Thursday, August 21, 2014


The culprit shows how much the film has aged.


A very dense film about the black soldiers in 1944-45 waiting to be sent to Europe. They had been recruited in great numbers by Roosevelt’s administration but they were kept in separate units with only white officers at their head. The Blacks though could be promoted to non-commissioned officer positions which was already a great improvement on what they called the first war.

Waiting too long in Tynen, Louisiana, some rivalries appear among the Black men, especially since the sergeant of this unit, Sergeant Waters, is using his position and this long wait to get rid of those he does not like as representative of the Black ”race” because he considers this second war is going to change the fate of the Blacks in America and those who are just fools, clowns, those who sing to make people happy and entertain them are not and should not be legitimate members of the “race.” By using his power to victimize one soldier he considered such a clown, on his own recollection of how a black soldier was mistreated in Café Napoleon in Paris in the first war into playing the black monkey, half nude with a tail attached to his bottom and eating bananas for the fun of the customers, he manages to bring this black soldier here in Tynen to breaking point and committing suicide.

One night this very sergeant gets killed when drunk and on his way back to the base. Everyone says it is the Ku Klux Klan. But it is not. Too simple.

Washington DC sends a lawyer with the rank of Captain to investigate. He is the first black officer everyone sees, and I should say to emphasize the occasion for the first time. Reaction are tremendous joy among the black soldiers and very dubitative if not hostile reactions from the white officers since the unit works on a de facto segregated basis with the officers’ club only hosting white men since all officers are white. But the Captain sent by Washington is black and that is a shock to the local officers, and what’s more to have this investigating officer, accompanied by the local captain responsible for security, coming to the club to interrogate two white officers in the billiards room, or pools room if you prefer.

We are thus led to the belief that these two officers had something to do with the death of the sergeant. But that’s where we are wrong of course. Too simple.

I won’t tell you who did it but it has to do with judging who is fit to be a “negro” and who is not fit to be one. Sergeant Waters did it first and before anyone and others decided that they had the same right and that Sergeant Waters, as a black man, had to be eliminated from the racial plate as unfit for the future.

When we look back at the history of Blacks in the USA after the Civil War and their emancipation (amendments 13 and 14 to the US Constitution), we find out that on both sides of the racial divide, the main question is always who or what type of black man is fit to be a black man in the present situation and for the future. The Ku Klux Klan wanted to control the Blacks at least politically by using frightening violence. But you find out that Booker T. Washington was supporting one type of Black people, though he did not reject the others and just suggested they should get educated his way. Marcus Garvey is very expansive on his vision of what black people should be and how they should behave and he rejects, at times very vociferously, those who do not fit his model. The various black movements, NAACP, Nation of Islam, Black Panther Party, Black Nationalists, etc, all have a clear definition of what Blacks should be and how they should behave, what religion must be their inspiration, what objectives they should have and how they should advocate them and reach them, etc.

That’s exactly the point here: some then have the tendency to reject those who do not fit their definition, reject them by ostracizing them, victimizing them, hassling them, or even killing them. Who has the right, black or white, to decide who is fit to be a black man or not?

The film is a little bit old. This question is today slightly obsolete, but the question can be generalized and taken away from the racial divide. As soon as there is a clear cut divide that creates some antagonism, on both side of the divide they pretend they know who is fit to be on their side or on the other side. On both side of a divide people live with clichés. Even if today the question of gay rights is pretty active along that line, the Case of Ferguson, Missouri, and the killing of unarmed Michael Brown by a police officer who shot at least six bullets shows the racial divide is still not erased in the USA, still on August 9, 2014. That makes the film still valuable, even though I find the end too close to another cliché. That’s the element that has aged. But I can’t tell how without telling you who is the culprit.


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