Trouble Man (1972)
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In "Trouble Man", Hooks' title characterMister 'T' (we never learn his real name) is a private detective whose turf is Los Angeles. He keeps his office in a popular billiards hall, run by T's older friend/partner, Jimmy. While in between private eye jobs, T earns money as a pool shark. Apparently, his reputation is impressive, as a sequence early in the film finds a Texas-bred hustler challenging him in a high stakes game (guess who wins).
Plot: One fateful day, T is approached by a known pimp, Chalky Price (Paul Winfield), who has a business proposition for him. Chalky claims to be out of the pimp game, and is now into staging illegal dice tournaments at otherwise nondescript locations. His partner is Pete (Ralph Waite): Caucasian, Pete brings clients from the 'whiter' parts of town to play, while Chalky brings blacks. They move the games around so as to not arouse police suspicion. But bad luck has hit these racketeersthey claim that masked men have been knocking over their games, and leaving with the loot. They want T to run interference and stop the dishonor among thieves. T accepts their offer, but he's no foolhe wants a big cut of the action10 grand, to be precise. Chalky and Pete reluctantly agree, and arrange for T to go undercover as just another player in the next game.
However, Chalky & Pete have an ulterior motive. Having kidnapped the 'collector' (i.e., leg-breaker) for a rival underworld boss, Chalky & Pete's gang stage a robbery of their own game, disguise the kidnap victim as a gunman and murder him in front of T. The police investigation finds the body, and apparently someone identified T as being where the action happened. Mr. Big, the rival boss (genre veteran Julius Harris) suspects T, just like the police do.
A zealous police captain (William Smithers) wants T behind bars. But for now, the evidence is flimsy enough for T to walk, and he arranges for Chalky, Pete & Big to meet with each other at the pool hall, just to clear up that they have no beef with each other. But when Big shows up and then a group of thugs dressed like police arrive to shoot up the place and Bigit becomes clear to T that he was set up from the beginning by the conniving Chalky & Pete. This sets up the climax in which T methodically gets his revenge on the crooks that double-crossed him.
Analysis: Like Shaft, Hooks' Mister T is a role model of black self-made success: he's well-dressed (the trailer makes mention of his $600 suits), neatly coiffed, drives a Lincoln Continental (he's said to buy a new ride every year), and lives at a swank bachelor's pad apartment in a desirable (read: white) part of town. He's street smart (the trailer mentions that "he was a man ever since he was a kid") but he has all the appropriate licenses he needs and is apparently a regular at the local law library. In other words, he can go toe-to-toe with the (white) establishment with no fear. T's no 'honky-basher', thoughhe clearly has a friendly relationship with the white sergeant who oversees the police records department. He's also community mindedwhen told about a child injured in a ghetto tenement due to creaky railing, he casually barges into a real estate manager's office and bullies the boss into fixing up the place and paying the hospital bill for the child.
Last but not least, T is a ladies' man. His main girlfriend, lounge singer Cleo, is played by genre regular Paula Kelly. Another special friend is played by Jean Bell (Playboy's first black centerfold who would soon helm her own vehicle, "TNT Jackson"). Collectively, they may or may not know the score on their competition, but all of T's flames dig their man. To his credit, T isn't portrayed as a callous pimp who tough-talks and threatens his lady-friends, but simply a smooth operator in the James Bond mold.
About the only thing missing from the film is a nightclub scenario. Some of the situations are a stretch to witnessin particular, T's conning his way into a police evidence lockertwicewith the cop in charge less than 10 yards away. You kind of just have to go along with the gag, and the overall action makes up for the handful of plot-holes. Curiously, a sequel was never made, despite presumably making a modest profit at the box-office.
