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HISTORY

       It is also noted that the play on which the film was based was "Originally Produced on Stage by the Negro Ensemble Company, Inc."
       The 23 Feb 1982 issue of DV carried a story stating that Warner Bros. had purchased screen rights to Charles Fuller’s play A Soldier’s Play for a figure estimated at $500 thousand, with Fuller set to write the screenplay. However, in a 24 Mar 1982 NYT article, Aljean Harmetz wrote that the purchase price for the play was $150 thousand with a $50 thousand bonus to be paid if the play won a Pulitzer Prize. The play did go on to win the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Studio production notes in AMPAS library files indicate that Norman Jewison saw the play shortly after it opened and made “a handshake deal” with playwright Fuller. A 3 Aug 1983 HR story by Teri Ritzer elaborates that the property was “purchased for Jewson by Warner Bros.” An item in Screen International dated 3 Apr 1982 noted that Fuller’s play was loosely based on Herman Melville’s novella, Billy Budd.
       According to Lewis Beale in a 6 Nov 1983 LAT story that appeared in the paper’s “Calendar” section, Warner Bros. agreed to finance the film on the proviso that if Jewison agreed to work for no salary, the studio would put up a $5 million budget. However, Beale reported, that when the first draft screenplay was presented, Warners opted to drop the project. Jewison then managed to make a deal with Columbia Pictures under similar terms, but ... More Less

       It is also noted that the play on which the film was based was "Originally Produced on Stage by the Negro Ensemble Company, Inc."
       The 23 Feb 1982 issue of DV carried a story stating that Warner Bros. had purchased screen rights to Charles Fuller’s play A Soldier’s Play for a figure estimated at $500 thousand, with Fuller set to write the screenplay. However, in a 24 Mar 1982 NYT article, Aljean Harmetz wrote that the purchase price for the play was $150 thousand with a $50 thousand bonus to be paid if the play won a Pulitzer Prize. The play did go on to win the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for drama. Studio production notes in AMPAS library files indicate that Norman Jewison saw the play shortly after it opened and made “a handshake deal” with playwright Fuller. A 3 Aug 1983 HR story by Teri Ritzer elaborates that the property was “purchased for Jewson by Warner Bros.” An item in Screen International dated 3 Apr 1982 noted that Fuller’s play was loosely based on Herman Melville’s novella, Billy Budd.
       According to Lewis Beale in a 6 Nov 1983 LAT story that appeared in the paper’s “Calendar” section, Warner Bros. agreed to finance the film on the proviso that if Jewison agreed to work for no salary, the studio would put up a $5 million budget. However, Beale reported, that when the first draft screenplay was presented, Warners opted to drop the project. Jewison then managed to make a deal with Columbia Pictures under similar terms, but with a budget of $6 million. Directors Guild rules precluded Jewison from working for free with only back-end percentage participation, but he agreed to work for DGA minimum, a fee of $150 thousand, and a participation in gross film rentals up to the $1.25 million he received for his previous picture, Best Friends (1982, see entry). A Soldier’s Story marked the first film of a seven-picture non-exclusive deal between Jewison and Columbia.
       Although the state of Arkansas had initiated a 5% rebate on film production money spent in the state of $1 million or more with the Arkansas Motion Picture Incentive Act of 1983, Will Tusher reported in the 20 Dec 1983 issue of DV that there was a dispute between the parties, with the production claiming it had spent $1.3 million in the state, and the legislature allowing only $800 thousand of those expenditures. On 11 Jun 1984 Tusher followed up, stating that the production had received a rebate of $50,174.00. This represented the first such rebate under the Arkansas law. Producer Ron Schwary was quoted in the article as saying that $3,608,000 of the film’s $6.2 million budget was spent for actual filming, with the remainder allocated to post-production and above-the-line costs.
       According to production notes, the film was shot entirely in Arkansas, with locations including Army Ready Reserve Base Fort Chaffee; Clarendon, AK; and Porter Field in Little Rock, AK. Principal photography began on 10 Sep 1983 in Clarendon, with a scheduled ten-week shooting schedule. A Friday 18 Nov 1983 Columbia Pictures press release announced that principal photography had been completed that week. A Soldier’s Story marked the final film of production designer Walter Scott Herndon, who died 21 Jan 1984 after the film was completed.
