Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: 42 has thinking about our national pastime.
The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976)
As much a movie about American entrepreneurship as a movie about baseball, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings stars Billy Dee Williams as a top Negro-league ballplayer who recruits his rival, James Earl Jones, to join him in leaving behind the league’s penny-pinching owners and forming their own barnstorming team, playing exhibition games in cow-towns. Along the way, they confront racism, spartan playing conditions, and powerful men looking to exploit them. Co-produced by Motown’s Berry Gordy and directed by John Badham (a year before he helmed Saturday Night Fever), Bingo Long was part of two concurrent waves of ’70s cinema: movies about African-Americans going into business for themselves, and movies about the wild side of the first half of 20th-century America. It’s a rollicking film with a terrific cast, including Stan Shaw as a young superstar, and Richard Pryor as a hustler trying to convince the white scouts that he’s Cuban.
But what most stands out about Bingo Long is its depiction of what it takes to survive as an independent in a market geared toward making the rich richer and keeping the workers poor and desperate. The team has to act and dress like clowns (in uniforms that resemble those of the ’70s Houston Astros) to call attention to themselves, and have to work odd jobs to meet their expenses. The movie contrasts Williams’ “anything for a buck” attitude with Jones’ “uplift the race” philosophy, but ultimately, both men have the same goal: to show they have value beyond what their former bosses were willing to acknowledge. Bingo Long is a fine recreation of baseball’s past—when gimmicks kept the game thriving outside the big cities—as well as an explication of what provoked the sport’s free-agent era.
Availability: On DVD from Universal, for digital rental or download from multiple online retailers, and on Netflix’s “Watch Instantly.”