Brotherhood of Death
|Brotherhood of Death|
|Directed by||Bill Berry|
|Produced by||Ronald K. Goldman|
Brotherhood of Death is a low-budget 1976 action film in the blaxploitation genre, directed by Bill Berry, and starring Roy Jefferson, Le Tari, and Haskell Anderson. The film featured appearances by several members, including Jefferson, of the Washington Redskins professional football team of the National Football League.
In the mid-to-late 1960s, three young men leave their small Southern hometown to join the United States Army and fight in the Vietnam War. Upon their return home, they take up the cause of battling the racial injustices prevalent in the town. When the town's Ku Klux Klan members offer a murderously violent reaction to their efforts, the trio uses the lessons they learned in the army, fighting the Vietcong, to conduct an all-out war against the Klan.
The film was the brainchild of its executive producer, Ronald K. Goldman, a Washington, D.C. native and a veteran of blaxploitation film production. Guided by his previous experiences, Goldman devised a plan to make a film with a very low budget, to be produced entirely outside of the Hollywood establishment, and which he felt highly confident would still prove to be profitable.
Specifically, Goldman had deemed the quality of the acting in blaxploitation films to be unimpressive, even in those films which had been financially successful. Reasoning that even untrained actors could provide performances of similar quality, Goldman leveraged the fact that he knew some members of the Washington Redskins football team and convinced them to appear in his film. He thus gained some marquee value from their sports celebrity status without having to pay the higher salaries that would have been required to employ experienced actors who would have generated a similar level of public interest.
Goldman saved additional money by hiring a first-time director and having nearly the entire film shot in Montgomery County, near Washington. One exception was an actual Ku Klux Klan recruitment highway billboard which was featured in the film, suggesting the level of the Klan's support and influence in the town depicted in the movie. Such billboards were a relatively common sight in the South during the mid-1960s time period that served as the film's setting. However, by the time of filming in 1976, the majority of them had been removed. The billboard that was ultimately used in the movie (shown right) was filmed at its location on U.S. Route 70 at the city limits of Smithfield, North Carolina. The sign was maintained there until the late 1970s, making Smithfield one of the last towns that the filmmakers could have found which continued to have such a sign displayed.
The bar sequences were filmed at the Disabled American Veterans, Chapter #7 club house, located on Maryland Route 197 in Bowie, Maryland under the leadership of John "Jack" Federici, who appeared in the film with several other disabled war veterans.
According to Goldman, his financial strategy of pursuing a very low budget succeeded in ensuring the profitability of Brotherhood of Death. Goldman reported that the film brought in approximately $1 million USD, after having been made at a cost of between $200,000 and $250,000. Nonetheless, the film was widely panned by critics, did not find a lasting place in the public consciousness, and became one of the essentially forgotten entries of the blaxploitation film era.
Among those who liked the film, however, was director Quentin Tarantino, and he would eventually give the film a renewed exposure. Tarantino has twice screened Brotherhood of Death at the Quentin Tarantino Film Festival, and the news of his advocacy of the film was among the factors that led to the decision to release it on DVD in 2005. Since then, it has aired numerous times on the Independent Film Channel (IFC) cable television network, with IFC's Matt Singer having expressed admiration for the movie.
Misidentification of the cast
The liner notes in the DVD release of Brotherhood of Death incorrectly ascribe Tari's and Anderson's leading roles to Redskins players Mike Bass and Mike Thomas. Though Bass and Thomas were among the football players who appeared in the film, Jefferson was the only one of the three leading actors who was a Redskins player. Some reviewers, such as online film critic Harry Knowles, have similarly misidentified Redskins receiver Larry Jones as one of the three leading actors. In keeping with Goldman's plan to utilize the players' marquee value as famed sports stars, the film's one-sheet and other promotional materials featured the football players — even those with smaller roles — over unknown leading actors Tari and Anderson, perhaps contributing to the later misconceptions. In more recent years, Brotherhood of Death was made available as a dual release DVD with Fred Williamson's One Down, Two to Go. Due to misleading crediting of the films on this release, the lead role in Brotherhood of Death was attributed to Fred Williamson, who in fact had no involvement in the feature.
- McKenna, Dave. (2005, March 4–10). "The Bad, the Bad, and the Ugly", Washington City Paper
- Locke, Mandy. (2006, October 5). "Judge to address swindling claim[permanent dead link]", The News & Observer
"Ethridge began working in Smithfield in the mid-1970s, one of two lawyers who were the first blacks to set up a practice in Johnston County. In those days, a billboard greeted people driving into town on U.S. 70 with the words 'The KKKK welcomes you to Smithfield'"
- Sims, Patsy. The Klan, Chapter 3, (New York: Stein and Day, 1978). ISBN 978-0-8128-2268-7
"Only half the sign was left ... Before earlier high winds ripped it apart the billboard had proclaimed: THIS IS KLAN COUNTRY. The remnant was a faded reminder of a time in the mid-sixties when North Carolina was referred to as 'Klansville, U.S.A.' ... Similar billboards encouraging motorists to JOIN & SUPPORT UNITED KLANS OF AMERICA INC. became as commonplace as Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club greetings ... Now most of the billboards had disappeared from the highways, ... There was [still] a sign farther up Route 70, next to the Smithfield city limits; another outside Goldsboro on 117 North; and this ravaged one, southeast of Raleigh, near Princeton."
- Associated Press. (1977, May 25)., "Smithfield Landmark, Klan Sign, Scheduled to Be Torn down" Times-News, Page 6
- Singer, Matt. (2009, February). "Four Blaxploitation Films Off the Beaten Path", ifc.com
- Knowles, Harry. (2001, August 24). "QT5 - Good Ol Boy Night (well not exactly) - DIXIE DYNAMITE and the amazing BROTHERHOOD OF DEATH", Ain't It Cool News
"The three lead heroes Roy Jefferson, Mike Bass and Larry Jones of the Washington Redskins are absolutely charismatic as all hell in this flick."
- Image of Brotherhood of Death movie one-sheet
- Photocopied images of Brotherhood of Death promotional items