, Richard Pryor
Other Stars: Rico Dawson, Ted Ross, Mabel King
Director: John Badham
Manufacturer: Ritek Digital Studios
MPAA Rating: PG for (language, violence, torture, sexual innuendo)
Run Time: 01h:50m:41s
Release Date: 2002-01-29
DVD ReviewWhen it's spring and there are games that don't count being played in Arizona and Florida, a young person's fancy tends to drift toward thoughts of baseball. And what better way to work that out than a baseball movie? In the late 1930s, Bingo Long (Billy Dee Williams), a player with the Negro League Ebony Aces, gets fed up with the dictatorial owner of the team, Sallison Potter (Ted Ross). A chance remark by slugger Leon Carter (James Earl Jones) about seizing the means of production convinces Bingo that he can make a go of a barnstorming team of Negro League all-stars, playing across the country for a percentage of the gate, and make a better living than under the thumbs of the owners. However, the owners aren't willing to take this lying down, and when the Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings start to really make it, disasters are engineered. Of course, as this is a sports movie it all comes down to a big game with predictable results.My opinion is really split on this picture. On the one hand, for much of its running time, Bingo Long is a very agreeable and light-hearted baseball picture that occasionally touches on the dark side of the game in the 1930s. On the other hand, the combination of the completely Bizarro sense of history, with the hackneyed Big Game, just left me completely impatient. This picture seems to take place in an alternate universe where Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson didn't languish in the Negro Leagues, or a world in which such an upstart team composed of the best players wouldn't have just been mercilessly crushed like so many insects. There's a hint of that in the bloody torture that the owners inflict on Charlie Snow (Richard Pryor), but in one sense that doesn't begin to cover what would have been done to them. On the other hand, it's terribly jarring in light of the rather happy-go-lucky attitude of the picture to that point. The result is neither fish nor fowl, but some unpleasant combination of the two that just doesn't sit quite right. On the positive side, the picture is quite well cast. Williams is charismatic enough to make one think he might pull such a scheme off, and Jones is a highly believable slugger in the Josh Gibson mold (years before he put on all the extra weight). Ted Ross is good as the autocratic Potter, but the show is really stolen by Mabel King as the feisty widow of one of the owners. Most importantly, there's lots of baseball in this film. Too often, supposed baseball pictures just don't have enough of the sport in them, but here we're regularly taken into small town diamonds with unpainted, rundown stands, where one might believe a barnstorming team could show up. The production design in particular is noteworthy here, with tons of 1930s detail. In the last analysis, this is pretty enjoyable, but if I see another sports picture that winds up with the Big Game on which all the chips are laid, I may throw my spikes through the screen.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The anamorphic widescreen picture looks very nice indeed for a film that's more than 25 years old. There is some grain, but the picture is fairly detailed, with excellent color. There are a few speckles at the reel changes, but overall this looks very nice. There are some night sequences that are difficult to make out, but the commentary indicates that it was a screwup in shooting and even on film it's impossible to make much out, so that's hardly a fault of the transfer.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The 2.0 mono soundtrack is excellent. The Dixieland score comes through loud and clear, with excellent frequency range and very good bass. Dialogue comes through crystal clear with minimal hiss. The crack of the bats is piercing and gives this a wonderful at-the-park flavor. A model of how good a mono track can be.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director John Badham
Packaging: Scanavo variant
Extras Review: The most notable extra is a commentary from director John Badham. Although this was one of Badham's first features, he doesn't really have all that much to say about it. He does point out the history of the various real ballplayers who make up the team, as well as the segregation issues that are briefly touched upon. He is frank about the shortcomings of the picture, such as the problematic night scenes, the questionable torture sequence, the use of Spanish moss on trees in St. Louis and other gaffes. Unfortunately, there are also numerous dead patches in the commentary. A good set of production notes is included, as well as decent bios and filmographies, making this a better than expected package for a fairly minor picture.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsAn uneven but generally entertaining baseball flick with a convincing period feel, given a nice transfer and a decent commentary. You could do a lot worse than this for a sports movie.
Mark Zimmer 2002-03-13