Friday, June 19, 2015

Trouble Man

The latest in the series of movies that showed up on FXM Retro late one morning/afternoon and then early the next day is Trouble Man, which you can catch tomorrow morning (June 20) at 6:00 AM.

Robert Hooks plays Mr. T. (his last name is never revealed), a private detective who drives around Los Angeles in his late-model Lincoln Continental on his way to solving cases, and spends his other business hours at an office in a pool hall in one of the poorer black areas of the city. Mr. T. isn't above using a little stern warning, but never gets himself convicted of anything because that would cost him his license. Mr. T. has obviously been quite successful what with that Lincoln and his fancy deluxe apartment in the sky (as well as several girlfriends in similarly posh digs). His success has also made him well-known, which is what's going to get him his next assignment.

One day, as he's coming out of the pool hall, two guys approach him. Chalky (Paul Winfield) and Pete (Ralph Waite) are a couple of local gangsters, who run the craps games in the area: Chalky on the black side of town, and Pete on the white side. However, the two men have been finding that somebody is after their takings: armed gangs wearing masks and gloves and not talking so that nobody can recognize them show up to the floating craps games and demand all the money. Perhaps Mr. T. can figure out who's doing it. Mr. T. probably can figure it out, but to do so isn't going to come cheap. Mr. T. wants a minimum of ten grand, in 1972 dollars. Still, Pete and Chalky are willing to pay.

It shouldn't be a surprise that they're willing to pay, since we quickly discover that this is all an elaborate ruse. Pete and Chalky have kidnapped one of the underlings of the notorious Big (Julius Harris). The ruse is that Mr. T. is going to show up for a craps game that Pete and Chalky know is going to be raided; after all, they're setting up the raid. As part of that raid, Big's underling is going to get shot but it'll be made to look like the guy was one of the people doing the raid. Then Pete and Chalky will have one of their underlings put the finger on Mr. T., so that both the police and Big will go after him. It's a brilliant scheme.

Except that Mr. T. is going to figure it out by the end, because he's just that suave and brilliant. Trouble Man is a movie where, if it had been made a quarter century earlier (granted, it would have had to been made with an all-white cast if a Hollywood studio would have made such a story in the 1940s), it would have fit squarely in the noir cycle. There are blaxploitation elements to Trouble Man, although to me it's not nearly as over the top as more archetypal blaxpolitation films like Shaft or Coffy. Indeed, you can imagine Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe being set up the way Mr. T. is.

Still, Robert Hooks makes an appealing hero, and the story on its own makes Trouble Man worth a watch, even if the finale strains credulity. But above and beyond that, Trouble Man benefits from generous use of location shooting showing Los Angeles as it was in the early 1970s. That, and the soundtrack was provided by Marvin Gaye, who wanted to do something more jazzy than the R&B he was doing at Motown.

Trouble Man is listed as being available on DVD at Amazon, but I'm not certain if it's still in print.

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