Thursday 28 May 2009

Brotherhood of Death (1976)

Director: Bill Berry
Stars: Roy Jefferson, Le Tari, Haskell Anderson and Mike Thomas

How could any exploitation film fan resist a blaxploitation film in which three black Vietnam vets take on the Ku Klux Klan? Well at the beginning of the film they're just regular citizens, but they seem pretty good at pissing off dumb prejudiced white dudes in their pimped up cars, dumb prejudiced white dudes that are unsurprisingly Klan connected. Now this doesn't seem to be a really good reason to sign up for the army: to trade a few good ol' boys in hoods back home for the entire Vietnamese army on their home turf. But make the decision they do, and all three of our black heroes sign up.

They learn plenty too, as Capt Quinn ensures that they know about all the guerilla tactics Charlie has to play with. And just like that, Vietnam is over and the heroic trio are back home in the south, where Leroy Winniford, the dumb prejudiced white dude from the beginning, has progressed from idle threats to raping black women out with their boyfriends. The sheriff is a decent sort of guy but the rest of the cops are Klansmen and Harold Turner, the county attorney, is the Grand Cyclops in his flagrantly gay pink sheet and hood.

So what can they do about it? Well, there's plenty of talk about enlisting the black majority of Kincaid County to register and vote to get the leadership they can trust, and sure enough our heroes and the local Baptist minister start busing them down to the registration office. But hey, what sort of exploitation film would this be if that sort of peacable shenanigans all worked? That would be more like a Hallmark movie of the week.

So sure enough the immediate response from the Klan is to burn down the Baptist church, then shoot a black kid in a half assed frame up of one of our heroes. This is a serious Klan: they even have their very own billboards with their very own bad spellings. They're against 'intergration' and even add an extra K to KKK just for emphasis. And with the county attorney in charge, they're happy to do whatever it takes to keep their white way of life, up to and including killing their own sheriff to stop him investigating them.

It takes a while to build up to the finale which is the focal point of the film and that isn't as graphic as we could have hoped for, but it's not too bad. From an exploitation standpoint it has plenty of notable racist moments and a decent blaxploitation theme tune but not too much else. The cast is small enough that the white guys are all evil racists (except the sheriff) and the black guys are all heroes, but hey, it's a black and white story, right?

Well, surprisingly it's the odd moments where the film has pretensions of grandeur that ring truest. I was expecting to enjoy most the Viet Cong traps our heroes set for the Klansmen at the end, but surprised myself by preferring some of the dialogue in times of crisis: the black vigilantes verbally destroying the communist propaganda the Klan was proliferating. No, this isn't a serious film to quote in ethics class but while it mostly fails on an exploitation level, it succeeds every now and again on a higher one. It's like they forgot they were making an exploitation film.


rich kolker said...

Extras for this movie were recruited by an ad in "The Diamondback", the news paper at ther University of Maryland. I was one of the extras, appearing in two scenes in "Vietnam", the ambush, and the conversation.

Hal C. F. Astell said...

Very cool, Rich. I'd love to have been in a blaxploitation movie but I was born too late. Now I can only hope to be in a retro blaxploitation movie, not quite the same thing.

How seriously did they take this film, if you were there long enough to judge? It's utter exploitation but it feels like the filmmakers had higher aspirations.