Every day Robert Saucedo shines a spotlight on a movie either so bad it’s good or just downright terrible. Today: Honky Mother… You Ain’t No Soul Brother!
Color me surprised, but I found The Bad Bunch, Greydon Clark’s 1973 racial drama, to be a damn fine movie despite, or perhaps due to, the film’s cheesy exploitation roots.
Clark co-wrote, directed and stared in the film, which has also gone under the titles The Brothers and Tom.
Clark stars as Jim, a Vietnam veteran who returns from the war with a note from his recently killed-in-action best wartime buddy — who just happened to also be a black soldier.
Venturing into the ghetto to deliver the letter, Jim finds himself at odds with his friend’s brother Tom (or Makimba as he now goes by, having thrown off his oppressive slave name).
Makimba, refusing to believe that his brother would have ever had a “honky” friend, vows to teach the cracker a lesson by kicking his ass.
The first half 15 minutes of The Bad Bunch, much like the climax of Do the Right Thing, can be seen either as a horror film or a feel-good-movie depending on your race and political leaning. As Jim is chased through the ghetto by a group of large, very pissed off black men, things begin to look bad for our film’s hero — that is until he is saved by a couple of racist cops.
Jim, always one to heal the racial divide, uses the cops’ presence to escape an ass-whooping by Makimba and his friends, a group that appear to be live-action versions of Fat Albert’s gang, but he assures the cops that he was in no danger and that Makimba and him are just friends having a misunderstanding.
The cops, suspicious of Jim’s claims, let the black men go but when they spot Makimba later, they give him a police beatdown of colossal proportions.
Soon, Makimba, convinced his police brutality can be traced solely back to Jim and his visit to the ghetto, vows revenge and begins a collision course of vengeance that will leave both his and Jim’s lives shattered.
Tom Johnigarn plays Makimba, a tough-talking soul brother who has a grey moral compass with its own sense of right and wrong. Spurred on by the racial injustice suffered by blacks during the ‘60s and ‘70s, Makimba has become a racist himself, letting his hatred of white people cloud his vision and turn him into a downright monster.
Johnigarn’s vulnerability shines through, though, in a scene in which Makimba, having just done something terrible to his father, breaks down in a mess of sobs and tears — transforming for a split second into a scared little boy.
Clark’s portrayal of Jim may lack the fine nuance of Johnigarn’s performance but his character is no less complex and interesting.
Restless and unsure of what to do after returning from Vietnam, Jim sleepwalks through his life. One day he’s avoiding his fiancé and shacking up with a woman he picks up from a bar. The next, he’s planning his wedding to his high school sweetheart. Torn between his desires and his obligations, Jim is a pinball of emotional uncertainty — a weakness that leaves him a prime target for Makimba’s misguided vengeance.
The Bad Bunch is not a happy film — though there is plenty to enjoy. Amidst the wondrous beauty that is ‘70s film nudity and a slightly silly funk soundtrack, there is real emotional weight being tossed around leading up to a devastating ending to the film.
This is my first exposure to Greydon Clark and his film work but if The Bad Bunch is any indication to the quality for the rest of his stuff, I can’t wait to explore more.
Hopefully the sound quality of the rest of his films are better than that found in the recently released Greydon Clark Drive-In Double Feature presentation of The Bad Bunch — which featured fluctuating levels and scenes in which the dialogue was practically undecipherable.
Robert Saucedo is also a tough-talking soul brother. Follow Robert on Twitter @robsaucedo2500.
Tags: Bad Movies Done Right, Vietnam