       On 22 Jun 1984 DV reported that A Soldier’s Story had been re-rated PG on appeal after first receiving an R rating in the 804th Bulletin of the Classification & Rating Administration issued 21 May 1984.
       In a 9 Dec 1984 LAT article, Martin Halstuk wrote that the film had earned $19 million to date at the box-office in limited release to fewer than 500 theaters, and that it was planned to expand the release to 700 theaters in Feb 1985.
       Michael London in the 25 Jan 1985 LAT and Army Archerd in his 29 Jan 1985 “Just for Variety” DV column noted that the film was scheduled to be released in then-segregated South Africa on 8 Feb 1985 at whites-only and blacks –only theaters. Director Norman Jewison attempted to stop this and to only release the film in integrated theaters or drive-ins, but was overruled by Columbia distribution executives. Instead, he pledged that any monies his company received from South African distribution would be donated to the United Negro College Fund.
       Critical reception was generally positive with Jagr.’s 31 Aug 1984 DV review calling it a “taut, gripping film,” and HR ’s Duane Byrge citing it as a “well-wrought production” in his 31 Aug 1984 appraisal. However, Bruce Williamson, writing in the Dec 1984 Playboy, noted “some flat spots” in comparing A Soldier’s Story to Jewison’s Oscar-winning film In the Heat of the Night (1967, see entry).
       The film received Academy Award nominations in the following categories: Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Adolph Caesar); Best Screenplay Based on Material From Another Medium (Charles Fuller); and Best Picture. It also received Golden Globe Award nominations in like categories. Norman Jewsison received a DGA Award nomination for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures. A Soldier’s Story was also named one of the Top Ten Films of the year by the National Board of Review.
      The following acknowledgments are made in the end credits: "The producers wish to thank the following for their cooperation: The department of Defense, United States Army; Arkansas Motion Picture Development Commission, Joseph Glass, Director; Commander and Personnel of Fort Chaffee, Kansas; Arkansas National Guard; The People of Ft. Smith, Little Rock and Clarendon, Arkansas"
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SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Daily Variety
23 Feb 1982.
---
Daily Variety
20 Dec 1983.
---
Daily Variety
22 Jun 1984.
---
Daily Variety
31 Aug 1984.
---
Daily Variety
29 Jan 1985.
---
Hollywood Reporter
3 Aug 1983.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Aug 1984
p. 3, 21.
Los Angeles Times
6 Nov 1983.
---
Los Angeles Times
15 Sep 1984
p. 8.
Los Angeles Times
9 Dec 1984.
---
Los Angeles Times
25 Jan 1985.
---
New York Times
24 Mar 1982.
---
New York Times
14 Sep 1984
p. 10.
Playboy
Dec 1984.
---
Screen International
3 Apr 1982.
---
Variety
5 Sep 1984
p. 12.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Norman Jewison Film
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Unit prod mgr
1st asst dir
2d asst dir
D.G.A. trainee
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Exec prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
1st cam asst
2d cam asst
Unit still photog
Gaffer
Best boy
Key grip
Dolly grip
2d Company grip
Stills
Special stills
ART DIRECTOR
FILM EDITORS
Apprentice ed
Apprentice ed
SET DECORATORS
Const des coord
Leadman
Prop master
Asst prop master
Standby painter
COSTUMES
Cost supv
Men`s cost
Men`s cost
Tailor
Seamstress
MUSIC
Mus scoring mixer
Orch
SOUND
Prod sd mixer
Boom op
Cableman
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec mixer
Re-rec recordist
Supv sd ed
Sd ed
Sd ed
Asst sd ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff supv
Asst spec eff
Titles & opticals
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Casting assoc
Casting assoc
Prod assoc
Projectionist
Asst to Mr. Schwary
Asst to Mr. Palmer
Asst to Mr. Jewison
Asst to Mr. Jewison
Prod accountant
Asst prod accountant
Accounting clerk
Unit pub
Prod office coordinator
Prod secy
Prod asst
Prod asst
Prod asst
Transportation coord
Transportation co-capt
Prod van driver
Honeywagon driver
Cam truck driver
Set dresser driver
Caterer
Caterer
First aid
Craft service
Extra casting
New York casting
New York casting
Voice casting
Baseball coach
STAND INS
Stunt double
Stunt double
COLOR PERSONNEL
Col timing
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the play A Soldier's Play by Charles Fuller (New York, 20 Nov 1981).
