Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Carter’s Army (1970)



          Formulaic, predictable, and shot on a meager budget, the made-for-TV war picture Carter’s Army, often marketed by the alternate title Black Brigade, is nothing special from a cinematic perspective. However, because the movie features several noteworthy black actors, including future box-office heavyweights Richard Pryor and Billy Dee Williams, Carter’s Army is enjoyable as a sort of all-star African-American riff on The Dirty Dozen. Set in 1944 Germany, the exceedingly simplistic movie revolves around U.S. Army Captain Beau Carter (Stephen Boyd), a racist southerner given the thankless task of capturing a heavily guarded dam from the Nazis. Unfortunately for Carter, the only squad available to assist him is an all-black unit that’s never seen combat. Working reluctantly with the squad’s formidable commander, African-American Lieutenant Edward Wallace (Robert Hooks), Carter leads six enlisted men on the mission even though it’s likely to end in tragic failure. Along the way, the born-and-bred cracker learns to respect black people because of the bravery the soldiers demonstrate and because he witnesses the everyday humiliation the men suffer at the hands of fellow Americans.
          Not a single frame of Carter’s Army will catch viewers by surprise, and in fact, some scenes are a bit hard to take seriously because the forests of Germany look suspiciously like the high-desert woods above Palm Springs. (One could never accuse TV kingpin Aaron Spelling, who cowrote and coproduced this project, of overspending on location photography.) In lieu of a novel story, what keeps Carter’s Army lively is the cast.
          Moses Gunn appears as a professor suffering wartime indignities with grace, Pryor plays a soldier so afraid of fighting that he attempts desertion, Glynn Turman portrays a young man keeping a journal of the action-packed war that he wishes he could tell the folks back home he’s fighting, and Williams plays a tough guy from Harlem whose racial anger matches the intensity of Carter’s bigotry. Also in the mix are gentle giant Rosie Grier, the NFL star-turned-actor, and the stalwart Hooks (Trouble Man), who lends gravitas to the role of the squad’s leader. This being a Hollywood movie of a certain time, of course, the title character is a white guy whose journey to enlightenment is portrayed as having more narrative value than the lives of the black men around him. Veteran big-screen stud Boyd delivers adequate work as Carter, complete with a litany of disgusted facial expressions and an amusingly soupy accent.

Carter’s Army: FUNKY

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