"Trouble Man"(20th Century Fox,1972),directed by fame Hogan Heroes'star Ivan Dixon,and starring Robert Hooks as the central character Mister T. Mister T was one cool dude,a straight-up hustler,pimp daddy and private eye who always kept his cool whenever something was about to happened,and usually does. He has a beau of beauties,drives a expensive Lincoln Continental car,and wears $600 suits that are customed made in Italy! Also,you can tell that Mister T came up hard,and had to be harder than the competition! Raised in the streets he's been a man since he was a kid. He has an aresnal of weapons,he's rough and tumble and ready for action,and can fix almost any situation while being the ultimate lady killer. Also,to point out that Mister T is no joke! You'll rub him the wrong way or try to double crossed him,he'll blow up in your face. He is cold hard steel,not to be messed with! However,he has hassles with the police,the mobsters who want to eliminated him at all costs(including one of them played by Ralph Waite,of the TV series The Waltons,and the others played by Paul Winfield and Julius Harris)while maintaining the control of his business and his main squeeze(played by Paula Kelly),but Mister T gives them hell to pay and pay they do! In other words,"Trouble Man",was throroughly impressive,and its a crying shame that this film is not out anywhere on DVD and Video since the last time I saw this was when I was little with my parents in the movie theatres,and again as an adult when cable's The Fox Movie Channel. This film is Rated "R" for strong graphic violence and language with parts of nudity for some of the sexual material.
About the motion picture soundtrack to "Trouble Man":(Release in 1972) This soundtrack came out before the film did,and if you check it out it is a soul classic of the era. However,this was basically a jazz album by the way since Motown great Marvin Gaye wanted to do a jazz instrumental piece for years,but here is the album that gave a new generation a classic piece of brilliant soul. Here is vintage soul music with all the arrangements and songs written by Marvin Gaye himself and it is worth the listening experience,so please check it out.
Ivan ("The Spook Who Sat by the Door") Dixon's brisk, hard-as-steel direction gives the somewhat standard crime/revenge plot a good, swift kick in the rear, wringing plenty of tension and fiercely violent, gut-tearing action from "Shaft" co-screenwriter John D.F. Black's knotty, cynical script. Said script vividly creates a chilly, chaotic dog-eat-dog world ridden with cold-blooded double crosses and populated by greedy, untrustworthy scuzzwads who'll do anything for money or power. The convoluted, resolutely unsetimental story persuasively states that there's no such thing as either honor or loyalty among thieves. The blackly amoral, mean-spirited, evil-hearted tone will set your nerves on end. The coarse, barbed dialogue really hits the scorching spot, too ("Now get the hell out of my car -- the two of you are *beep*ing up a nice day"). Michael Hugo's slick, expansive cinematography lends the picture a glossy, glittering look while the fabulously funky Marvin Gaye score, boasting a sublimely hip'n'heavenly opening credits theme song, supplies the awesomely happening soul music vibes. (The invaluable Robert O. Ragland served as a technical assistant to the composer.) Controbuting solid secondary turns are Paula Kelly as Mr. T's sexy nightclub singer main squeeze, "WKRP in Cincinnati" TV show regular Gordan Jump as a spineless, sniveling slum lord, and "Sudden Death" 's Felton Perry as an amateur boxer informant. Harsh, tough-minded and morally reprehensible, "Trouble Man" proves to be every bit as irresistibly irrepressible and irresponsible as its titular untouchable character.
While "Trouble Man" is, as far as I am concerned, no highlight of 70s blaxploitation cinema (films like "Coffy", the original "Shaft" or "Truck Turner" come with my highest possible recommendations) it is a film that every fan of the black Exploitation sub-genre should appreciate. The story is not the most original ever, but good enough. The film is full of action and violent shootouts, the score by Marvin Gaye is cool (even if not quite as cool as the contemporary scores by Isaac Hayes), and Robert Hooks is great in the lead. Some more female eye-candy certainly wouldn't have bothered me, but overall the film shouldn't be missed by blaxploitation fans. Highly recommended to my fellow lovers of 70s cult-cinema.
