Tuesday, September 30, 2014

FORGOTTEN GEM? Carter’s Army (1970)

                “Carter’s Army” (also known as “The Black Brigade”) was a made for TV movie that tried to tap in to the success of the “Dirty Dozen”.  It is set in WWII Germany and features an almost all-African-American cast.  The mission is to save a dam behind enemy lines.  This is, of course, crucial to the war effort.  Spoiler alert:  Since I highly recommend you do not watch this movie, I will cover the whole plot. 

                The movie begins as though it was produced by the Ku Klux Klan.  A redneck officer named Carter (Stephen Boyd) parachutes in to take command of a black supply unit.  He sneaks up on a sentry who does not know the password … or much of anything else.  Carter calls him “boy”.  Carter is surprised that the unit is all-black.  Apparently he is not aware that the Army is segregated.  When he meets the men, they are all playing craps.  Because that’s what black people do.  Their commander Lt. Wallace (Robert Brooks) is drinking wine and does not salute.  They get off on the wrong foot.  Surprise!  Will they become buddies by the end of the film?  Or will this film be unlike every other film made since 1950 where there are antagonistic black and white main characters? 

                The unit is stereotyped in general and specifically.  It is full of misfits.  Unlike the Dirty Dozen, they are not criminals…yet.  When he is made aware that the men are a service company, Carter opines:  “Black men doing what they know how to do [i.e. loading stuff].  The Army just gave them a job doing it.”  At this point, you would have to agree with him.  Is that the theme of the movie?  Maybe once we meet the men we’ll realize they are fine human beings.

                Carter and Wallace pick six “volunteers” for the mission.  Will it be a heterogeneous unit or will all the men be crap-shooting winos?  Both.  Let’s meet them.  Lewis (Billy Dee Williams) is the belligerent black.  Crunk (Richard Pryor) is the jive class clown.  Big Jim (Rosie Greer) is the big, dumb one.  “Doc” Hayes (Moses Gunn) is the old guy.  Brightman (Glynn Turman) is the intellectual (note the name!) who is keeping a journal.  And some deaf guy who is brought along to be killed.  This motley crew goes strolling into the woods like they are on “Soul Train”.

That red beret is covering one fine
Army-approved Afro
                Since this movie is from the “who will survive the suicide mission?” subgenre, it doesn’t take long for the deaf guy to get strafed.  He did not hear the plane coming – ha! ha!  They don’t bury him.  They reach a farmhouse because the producers were told a sexy blond woman lives there.  Anna (Susan Oliver) may be a dumb blonde, but even she knows that seven men capturing and holding a dam is crazy.  Anyway, it’s not going to come to that because a force of Germans arrive at the farm and … leave.  WTF? 

                They move on.  We have to assume Anna was left very satisfied.  Crunk panics and starts shooting into the trees while ranting that “I don’t want to die”.  Big Jim shames him into bravery by using the n-word.  (Script approved by Carter.)  They stop at a winery (even though it is miles off their path – just kidding).  Big Jim is mortally wounded by a German hiding in the winery.  Big Jim and Crunk find some wine, but they refrain because they know the honor of their race is at stake.  Just kidding – they get drunk, of course.  Lewis and Doc are sent to scout the dam and discover that the Germans have rigged it for destruction.  On the way back, Lewis steps on a mine and dies.  Crunk deserts because he is a shiftless black and to confirm the stereotype.  Carter, Wallace, and Brightman go after the dam.  I won’t tell the ending except to say it involves a ridiculous fire fight, the redemption of a wiseass wino, the death of the only intelligent person, and a walk into the sunset by a racist and his boy.

                I generally avoid really terrible war movies because there are still so many good ones that I have not reviewed yet, but sometimes one will sneak up on you.  Usually I am aware of the buzz behind a movie so I know what to expect.  This movie took me a little by surprise.  I was expecting something similar to “The Devil’s Brigade” – an entertaining Dirty Dozen knockoff.  TDB is not a good movie, but “Carter’s Army” makes it look like a masterpiece.  I also had hopes it would be on a camp level with “The Secret Invasion”, but no such luck there either.  It is just a piece of crap – a crapterpiece.  Unlike those other two movies, “Carter’s Army” is furthered weighed down by terrible acting.  Boyd embarrasses himself and his Southern accent is distractingly faux.  Speaking of which, try to listen to Susan Oliver attempt a German accent without cringing.  The cast is not bad, but all of them fare poorly.  Shame on them for allowing themselves to be used to perpetuate racial stereotypes. 

The movie could not have been worse.  The plot is unrealistic, even for this subgenre.  It is also painfully predictable.  What was not predictable is the offensive portrayal of African-Americans.  Instead of having the men being the unfair victims of the Army’s racist policies, the film makes a strong case for those policies.  Even when given a chance to distinguish themselves, the behavior of the mission members confirms their incompetence and inferiority compared to regular soldiers.  It is hard to imagine what the director and screenwriter had in mind.  Either they were clueless about the impression the movie would make or they agreed with Carter.

P.S.  Note how the poster does not even mention Boyd who is the main character.

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