Trick Baby (1972) by #LarryYust
based on the novel by #IcebergSlim
w/ #KielMartin #MelStewart #VerneeWatson #TedLange & more!
"Shake hands with "Folks" and "Blue." And then count your fingers!"#Crime #Blaxploitation #Action#NotQuiteClassicCinema pic.twitter.com/GM2PGn47je
— Angus Kohm (@AngusKohm) April 18, 2020
I did not see Trick Baby (1972) back in the 1970s or even the 1980s. It was not the first so called Blaxploitation film – or even the second or the third – that I ever saw. I had never even heard of it until I stumbled upon a VHS copy back in the early 2000s. Of course I immediately bought it, as I’d long before discovered that I had an appreciation for these somewhat forgotten pieces of 1970s cinema. And I was not disappointed with this particular example of the genre.
It is generally accepted that the two movies that started the genre proper were Shaft (1971) and Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (1971), so Trick Baby (1972) was a relatively early entry in what quickly became an overcrowded competition for box office dollars. According to Wikipedia, the film cost about $600,000 to make and it grossed $11,000,000 – a considerable profit. So how is it that I’d never heard of it before?
I suppose one reason might be that it didn’t lead to sequels, like Shaft did. Nor did it spark a bunch of similar films starring the same actor(s), a la Pam Grier with Coffy (1973). But I suppose none of this really matters. The fact is that Trick Baby is an excellent crime film. It’s clever, suspenseful, and features a few twists and turns that keep you interested in finding out what’s going to happen. Most importantly, you care about the characters.
When we first meet ‘Folks and Blue (played by Kiel Martin and Mel Stewart), they are in the midst or ripping someone off. But we are instantly sympathetic to them, because the person they are ripping off is a bad guy (racist, selfish – and in fact he believes that he is ripping off Blue). So, in a sense, the ‘victim’ of the con is getting exactly what he deserves. Not to mention that we can admire the skill, intelligence, and charisma that ‘Folks and Blue possess. They may technically be criminals, but they are kind of like Robin Hood (stealing from rich racists and giving to the poor – namely themselves).
I can think of a few modern films that feature main characters who are killing people (!), who don’t deserve to die, for incredibly selfish reasons – and the filmmakers seem to be asking us to sympathize with the killers! Or to at least to find them interesting for 90 minutes. I find many of those films hard to get through – and I certainly don’t care what happens to the main characters. In fact, I find myself rooting for their victims (and getting no satisfaction, unfortunately). John Waters knew how to make it work in Serial Mom (1994), and Larry Yust, and presumably Iceberg Slim (who wrote the novel), knew how to make it work in Trick Baby. ‘Folks and Blue aren’t even killing people, but they could have been unsympathetic in the hands of less competent writers and directors. The makers of certain modern films should have watched Trick Baby before they put pen to paper, or hit the record button on their cameras.
I’m purposely not naming any of the offending films or filmmakers because I’m not here to trash other people’s work. And I’m sure that some people LIKE those recent films that I believe are failures. To each their own, as the saying goes. But I would watch Trick Baby a thousand times before I would re-watch any of them.
Trick Baby (1972) is a #NotQuiteClassicCinema favourite. It has a sense of humour, but it also manages to generate suspense from its earliest moments and then slowly increase the tension over the course of the entire film. A rare feat, in my opinion. You know it’s going to be a memorable #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn when Trick Baby is on the marquee.