Amiable blaxploitation epic doesn't have a lot of action, really: it's more content to cruise along with a sense of style and a hip attitude. Both are pretty well conveyed, though. Even better is the script, which, while no masterpiece, is tight and complicated: you do have to pay attention to keep aware of what's exactly going on and who's messing with who. (It's interesting that such a level of craft was devoted to what was essentially throwaway B product. If only people cared that much about today's throwaway B product. ) Classic Marvin Gaye soundtrack.
T defines cool!
He wears 600$ suits, drives a 10,000$ car. Raised in the streets he's been a man since he was a kid!
If you rub him the wrong way, he'll blow up in your face!
Mr. T finds out that things aren't as they seem. We in the audience get tipped off as to where things are heading, early on. Ordinarily this would present a problem as the viewer might get tired of waiting for our hero to play catch up, but T is such a good and smart character that we don't much mind. In the meantime, director Ivan Dixon (also an actor in things like "Car Wash") serves up respectable doses of action and suspense. The screenplay concocted by executive producer John D.F. Black is fairly uncomplicated and consistently enjoyable. The dialogue is often quite amusing. As with so many films in this genre, one of the greatest joys turns out to be the music score. The man responsible for the score in this instance is the soul legend Marvin Gaye.
The largely black cast is full of terrific actors. Hooks displays a lot of poise in the lead role, and one may wish that he had had more starring vehicles over the years. Paula Kelly is appealing as his loving girlfriend Cleo. William Smithers does fine as the disapproving white cop who is suspicious of T, who doesn't appear to have a steady source of income but has nice things. Winfield is excellent, as is a perfectly slimy Waite. Julius Harris lends his authoritative presence as a crime boss - unimaginatively named Big. Other familiar faces include singer / actor Bill Henderson, Stack Pierce, Lawrence Cook, Virginia Capers, Tracy Reed, Felton Perry, John Crawford, Gordon Jump, Jeannie Bell, and Harrison Page.
The rousing finale and sense of humour help to make this well worth a viewing.
Seven out of 10.
Like many films of this genre and period, you could pretty much play bingo with a card full of things you expect to find. Trouble Man starts out strong in this regard; a soul soundtrack from Marvin Gaye, a tough black lead that the ladies love and the men respect/fear, villainous whites and so on; it does what you expect from blaxploitation, the only question is whether it does anything good with them. The answer is "sort of". The film has a decent enough plot and plenty of action but it delivers it too flatly and without enough genuine danger. T is cool and tough but it would have been good for him to at least break a sweat at some point. As it is everything can be handled and this smooth as silk effect means I didn't get too involved since I knew everything would always be fine.
The delivery is solid despite this, with sharp images and decent sets. The acting varies. Hooks is cool but doesn't quite have the presence I wanted – he is a bit too gruff without the charisma to back it up. Winfield is good as Chalky and plays well through the film. Bill Henderson is solid in support, as is Harris (who you'll recognize from Bond movie Live and Let Die). The goons do their thing but generally the main cast are OK – by the genre standards anyway.
Quite a decent genre film then; I would have liked it to do more than just tick boxes (which is sort of what it feels like it is doing) but it has enough solid moments about it to make it watchable if not actually memorable or particularly special.
Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the movie, to a large portion of people anyway, is the excellent Marvin Gaye soundtrack and title song. Many people knew Gaye's music from the movie far more than they knew the movie itself, having been released contemporaneously with the film on Motown Records. The utter coolness of Mr. T, the impeccable writing and direction, and the Marvin Gaye music make an unbeatable combination. With Trouble Man, you can travel back to a time when every man wore a suit (with a wide tie), dudes hung out in pool halls, and if you wanted to contact someone, your only choice was rotary phone. All of this just adds, as if it were necessary, another fascinating layer to this movie.
Movies in general have only gotten worse, not better, since Trouble Man. Long live Mr. T.
