Charles Fuller adapted his Pulitzer Prize-winning A Soldier's Play for the big screen in 1984. The film version, A Soldier's Story is essentially a murder mystery, played out against a background of inter and intra-racial conflict at a Second World War training camp. To the consternation of his white opposite number at the camp, a black captain (Howard W Rollins) arrives to investigate the death of a black sergeant (Adolph Caesar). Suspicion immediately falls on a pair of bigoted white officers but as the tale unfolds in a series of flashbacks, it soon becomes clear... that a different kind of prejudice is also at work. Assisted by some excellent performances, director Norman Jewison opens the story out from its stage roots. There's a wonderful baseball scene (filmed on location at Little Rock) in which the double standards of Dennis Lipscomb's fidgety white captain are exposed with neat irony; he'll cheer his successful black team all the way home in the name of sport. His gradual, forced liberalisation provides the film with an important comic element. A Soldier's Story wears its heart on its sleeve without being superficial in any way. It's a compelling tale, well told and often highly entertaining, in which nobody gets off lightly, least of all the good guy. On the DVD: The widescreen presentation helps give an epic feel to what could, in other hands, have been a claustrophobic production. The picture quality is fine. But the monaural sound track is often rather muffled, leaving you straining to catch some of the dialogue. This is also a shame because the blues music--an inspired job by Herbie Hancock, assisted by Patti Labelle singing her lungs out as bar owner Big Mary--is an important element of the film's underlying theme and deserves to be better heard. The extras are valuable. Norman Jewison's commentary is detailed and sensitive. As he says, the film deals with "ideas in racism never seen on screen before", and he acknowledges the strength of his actors in getting those ideas across. "March to Freedom" is an excellent short documentary which features the moving testimonies of black servicemen on the insufferable prejudices they encountered while attempting to defend their country during the Second World War; A Soldier's Story is thus put sharply into context. --Piers Ford [show more]
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