SONGS
"Pourin' Whiskey Blues" written by Patti LaBelle, James Ellison and Armstead Edwards, performed by Patti LaBelle
"Low Down Dirty Shame" written by Larry Riley, performed by Patti LaBelle and Larry Riley
"Bright Red Zoot Suit" and "C.J.'s Lament" written and performed by Larry Riley
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SONGS
"Pourin' Whiskey Blues" written by Patti LaBelle, James Ellison and Armstead Edwards, performed by Patti LaBelle
"Low Down Dirty Shame" written by Larry Riley, performed by Patti LaBelle and Larry Riley
"Bright Red Zoot Suit" and "C.J.'s Lament" written and performed by Larry Riley
"Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)" written by Lew Brown, Charlie Tobias and Sam H. Stept, performed by the Andrews Sisters, courtesy of MCA Records, Inc.
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DETAILS
Release Date:
14 September 1984
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 14 September 1984
Production Date:
10 September--mid November 1983 in Arkansas
Copyright Claimant:
Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.
Copyright Date:
26 September 1984
Copyright Number:
PA231146
Physical Properties:
Sound
Dolby Stereo in selected theatres
Color
Color by Metrocolor
Widescreen/ratio
1.85:1
Lenses
Lenses and Panaflex camera by Panavision
Duration(in mins):
101
MPAA Rating:
PG
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
27456
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1944 Tynan, Louisiana, African-American soldier, Sergeant Waters, staggers out of Big Mary’s nightclub. On his way back to Fort Neal, Waters is assaulted, then shot and killed by an unknown assailant. During morning inspection, the black soldiers’ barracks are inspected. Captain Taylor wants to make certain that the blacks have no hidden weapons for fear that the black troops will seek revenge against local “rednecks” for Waters’ death. The black soldiers believe no black man would have killed Waters, and suspect the Ku Klux Klan of the murder. However, Captain Taylor tells the black soldiers that Tynan is now off limits to them, and that any of them found in town will be subject to court martial. After Taylor leaves, the soldiers ask Private Wilkie, who was demoted from Sergeant to Private, whose ass he is going to kiss now that Sergeant Waters, his “number one ass,” is gone? Wilkie explains he has a wife and children, unlike the others, and he was looking to get back his stripes, so that he was willing to do whatever Waters required of him. Sometime later, Captain Davenport arrives in Tynan to investigate the death of Waters. As Corporal Ellis drives Davenport to Fort Neal, he points out where “they” killed Waters. When Davenport asks who “they” is, Ellis responds, “The Klan.” In a meeting with the fort commander, Colonel Nivens, Davenport is told the worst thing he can do in this part of the country is to pay too much attention to “the death of a Negro under mysterious circumstances.” Nivens orders Davenport to complete his investigation in three days, ... +


In 1944 Tynan, Louisiana, African-American soldier, Sergeant Waters, staggers out of Big Mary’s nightclub. On his way back to Fort Neal, Waters is assaulted, then shot and killed by an unknown assailant. During morning inspection, the black soldiers’ barracks are inspected. Captain Taylor wants to make certain that the blacks have no hidden weapons for fear that the black troops will seek revenge against local “rednecks” for Waters’ death. The black soldiers believe no black man would have killed Waters, and suspect the Ku Klux Klan of the murder. However, Captain Taylor tells the black soldiers that Tynan is now off limits to them, and that any of them found in town will be subject to court martial. After Taylor leaves, the soldiers ask Private Wilkie, who was demoted from Sergeant to Private, whose ass he is going to kiss now that Sergeant Waters, his “number one ass,” is gone? Wilkie explains he has a wife and children, unlike the others, and he was looking to get back his stripes, so that he was willing to do whatever Waters required of him. Sometime later, Captain Davenport arrives in Tynan to investigate the death of Waters. As Corporal Ellis drives Davenport to Fort Neal, he points out where “they” killed Waters. When Davenport asks who “they” is, Ellis responds, “The Klan.” In a meeting with the fort commander, Colonel Nivens, Davenport is told the worst thing he can do in this part of the country is to pay too much attention to “the death of a Negro under mysterious circumstances.” Nivens orders Davenport to complete his investigation in three days, and when the Sergeant objects, Nivens tells Davenport he is trying to prevent the Negro troops from killing