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Mr. T (a low key "cool" performance by Robert Hooks) fights of both Chalky (the always watchable Paul Winfield) as well as Mr. Big. (Julius Harris) and assorted lowlifes that clearly don't have his fashion sense (Bad seventies fashion is copious on our antagonists.) The movie is a pretty straightforward affair and is filmed almost as a seventies television crime drama rather than a true blaxploitation film. It has neither the intensity nor the plotting of a good 70's crime story such as Across 110th St or The Talking of Pelham 123 nor does it feature the sleaze of a Shaft in Africa or Coffey (Or dozens of lesser efforts.) There is basically no sex (despite Playboy Playmate Paula Kelly as the love interest) and the violence is subdued (fake blood gunshots are about it). The "R" rating is most likely theme or language induced. It really wouldn't be out of place as an ABC movie of the week.
Trouble Man is generally well done (How this made Medved's 50 Worst Films of all Time book is beyond me) fast paced and it is certainly worth a rent. At the very least there are wonderful fun moments such as WKRP's Gordon Jump in duel roles as well as a shooting in front of a mirror that was lifted 8 years later by Scarface. And of course there are those $500 Italian suits. How can you not be cool wearing those?
"T" is asked by the salt and pepper criminals, Chalky and Pete to solve a series of dice game holdups only for "T" to realize that he is part of criminal underworld takeover between up and coming hoodlums and an established Black Los Angeles gangster that goes the name of "MR.BIG". By the end of this film "T" will have to fight his way out of a web of murder, thievery and deceit. "TROUBLE MAN" warranted a sequel but one was never made. This film also includes an excellent score by "MARVIN GAYE". I put this movie right up there with "SHAFT", "SUPERFLY", "BLACK CAESAR" and "THE MACK". Great performances also by Paula Kelly, Paul Winfied, Ralph Waite and Julius Harris. I rate this film **** stars/excellent. It's on video. GET IT!
The main character, called "Mr. T" (not THAT Mr. T) is played by Robert Hooks. He doesn't have a huge amount of charisma but he's apparently one bad mutha that drives a Lincoln and lives in a cool pad with lots of mylar wallpaper and 70s do-dads. How he got all this expensive stuff is a bit vague. He describes himself as a private detective but he didn't do much of that in the film--instead making his money through gambling and "fixing things".
Paul Winfield and Ralph Waite (the father from the TV show "The Waltons") are gamblers who hire Mr. T to help put a stop to robberies occurring at their dice games. The problem is that this is all a set-up--there are no robberies and it's just a scheme to take over "Mr. Big's" territory. By the way, I love how people are called things like Mr. T and Mr. Big--what great clichés.
Well, after being jerked around through most of the film by Winfield and Waite, Mr. T becomes a tad perturbed and goes on a killing spree that is basically brainless entertainment. If you like seeing a bad mutha killing mobsters with his .45 again and again, then you are in for a treat. My problem with the film was that there was practically no depth to the story--little back story and Mr. T was a very wooden character. Compared to films such as COFFEY or even BLACULA, TROUBLE MAN lacked emotional range and substance.
Still, even with its many shortcomings, it still was a long way from 50 worst territory. While I am not exactly an expert on blaxploitation, it isn't the worst of the genre. For example, "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" is much worse when it comes to acting and production values...and EVERYTHING!
Being unable to deal with a spree of robbers at their underground crap shot games,hustlers Chalky and Pete decide to hire "T",a private investigator who is known for solving trouble that the cops won't touch. Initially having some doubts,T accepts the job in order to keep the streets calm.Going undercover at the games,T is caught up in the middle of a robbery.
Unknown to T,Chalky & Pete have set a trap,by arranging the robberies themselves in order to gain power over the leading gangster of the city called Big. Kidnapping Big's main henchman,Pete & Chalky dress him in the same clothes as the robbers. Killing Big's henchman at the robbery that T is caught in, Chalky and Pete contact the police and claim that T did the killing. Realising that he has been set-up,T sets his sights on giving Pete & Chalky a deadly roll of the dice.
