Plot: Shelly Forsythe (Richard Roundtree) is a firefighter who has just been assigned to a new station, which should be an exciting new change, but instead, it turns out to be a nightmare of sorts. The other firemen at the station aren’t pleased with Forsythe’s arrival, as no one wants a black firefighter around period, let alone one to replace a beloved brother in arms. As it turns out, Forsythe was brought in when another fireman was killed in a blaze and since the late man was a favorite of the station’s firefighter, that creates even more animosity. The racism at the firehouse is instantly evidence as Forsythe is harassed and hazed, while his chief tells him to ignore the hate and focus on the work instead. Can Forsythe overcome the racism and even if he proves he belongs, will he ever be treated like an equal?
Entertainment Value: Firehouse is quite a curio, often advertised with Fred Williamson on the artwork, The Hammer is not in the movie at all, instead fellow blaxploitation legend Richard Roundtree has the lead here. This was a feature length pilot and the series was never picked up, which explains why so much set up is present here with no real resolution to speak of. If you solve all the problems in the pilot, then your show doesn’t have room to grow and develop. In this case, that means the racism is more or less glossed over in terms of how it is handled, which is frustrating to say the least, but makes sense as the series would need that conflict in place. So Firehouse is an odd duck, especially if you don’t know the circumstances and even if you do, the way the story is handled is not ideal, to say the least. But the cast is terrific and I always love seeing Roundtree in action, so helps compensate. The movie has some nice firefighting set pieces and some stock footage, but the real focus is back at the station and at home with Forsythe. This one runs just over seventy minutes and while it is by no means a classic, fans of the cast might want to check it out.
As the story is all set up and no payoff thanks to the nature of the pilot concept, the cast is the real reason to look into Firehouse. I would watch just about anything with Richard Roundtree involved and while he isn’t in blaxploitation action hero mode here, he does have a chance to show some range at times. You can still pick up elements of that tough guy persona of course, especially in scenes between Forsythe and his wife, likely due to Roundtree’s inherent charm in that approach. I wouldn’t say the dramatic scenes are masterful, but Roundtree does well and it is more the fault of the material than himself that those moments don’t turn out better. As the story has to continue past the pilot for the show to have worked, Roundtree doesn’t get many of the confrontations or emotional beats that would have let him shine a little more. I was also glad to see Richard Jaeckel on deck, even if his role is a smaller, supporting one. The cast also includes Michael Lerner, Sheila Frazier, Vince Edwards, and Val Avery.