Monday, July 6, 2009

A Soldier's Story

I saw "A Soldier's Story" in a packed theater in 1984 a few days after its premiere. It was kind of an event: a serious film with a black cast--adapted from black Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Fuller's play--that dealt with racism and identity in the context of a southern army base in World War II. And it was a murder mystery on top of that.

The movie starred Howard Rollins Jr., as an Army captain sent to the base to investigate that murder. Rollins (who died in 1996) was an A-list actor, then, having been nominated for an Oscar for his performance in "Ragtime" a couple of years earlier. But the film really belongs to the supporting cast, which included Denzel Washington, David Alan Grier, William Alan Young (the cat who would later play the daddy in "Moesha"), and Robert Townsend--when they were all young and on the come-up.

Adolph Caesar (who died in 1986) turned in an Oscar-nominated performance as the bitter and conflicted Sgt. Waters, spitting lines with the fury of a machine gun (as the clip above can attest. (Warning: if you haven't seen the film, there are spoilers in the above clip.) There is even a musical performance by Patti Labelle:

Despite all this, "A Soldier's Story" is kind of a forgotten movie. Looking at it now, the film is plagued by its low $5 million budget ("The Color Purple," which was released the next year was made for $15 million). And Rollins, the star of the film and a compelling actor, seems to have little to do under Jewison's direction. As a result, the heaviest lifting, actingwise, is done by Washington and Ceasar, who played the same roles in Fuller's play. (Warning: course language in this clip below)

Still "A Soldier's Story" is worth checking out. So check it out.

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