Released way back in the balmy summer of 1976, a decade with very different social attitudes and expectations, The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings was a breath of fresh air. Released in the shadow of Watergate and Vietnam and wedged between the summer smash of Jaws in '75 and a year before the arrival of Star Wars, this baseball-based sports film dealt with topics far more substantial than one of America's favourite sports. Starring soon-to-be galactic stars Billy Dee Williams and James Earl Jones, Bingo Long also featured the white-hot Richard Pryor, seven years away from his adventures with Kal-El in Superman III and already one of the States most incendiary comedians in a role that made him even more infamous.
The film, based on the 1973 novel by William Brashler, sees dissatisfied pitcher Bingo Long (Billy Dee Williams), tired of being treated appallingly by the owner of the Ebony Aces Sallison Potter, pulls together his own team of all-stars from other black teams in the segregated African American baseball league. Utilising the talents of big-hitting Leon Carter (James Earl Jones, 13 years before his more famous baseball movie Field of Dreams) and Pryor as Charlie Snow, a man who dreams of playing in the majors. Despite being boycotted by black teams, they take on minor league white teams, essentially becoming the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball, engaging in distracting routines and pure skill to throw off their opponents and going on a winning streak that leads back to the Negro League as championship-winning equals.
Directed by John Badham a year before his own smash-hit Saturday Night Fever, it's a fun, vibrant and oftentimes sobering account of life for black sportsmen in the United States of the '30s. Modern audiences may find some of the content troubling, and it's brutally honest where it needs to be, but look beyond that, and you see the determination and grit of a team to prove themselves not only to the bigots of the era but also to themselves. This, and it's clear to see why Billy Dee was cast as Lando Calrissian, his effortless charm oozes off the screen, as does the charisma of the entire cast. Well worth a watch or a rewatch for viewers old and new.