white folks in Tynan, and that Davenport can return to Washington for all he cares; however, Davenport has been ordered to file a report and intends to complete his assignment. Nivens reminds Davenport that he is the first “colored” officer that the black enlistees will have ever seen, and he is expected to set an example for them. In a meeting with Captain Taylor, Davenport receives the same message, but he reminds Taylor his orders are to cooperate with the investigation. As Corporal Ellis drives Davenport around the base, he mentions that he has found out that two white officers who saw Waters on the road the evening he was killed were among those questioned, but he does not know their names. Davenport questions the black soldiers in the barracks. Private Wilkie notes that the unit is mostly made up of baseball players who played in the Negro leagues, and divulges that it was Sergeant Waters who demoted him for having been drunk on watch. He also remarks that there were two sides to Waters, a tough side and a more pleasant side, and that he could be relied on for an occasional ten-dollar loan. Wilkie asks Davenport if the Sergeant’s stripes and other Army insignia were on his body. When Davenport responds in the affirmative, Wilkie suggests that something is not right. The Ku Klux Klan hates the idea of black men being in the U.S. Army and usually strip a black soldier of the trappings of rank before lynching him. Private First Class Melvin Peterson is the next soldier to be interrogated by Davenport. Peterson tells of an altercation he had with Waters. The sergeant had browbeaten some of his men, and Peterson spoke up for them. Waters challenged Peterson to a fight. Peterson got in some good punches, but Waters threw dirt in his eyes and beat him to a pulp. Davenport asks if the fight was reported to the officers, and Peterson says no, that he knew that he should have reported the incident, but after the fight Waters left him alone and he just went along after that. Davenport thanks Peterson for his honesty, and asks if the soldier had seen Waters on the night he was killed. Peterson tells him no, that he was on guard duty that evening. He asks Peterson if the baseball team ever played the Yankees, and Peterson says no, because they lost their final game of the season. Captain Davenport is assigned to an empty barracks building for his quarters, and discovers the words, “Welcome Snow Flake” written in soap on the bathroom mirror. That evening Captain Taylor hands Davenport a copy of a request he sent to have the investigation terminated. He uses the same arguments Nivens used, but Davenport believes Taylor’s objections are based on the color of his skin. He demands to know why Taylor’s earlier report neglected to mention two white officers had been questioned, and Taylor says that he was ordered by Nivens not to include that detail in his report. An angry Taylor mentions that two .45 caliber Army-issue slugs were pulled from Waters’ body, and if black troops believed a white officer had killed the Sergeant, there would have been a riot. Davenport asks the names of the two officers, and Taylor, under pressure, tells Davenport of Lieutenant Byrd and Captain Wilcox’s testimony. They came upon Waters at the bridge on the road to the fort. He was drunk and in their path. Waters refused to salute the white men, complained that he had given up his identity to live by the white man’s rules, and had even killed for whites during the First World War. Angry at Waters’ insubordination, Lieutenant Byrd beat up the Sergeant, but he and Wilcox maintained they left him alive at 11:10 PM, that they were in the officers’ quarters by 11:30 PM, and that they did not leave the rest of the night. Davenport tells Taylor he intends to arrest the white officers, and that Taylor should consider himself under arrest because it was his duty to go over Colonel Nivens’ head if he had to. But Taylor tells Davenport that Nivens was in the officers’ billet when Lieutenant Byrd and Captain Wilcox returned, and is part of their alibi. Davenport says they are lying, but Taylor tells him to go out and prove it. The next morning, Davenport demands Byrd and Wilcox be arrested. Nivens refuses, and reiterates their alibi. But he relents and allows Davenport to question them in the presence of a white officer, and on condition that their testimony be reported to him. Davenport agrees. After base church services, Davenport questions Private Henson, who serves as organist for the services. Henson relates that he didn’t like Waters because he always seemed to be riding, C. J., a Private from Memphis, Tennessee. He mentions a shooting incident that took place at Williams’ Golden Palace the previous year at the end of