Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Trouble Man (1972)

Poster for Trouble Man (1972)Trouble Man (1972) by #IvanDixon

w/ #RobertHooks #PaulWinfield #PaulaKelly #JuliusHarris #JeannieBell

One cat… who plays like an army!”
His friends call him Mr. T. His enemies call for mercy!”
Mr. T is Cold Hard Steel! He’ll Give You Peace of Mind… Piece by Piece!

Soundtrack by #MarvinGaye

#Action #Blaxploitation #Crime

I’ve talked about a few Blaxploitation movies in this blog. I’ve also talked about Blaxploitation soundtracks in this blog. To sum up, I like them both. In some cases I’ve watched movies because I knew the music first. And Trouble Man (1972) is one of the those movies. 

I was in Toronto many moons ago, attending the AGM of the Playwrights Guild of Canada, and I went into the legendary Sam The Record Man’s massive flagship store on Yonge Street. I found a lot of really cool things there, many of which I had never seen before. After selecting an armload of stuff to purchase, I carried it up to the front of the store to the cashier. And on the wall, near the cashier, was a small display of CDs. I don’t recall if there was a theme to the selection – in fact, I don’t recall what any of them were, except for one: the soundtrack of Trouble Man by Marvin Gaye.

I had see a lot of Blaxploitation movies in my life, but I had never seen Trouble Man. In fact, I had never heard of Trouble Man. But I knew immediately that I had to buy this CD.

When I got back home, I put the CD on and I was immediately transported into the world of a cool movie that I had never seen. I imagined what might be happening on screen, and I liked it. I listened to that soundtrack a lot over the next couple of years.

Of course, this made me want to see the movie. But it was many years before I was able to do so. For some reason, Trouble Man was not like Shaft (1971) or Foxy Brown (1974). It was very hard to come by. I’m not even sure if it was ever released on VHS.

Finally, a DVD of Trouble Man appeared on a shelf one day and I took it home. I had years of anticipation built up and I needed to see this movie NOW.

Truth be told, I was a little disappointed after that first viewing. It didn’t quite live up to the movie that I had imagined in my head. It also didn’t live up to Marvin Gaye’s music. It just seemed a little underwhelming to me. Not bad. Just not as good as I had hoped. So, I put it into my collection and forgot about it for a few years. I knew that one day I would have to try it again, but I did not want to rush into it.

Last Friday, I decided it was time to give it another go. Perhaps my expectations had been sufficiently lowered, but I found myself enjoying it quite a bit this time. The music was just as good as ever, but this time the story was catching my interest as well. Robert Hooks, as Mr T. (was he the inspiration for was real life Mr T.?) was a revelation this time. In some ways, his character was not completely sympathetic right off the top. But in other ways, he was making me laugh with his complete unflinching confidence and lack of diplomacy. This is a man who doesn’t worry about pissing people off. He is so pathological about it that it becomes kind of endearing. And I was totally in his corner by the time the shit starts to hit the fan.

I guess the “T” stands for Trouble, and I found myself thinking that this is the character that Fred Williamson’s Mr. Mean (1977) should have been. A guy whose personality lives up to his name. Mr. T. gets into trouble without even trying too hard. And we enjoy seeing him get into it, almost as much as we enjoy watching him get out of it.

Trouble Man (1972) is #NotQuiteClassicCinema of the forgotten kind. It’s not famous like Shaft or Foxy Brown – but it kind of feels like it belongs with those movies. It’s not a cheapo campy kind of Blaxploitation film (like Mr. Mean perhaps). It feels more serious and classy. It’s got one of the best soundtracks of all time. I’m not sure why it hasn’t been remembered as well as many others. Maybe the character of Mr. T. was slightly off-putting to some viewers back in the day. But I think if you stick with him, you’ll learn to love him before the movie is done. And I for one will be looking forward to seeing that Trouble Man again on some future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.