Tuesday, November 27, 2018

2018 Bind Spot Series: Trouble Man


I'm proud of myself. Even with all the Girl Week festivities, I managed to cross off one of my Blind Spots. Chalk one up for me, Sofia! She's our host for the Blind Spot Challenge. Please check out her blog Returning Videotapes.

Know what? I'm feeling kind of brave so I'll go ahead and say it. I plan on having a number of Blind Spot related posts in December. See, I'm a couple of movies and a franchise behind. It's also about that time to pick what movies I'm going to watch for next year's challenge. I'm not promising, just sayin' I'm a give it the old college try is all. But it's still November, so let's crank this one out.


Why did I pick it? The seeds of this little endeavor were planted way back in the 70s, a few years after its 1972 release. Honestly, it could've been planted in '72, but I was too young to understand. Fast-forward a bit and I hear the classic song "Trouble Man" by Marvin Gaye, who is smack dab in the middle of creating his legacy. At that time, it was just a song. Push forward into the 80s, Gaye has reached iconic status. I love his music, but I've now become a full-fledged hip-hop head. One of my all-time favorite rappers, Big Daddy Kane, is doing an interview on some show or another. I forget the exact question, but it has something to do with what he listens to when winding down. He mentions a few fellow rappers, but what stuck with me is that one of the things he loves to do is play "Trouble Man" at full blast while driving around town. Push ahead again, into the 90s. I'm now digging around Marvin Gaye's discography to get a true sense of his genius. Somewhere along the way, I discover that "Trouble Man" is from a movie of the same name. Since it's a blaxploitation flick, I vowed to see it. Couldn't find it. When we get into the 10s, I'm a full-fledged film nut with a growing movie collection. I've also become aware that many lists rank Trouble Man, the motion picture, among the best films the blaxploitation genre has to offer. I keep an eye out for it when shopping, but don't really go out of my way to find it. Then one day, I strolled into a pawn shop, and there it was on DVD for a dollar. I scooped it up and here we are.

As I popped it in, I realized that despite being aware of the movie and its status for quite some time, I really didn't know anything about it other than its genre. This was more than okay by me. I pressed play and I'm instantly transported back to the South Central, Los Angeles of the 1970s. There, we meet Mr. T (Hooks).

Pause.

To familiarize myself a little bit with the movie, I did read the back of the DVD case. I saw the name, but I guess I skimmed over it because the impact of that name didn't hit me. When I heard it in the film, I was bit shocked when I saw this guy...


and NOT this guy...

I pity the fool who thought I was in this movie.

Anyhoo, this Mr. T, thankfully he's usually just called T, is...I don't know what he is, and I watched this movie twice. Let's consult the movie's Wikipedia page...

"T (Robert Hooks) is a combination pool shark, private detective, and all-purpose ghetto fixer who operates out of a billiards parlor in South Central Los Angeles."

Yup, that's about right. In the first few minutes of the movie, he beats the pants off some other pool shark who came all the way from Texas just to play him, gets wind of an accident in the 'hood involving a baby and caused by some shoddy upkeep by the landlord, goes to the bank that owns it and promises the manager he'll beat that ass if the apartment isn't fixed and the baby's hospital bills aren't paid in full. Of course, that's all taken care of. He then heads down to the police station to get info on a case he's working on. And since this is vintage blaxploitation, he also managed time to see both of his women. I got tired just watching the brotha. I can't imagine doing all that in one day. Then again, I'm not T. Whatever this dude is, he gets shit done.

After all this, we get to the actual plot. A couple of local gangsters, Chalky (the forever underrated Paul Winfield) and his white partner Pete (Ralph Waite), are having a problem with someone breaking in and robbing their craps games. I mention Pete is white because this is a blaxploitation flick, so of course it matters. Hell, that's damn near a spoiler. Anyhoo, they hire T to find out who's doing it and put a stop to it. What we quickly find out before T is that this is an elaborate ruse to make him take the fall for the murder of a higher-up in a rival gang of theirs, the one run by Big (the incomparable Julius Harris). Chalky and Pete's scheme goes as planned, a guy ends up dead (shot by Chalky), the cops are after T, and Big is ready to start a war. T has to figure out who set him up, stay out of jail, and keep all hell from breaking loose on the streets.


The fun of this movie is simply watching our hero try to piece things together while being an all-around badass. In the lead role, Robert Hooks is more than up to the task. Swagger just drips off the screen when this guy is on it. For starters, he does everything in a suit. I know lots of gangsters in the movies wear suits all the time, but this guy, when he's going on an ass-kicking mission, he doesn't put on the all-black combat gear and toboggan like other movie heroes. No, he changes from one suit to another damn suit. Oh, and black gloves. He speaks in a cadence vaguely reminiscent of early Warner Bros. talkies. He would've been right at home carrying on a conversation with James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson. And yes, he's often seen with one hand in a pocket as he's strutting, not walking, STRUTTING somewhere. This last part is the most important. No matter what T was doing, there was not a bead of sweat to be found. It's all so ridiculous and smooth at the same time, my brain was overloaded with his coolness.

