Starting off in Vietnam, that looks much like a backyard in Southern California, the army fatigue wearing Clark approaches an African American soldier. Clark offers the man a walnut. Whether this is from a care package or one of those native Vietnamese walnuts is not explained. The conversation quickly turns heavy. Clark’s character, Jim, wants to know if his compatriot thinks things will be better between the races when they get back home. Before the fellow soldier is able to tell Jim what he thinks a gun shot fires out. Recoiling backwards the soldier goes down and the real movie begins.
Now, it’s not automatically misguided for a white director to want to comment on the racial tensions between the black and white races, but when the opening theme music begins to play questions of intent and approach do arise. With images of Jim making his way off a bus and strutting his body decked out 70′s civilian clothes through an all black Watt’s a funky tune plays over top as the credits flash on the screen. If you don’t credit line that gives the name of the song you can surely guess the title – Nigger Lover. That’s right, Nigger Lover the song actually says “Honkey Mother, Nigger Lover….Don’t want you in our town.” And, Nigger Lover was to be the title of the film. So already one can see that maybe Greydon Clark’s heart and mind were not in the right place at the same time.
Where The Bad Bunch goes from there is a truly astonishing. Jim attempts to delivery the dying soldier’s last letter to his father only to be confronted by the soldier’s brother and his gang of friends. They are a mix between the Black Panthers and Fat Albert’s gang. At the head of this gang is Tom, or as he’d prefer to be called Makimba. As you can expect, Makimba doesn’t take a liking to Jim. His gang follow Jim to the local carnival and harass him. Two crooked cops come just in time to save Jim’s life, but neither the cops nor Makimba can believe it when Jim doesn’t press charges.
Jim attempts to go on with his life, picking up the pieces he’d left behind. Before getting back together with his girlfriend Jim stops at the local strip bar, bitches about his soon to be in-laws, and then blows off his girlfriend for a fling with a stripper. Remember Jim’s a vet, his head’s messed up. Finally, Jim comes to his senses and rekindles his romance with Nancy. While Makimba and his old lady fight, Jim and his frolic on the beach. While Makimba is getting worked over by the cops, Jim is shopping for records. Life sucks for Makimba because Makimba is black, but Jim’s got problems too. One of his problems is the fact that Nancy is a prude. She doesn’t want to live together until Jim and her get married. Poor Jim.
While Jim tells Nancy to “crap on” her father and just move in with him Makimba is hellbent on finding Jim and getting some retribution Makimba sends his gang out to canvas Los Angeles looking for Jim. Specifically he tells his gang to “look where whitey hangs out.” It doesn’t take long for them to find Jim or to hassle him. Though the entire middle of the film does fall into a weird nexus of exploitation scenes. Bouncing from Jim’s one-night stands to buck-wild, buck-naked pool parties, Greydon Clark often gets down from his soap box to give audience scene after memorable scene full of quotable dialog, poor performances, and over indulgent self-importance. Jim’s drunken ramblings in his favorite no-tell motel should go down in cinematic history as one of the greatest scenes ever committed to celluloid. His line, “What are you a goddam doctor with all these questions?” needs to be a staple part of our every day vocabulary. The level of misogyny in this one scene is enough to last a person a life time. It’s bad enough that Clark attempts to tackle issues of race, but the way he handles issues between the sexes is probably even more astonishing and it’s a shame he never set out to conquer those social issues the way he did with the racial ones.
Thankfully, the world has Greydon Clark, social activist filmmaker, to help us through our tougher times. His attempts at bridging the divide between the races only set back the same cause by a decade or two. That is if anyone ever saw this film when it first came out. Those that did may still be scratching their heads over the film’s ending. Nothing said here or in the course of the film can prepare anyone for the end of the film, when Clark gets back on his soap box and delivers a finale that pretty much forces your jaw to the floor.
Everyone I’ve ever showed The Bad Bunch to has been blown away by the film. It’s Clark’s desire to make a socially relevant film inside the confines of your typical exploitation film that gets everyone. Daring stunts such as this push The Bad Bunch well past your typical pisspoor film. I am sure Greydon Clark never intended for his film to be a comedy, though he has done many comedies, but rarely do his comedies contain social criticism. It’s when he decides to speak out at the same time he’s speaking in exploitive terms that you get comic gold. This is the sort of humor that comes from watching Ms. America contestants tell you how they’d fix the world’s problems. Even if what they want to say makes some sense it gets garbled in the delivery.
Thankfully, no one takes Ms. America that seriously and the same can be said for Greydon Clark. Deep down we understand that their intentions are good-hearted. We also know that Ms. American and the films of Greydon Clark don’t make for the highest quality of entertainment, but we just can’t help tuning into see what they’ll say and do. I think that’s pretty much how everyone in the audience felt after Skinheads and The Bad Bunch. It was hard to get a real response out of anyone, just a lot of headshaking and muttering.