During the closing days of World War II, General Clark (Paul Stewart) wants to capture a Nazi-controlled dam and he thinks he’s found just the man for the job. Captain Beau Carter (Stephen Boyd) is a tough and good with a knife and a gun. Carter is sent to take command of a ragtag group of soldiers who have spent the last three years waiting for combat. The only catch is that the soldiers are all black and Captain Carter is a racist redneck.
This was an Aaron Spelling-produced television movie that was originally broadcast under the name Carter’s Army. When it was released on video, the name was changed to Black Brigade, probably in an effort to fool viewers into thinking that it was a cool blaxploitation film instead of a simplistic TV movie. The film has gotten some attention because of the cast, which is full of notable names. Roosevelt Grier plays Big Jim. Robert Hooks is Lt. Wallace while Glynn Turman is Pvt. Brightman (who keeps a journal full of the details of the imaginary battles in which he’s fought) and Moses Gunn brings his natural gravitas to the role of Pvt. Hayes. Probably the two biggest names in the cast are Richard Pryor as the cowardly Crunk and Billy Dee Williams as Pvt. Lewis, who says that he’s from “Harlem, baby.”
Don’t let any of those big names fool you. Most of them are lucky if they get one or two lines to establish their character before getting killed by the Germans. The movie is mostly about Stephen Boyd blustering and complaining before eventually learning the error of his ways. The problem is that Carter spends most of the film as such an unrepentant racist that it’s hard not to hope that one of the soldiers will shoot him in the back when he least expects it. The other problem is that, for an action movie, there’s not much action. Even the climatic battle at the dam is over in just a few minutes.
There is one daring-for-its-time scene where Lt. Wallace comes close to kissing a (white) member of the German Resistance, Anna Renvic (Susan Oliver). When Carter sees him, he angrily orders Wallace to never touch a white woman. Anna slaps Carter hard and tells him to mind his own goddamn business. It’s the best scene in the movie. Otherwise, Black Brigade is forgettable despite its high-powered cast.