I really could end the review right there because no matter how good or bad it is, I'm going to watch it again. He's just that cool. But since I'd like to retain at least a shred of credibility, I'll continue.

The supporting cast for Trouble Man is better than many of its ilk. Aside from Hooks, I've already mentioned Paul Winfield and Julius Harris. The latter would remain typecast as a tough guy on the wrong side of the law. It's largely because he does it so well. William Smithers has a very good turn as the white cop who is looking for any reason to bust T. Paula Kelly is also very good as Cleo, regrettably, one of T's girlfriends.


I guess we have to talk about that whole girlfriend thing. Lots of the movie is clearly dated, but this is where it most shows its age. As noted, he starts the film off leaving one woman's apartment. It soon becomes clear she's the side chick. Cleo is apparently the main chick. Between seeing them, he sweet talks several more, before ending the film (very minor spoiler alert) riding off into the sunset with a third woman who just immediately dropped everything to go with him. Sorry, that one couldn't fly if this were remade today, at least not without there being some focus put on his philandering and that becoming a subplot all its own. As it stands, it's just another thing to show how much of a man he is.

The plot also has some issues. While it is fun to watch T figure it all out, it does run a bit long. It's only 99 minutes, but 9 or 10 of those could have been expunged, giving us a more concise story. Better yet, to keep it at the same length, some of the other characters could be developed a bit more. Yes, I'm talking about Cleo. Of his women, she is clearly the most invested in T and is the one he cares most about. More between them would've been welcome.

Even with its problems, Trouble Man is definitely worth a watch for those not above blaxploitation. First, the Robert Hooks showcase is really worth the price of admission. Though I don't consider the film as a whole among the genre's best, I do think T might be among genre's best protagonists. Through him, the story flows nicely, and we get some very nice, if undeniably 70s, action sequences. This is also one of the more subdued movies, as this genre goes. The other major draw is the person who started my journey, Marvin Gaye. He did indeed make the title track, as I had been told all those years ago. What I didn't know is that he's responsible for the entire soundtrack. And it's glorious, peak Marvin Gaye. Good movie, better music.






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14 comments:

  1. There's a lot of Blaxploitation films that I want to see as I heard this is one of the essentials. Especially for Marvin Gaye's soundtrack which I think got more attention due to Sam Wilson's recommendation to Steve Rogers at Captain America: Civil War. I'm right now doing a trilogy of films for my Blind Spot right now as I hadn't had time in the last week due to other things as I'm just trying to do that and then get ready for the last one next month as I have a lot on my plate.

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    1. Yes, see it for the soundtrack. Fun movie, though.

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    2. Oh wait, I'm sorry. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Brain fart.

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  2. I hadn't seen this when you chose it as one of your Blind Spots but got lucky when they showed it on TCM shortly afterwards. I liked it but can't honestly say it goes further than that.

    The soundtrack was unquestionably the best part of the film but Robert Hooks's suave imperturbability added a lot to the film. It suffers from several of the typical problems of these films-preposterous situations, very fake looking blood and often florid overacting (excepting Hooks and a few others). Then there is something that wasn't an issue on its original release but took me out of the film a bit-having Pa Walton (Ralph Waite) as one of the main villains! I had the same reaction when Mr. Carlson (Gordon Jump) from WKRP turned up as well. It didn't spoil the film for me but it threw me a little.

    As I said overall I liked it but that one view was really enough for me.

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    1. Hook's was everything to this movie. Way too bright red blood comes with the territory for early 70s Blaxploitation, so it didn't bother me that much. It's always fun seeing who turns up in these movies when you get to (or go back to) them.

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  3. I could comment on your great writing that impresses as ever, but thank you for introducing me to the song. Just wonderful.

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    1. Thanks for the compliment, and so glad you like the song!

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  4. I heard about Trouble Man when researching for my blaxploitation marathon but didn't get to it at the time. Sound like the film is a bit dated and that I missed out on a good soundtrack!

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    1. Yeah, it's dated, but what authentic blaxploitation isn't? I would love to hear your thoughts on this soundtrack.

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  5. "Whatever this dude is, he gets shit done." Classic.

    There was a time in my life where I really wanted to get down with some blaxploitation flicks, but I bounced after Blacula and Foxy Brown. While that list is short, it's some pretty top-shelf 70s goodness. This flick, with you as its hype-man, sounds badass, with the lack of sweat being particularly fascinating (and hilarious). I also very much enjoyed your brief anecdote as to how you acquired it. Sometimes, the way you stumble into something enhances the whole experience, you know?

    Keep 'em coming, Dell. Awesome review.

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    1. You picked two good ones to watch. That's for sure. And yes, the way you acquire something often makes a that thing better or worse.

      Thanks!

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  6. Great review! I agree, the movie has its issues, but those glorious tunes make it worth it. Marvin Gaye is my favorite musician of all time, and I love hearing his original work throughout the film. I need to watch this one again actually.

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    1. Thanks! Marvin Gaye is amazing. Anyone having him as their all-time fave is okay by me.

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