the baseball season. After the incident, in which two black soldiers and one white M.P. were killed, Waters ordered a search of his barracks. A .45 automatic was found under C.J.’s bed, and Waters accused the soldier of murder. When other soldiers stood up for C. J., Waters asserted that C. J.’s bowing and scraping to white folks undermined them all and though he may not have pulled the trigger he was “hiding something.” C. J. lashed out at Waters and was taken to the stockade. In the aftermath, Private Peterson expressed contempt for Waters, as a sell-out to the white man, and he determined to go to the stockade and tell what he knows: that C. J. was in the barracks all evening. In questioning Private Cobb, a fellow Mississippian who befriended C. J., Davenport learns that Cobb hated Waters for what he did to C. J. Cobb relates that when he visited C. J. in the stockade, the imprisoned soldier mentioned that Waters had visited him and revealed he had purposely gone after C. J. because he was representative of the sort of subservient Negro that would not be tolerated after the War. When Davenport asks what happened to C. J., Cobb tells him that he killed himself. In protest, the team deliberately lost the last game of the baseball season, and forfeited the opportunity to play the Yankees. Afterward, the team was broken up, and the players reassigned. Sergeant Waters changed—becoming drunk most of the time. Davenport asks when Cobb got in the night of the murder and the soldier replies he came in between 9:20 and 9:30 PM. When Lieutenant Byrd and Captain Wilcox refuse to be questioned, Davenport and Taylor confront them in the officers’ recreation room, and Taylor orders them to cooperate. Davenport accuses them of shooting Waters, but they respond that their guns cleared ballistics, and besides, .45-caliber ammunition was in short supply, and no one on the bivouac was issued any .45 ammunition. Although Taylor does not believe the men, Davenport decides to let the men go. Davenport protests that Colonel Nivens knew this all along and has been letting him run around in circles. Taylor asks if these two did not kill Waters, who did? Davenport replies, “I don’t know yet.” Davenport believes Waters tricked C. J. into attacking him, but Taylor disagrees. Wilkie is again questioned by Davenport, and the private admits hating Waters for having him demoted. Davenport accuses Wilkie of putting the gun under C. J.’s bunk. Wilkie says it was Waters who ordered him to do so with the promise he would get his sergeant’s stripes back. But C. J. hit Waters, and the sergeant now had C. J. where he wanted him; then, as if to spite Waters, C. J. committed suicide. As Wilkie describes Waters’ hatred of C. J., he recalls the sergeant remembering an incident during the First World War in which white soldiers convinced French girls that black soldiers had tails and then paid one of the blacks to dance around naked with a tied-on tail. Later the black soldiers slit the man’s throat as he asked what he had done wrong? Davenport asks why Waters did not go after Peterson, but Wilkie says he liked Peterson because he fought back and intended to promote him. After C. J.’s death, it was Peterson who organized a protest to lose the game. As the interrogation continues, flares go off outside and the soldiers cheer. Word has come that they are being shipped out and will now be able to show what they can do against Hitler. Amidst the jubilation Davenport orders Corporal Ellis to take Wilkie to the stockade. Private Anthony Smalls attempts to go AWOL and hop on a train, but is caught and returned to base to face Davenport, who accuses Smalls and Peterson of killing Waters and “going over the hill” together. Smalls breaks down and says it was Peterson who killed the Sergeant, in retribution for what happened to C. J. Smalls did nothing because he was scared, and Peterson said white people would be blamed for the killing. Peterson is caught and brought to Davenport. When Peterson realizes that Smalls has told Davenport what happened, he stands tough and says he “didn’t kill much, some things need getting rid of.” Davenport asks who gave Peterson the right to decide who is fit to be a Negro? Davenport prepares to leave the base as the soldiers are march out. He comes upon Taylor in a jeep driven by Private Ellis. The men apologize to each other for each being wrong, and Taylor offers Davenport a ride. Taylor admits he will have to get used to having black officers in the Army, and Davenport assures him he will get used to it.
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GENRE
Genres:
Sub-genre:
World War II, African American


Subject

Subject (Minor):
Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.