View on the film:
Perfectly setting the mood, Marvin Gaye gives the film an icy score,with Gaye's delicate vocals and soft jazz strings being pinned down by a hard Funk beat which strikes every step T takes on the "hood."
Looking absolutely dapper in every scene, Robert Hooks gives an excellent performance as T.Growing up in the "hood",Hooks gives T a charismatic,laid-back nature around the friends who he has spent his life knowing.Finding deceit where his loyalties lay,Hooks rips up T's relaxed attitude to replace it with a burning fury to outsmart all those trying to bring him down.Taking on Hooks,Paul Winfield gives a very good performance as Chalky,who Winfield makes to be a little too friendly,whilst Ralph Waite joyfully hisses as evil whitey Pete.
Going from booking scum on the TV beat with Hawaii Five-O to walking the big screen walk,the screenplay by John D.F. Black hits cool cat happenings with a Film Noir stomp.Keeping the viewer ahead of T by showing Chalky & Pete set up their traps,Black builds up anticipation for T uncovering the set-up,as Black gives T a real trusting warmth towards his friends,which is ruined by Chalky's betrayal,which leads to Black unleashing T with a blistering force.
For the gripping 30 minute final,director Ivan Dixon & cinematographer Michel Hugo largely keep the movie dialogue free,with Dixon and Hugo saying everything that needs to be said with dazzling Film Noir low-lighting and Blaxploitation pump-action shotgun tracking shots,which circle the unlucky foe facing T.Before getting to the finishing line,Dixon and Hugo give the title an enchantingly glamorous appearance,with bright disco lights,slick cars and sharp suits being covered in shards of burning blood reds,as the gun- welding,kung-fu fighting Mr.T shows that when he brings his "A" game,there is no need for an "A"-Team.
As the film title suggests, trouble is very much afoot here after our man becomes embroiled in a potential gang war between rival factions, after one side hires him to find out who has been ripping off their low rent gambling dens. Matters become even more complex when our hero subsequently ends up being framed for a murder. None too pleased with being made the scapegoat however, our man subsequently sets out to get revenge which he does.....in violent style!
Chock full of snazzy dialogue, cool music, and some fine action sequences, this is great stuff from beginning to blood soaked end. Hooks is especially cool in his role which makes it somewhat of a shame that there were never any sequels produced as for instance other similarly strong black protagonists of the time such as Shaft and Slaughter enjoyed. Oh well, as it stands, our hero in this is equally as memorable. Be sure to check this out.
THE POSITIVE: For those that enjoy 70's black exploitation this one certainly has all the right ingredients. The plot has some nice twists and it gets played out in a serious fashion instead of adding in the campy humor like other films from this time period and genre tended to do and only ended up watery the story down too much. Hooks is very effective in the lead and literally owns every scene that he is in. Winfield is also fun as the bad guy who is at first very slick, but then as he becomes more paranoid at Hooks coming to get him, starts to have a really big meltdown.
THE NEGATIVE: There is just too much reliance on a tired formula that gets played out a little too close to form. Hooks seems to barely even break a sweat as he maneuvers his way through scrapes and close calls with an almost perfect ease. There is just nothing to distinguish this from any of the other black exploitation films of that era. One walks away feeling almost cheated at having to watch something that is so predictable and uninspired. This film ends up being very forgettable despite its slick story and production values.
THE LOWDOWN: For connoisseurs of black exploitation only. Others will find it just too formulaic.
THE RATING: 5 out of 10.
Hooks, as Mr. T, is a cool, suave guy who is just about into everything-legal and illegal as well. He shows his empathy when he goes after a landlord when a baby is critically injured on the stairwell of an apartment building.
T is a hustler, a womanizer, a detective and a great pool player to boot.
He gets into a crap game and when blindfolded bandits hold up the place, he is blamed for the killing of one of the culprits. Paul Winfield and Ralph Waite are the real heavies in this film with a great Marvin Gaye score.