There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
The Ku Klux Klan hasn’t had much of a presence around Poolesville since 1976, the year a posse of Washington Redskins shot it out with the robed racists outside the quaint burg and at other Montgomery County locales. This struggle of good vs. evil was unfit for minors, unless accompanied by an adult, and full of strong language and blood.
Well, something that looked sorta like blood.
“That was spaghetti sauce,” says Paul Dunlap, a Silver Spring native who saw the Skins v. Klan battle close enough to capture it on film. “They basically just opened up cans of Chef Boyardee and poured it on bodies. This was a really low-budget movie.”
Ah, yes. A movie. For bad-cinema connoisseurs who missed Brotherhood of Death during its straight-to-the-drive-ins run nearly three decades ago, or Redskins fans desperate to kill time until draft day, here’s the good news: The Michigan firm Anchor Bay has just released the movie on DVD.
Here’s how the liner notes, quoting vintage promotional material for Brotherhood, describe the action: “Pro Football legends Mike Thomas, Roy Jefferson and Mike Bass star as Vietnam vets who return to their redneck hometown only to find the local Klan has triggered a frenzy of racism, rape and murder. But this brotherhood learned all about guerrilla combat and sadistic torture while fighting Whitey’s war…and now the KKK is gonna pay!”
A gang of other Redskins—Frank Grant, Larry Jones, and Dennis Johnson—showed up on the set for cameos.
It’s a super bad movie. And not in the way “super bad” was thrown around in the heyday of blaxploitation, the ’70s cinematic wave that Brotherhood tried to ride. No, the movie is bad enough to leave viewers dropping their jaws and asking: Who the hell thought this was a good idea?
“That was my idea,” says Ronald Goldman.
It’s no surprise that Brotherhood was Goldman’s brainchild. He had strong athletic and cinematic ties in the area. He was the best tennis player to come out of D.C. in the ’60s, a Top 20 player in the U.S. rankings whose net accomplishments earned him invitations to the best tournaments around the globe (and induction into the Georgetown University athletic hall of fame). Also, his family owned the KB chain of movie theaters, which at one time had more than 60 theaters in its stable, including the MacArthur Theater in Palisades and the Ontario in Adams Morgan.
Through family business connections, he got into the film industry after giving up dreams of pro-tennis stardom. Blaxploitation movies were Goldman’s bailiwick: He had a hand in producing titles such as The Ghetto Warriors and The Ghetto Warriors of Watts.
But in 1976, Goldman decided he didn’t need to use Hollywood folks to make a movie. He figured he could make more money by fusing blaxploitation with, well, a little burgundy-and-gold-sploitation, and filming on the cheap around his hometown.
He convinced a bunch of Redskins to contribute their acting inexperience to his war-against-the-Klan film project, gathered funds, hired a first-time director (Bill Berry) and a local crew, and soon enough commenced storyboarding Brotherhood.
“I knew some of the Redskins, and I thought they had marquee value and were probably as good actors as the actors in Superfly,” Goldman says, “so I figured this would make some money.” He says the budget for his movie was “between $200,000 and $250,000.”
Pat Carroll was a student at Montgomery College in the spring of 1976, when he answered a casting call for folks to play Klansmen. He ignored a caveat that only guys with short hair need apply.
“I had hippie hair at the time, halfway down my back,” says Carroll. “So when I showed up on the set I remember people being very mad at me because of my hair. But I remember thinking, I’m gonna play a Klansman! I’m gonna wear a robe and a hood! What difference does my long hair make?”
In the end, Carroll’s way of thinking prevailed. Or, more likely, not enough warm bodies showed up to put on a bedsheet for $25 a day and take his place. In any case, one of Carroll’s scenes—riding through a field near Gaithersburg to a Klan rally dressed in full Klan get-up—made the final cut.
Making the final cut isn’t exactly something to be proud of. In a September 1976 review, Washington Post reviewer Peter Mikelbank wrote that the film “resembles a home movie.” As for the Redskins’ battle with the Klan, the reviewer wrote: “O.J. Simpson did it in ‘The Klansman’ and did it with better moves.”
The film garnered at least one fan in its first run: Quentin Tarantino. According to Mark Ward, vice president of acquisitions for Anchor Bay, the company’s release of Brotherhood was at least partially inspired by news that Tarantino touts the movie as one of his all-time faves. Tarantino screened Brotherhood at a film festival he hosted in Austin, Texas, in 2001; he introduced it as a noteworthy example of “regional exploitation filmmaking.”
But most folks who made the movie aren’t all that jazzed by the news that their work has been resurrected.
“Oh, god. You’re kidding,” says Mike Bass, reached at his home in Gainesville, Fla.
Bass was the Redskins’ only hero of Super Bowl VII—he intercepted a pass from Miami Dolphins kicker Garo Yepremian on a botched field-goal attempt and returned it for a touchdown, the lone Skins highlight in a 14-7 loss. He still gets asked about that play nearly every time he leaves his house.
His role as Captain Quinn, the military officer in Brotherhood who throws football metaphors into his pep talks to troops—“My men don’t fight from no fixed defenses! We stay on offense,” Quinn yells at Jefferson’s Raymond—comes up less frequently. As in never. And Bass likes it that way.
“I remember reading the script and not being real impressed,” Bass says. “But I never went to see the film. To this day, I’ve never seen it.”
News of the second coming of the movie also has Erich Roland speaking in religious terms. “Oh, my god, no!” says Roland when told his name appears in the credits of the recently released DVD. “I’m so shocked it brings chills to my spine.”
Brotherhood was then-18-year-old Roland’s introduction to the movie business. Producers really put him to work. He’s listed in the credits as the movie’s still photographer. And then again as a production assistant. And he gets credit for playing “Soldier on Guard Duty.” And, finally, as “Chris Ransom,” who Roland concludes must have been a Klansman character.
“I don’t remember playing any ‘Chris Ransom,’” says Roland, who now lives in Oakton, Va. “But I do remember how I got to be the soldier. People were yelling around the set, ‘We need somebody to be a soldier!’”
In spite of the mayhem on set, the experience didn’t turn Roland off from filmmaking. He’s still in the field and can claim camera credits on Academy Award winners such as Driving Miss Daisy and The Johnstown Flood. His memories of making Brotherhood are happy ones.
“That was literally my first job in movies, and, being a pimply-faced 18-year-old, this seemed like the coolest thing in the world,” he says. “I mean, I was from this area, and here I am with these Redskins, who were complete stars to me, so this seemed like a pretty big deal. I never got the sense that anybody on that set thought we were making art. Now, after 29 years, I can say that [Brotherhood] is the only movie I’ve ever worked on where people didn’t at least pretend they were making art. The whole idea that this is coming out again is truly a horror story for me. But I can also see now what Ronald Goldman was thinking: He had the Ku Klux Klan and the Redskins in a blaxploitation movie at a time when blaxploitation films were really big. How could he lose?”
Apparently, Goldman didn’t. He says that Brotherhood, which he even happened upon playing in a Calcutta theater during a vacation to India during the film’s international run, brought in “about a million dollars.”
“Say what you want about that movie,” Goldman says, “but it made a profit.” —Dave McKenna