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Bill Cosby and Robert Culp ("I Spy") are united again as private eyes in this Walter Hill-scripted "film noir." Searching for a missing girl, they find themselves involved with vicious criminals and precipitating a string of deaths.
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After recognizing Mel Stewart, who is a very good actor, I watched "Trick Baby". I'm glad I did. It turns out that all the acting was very good and so was the script and the location work.
I classify this movie as 70s noir (which runs something like 1965-1980), falling between the classic noir of an earlier era that runs to about 1965 and the more intense neo-noir that starts up somewhere in the 1980s. The 70s noir category has movies like "Dirty Harry", "Lady in Cement", "Klute", "The Last Embrace", "Madigan", "Marlowe", "The Outfit", "The Outside Man", "Prime Cut", and "Play Misty for Me". They are in color, and they have a different look and feel than a black and white noir, but their story elements and characters are what contribute to making them noir. Photographic style and location work add too, but that's another factor that's more technical.
A noir movie often has main characters who are criminals or not fully on the up and up. Here we have two con men, who are likable and who play on people's greed so that the marks who are trying to cheat the con men seem deserving of their fate. A noir movie often has people trying to achieve a dream, like a big score, but then things go wrong, or their errors and emotions lead them astray, or rivalries and others intervene. That element is present here too. The result in many noirs is that there is no happy ending, and that happens here too. Then too, other noir elements are corrupt cops and grotesque side characters, and we definitely get these here. There is one blonde woman in particular who comes to mind who throws herself at the younger con man, who is black but looks white.
So, although the film plays as fun and light in the first third, it grows increasingly serious as it moves on, and that seriousness is a noir quality. Themes enter in having to do with race, racial fear and racial identity, greed and miscalculation, and police corruption.
Like blaxpoitation films from this period, it is set in a black neighborhood and the lead protagonist is black, but it does not at all glorify violence or run into stereotypes. That and its serious themes separate it from the blaxpoitation label. And that's why I think it's more accurate to think of it as in the 70s noir category.
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