Increasingly those classic films from the wonderful early-to-mid 1970’s blaxploitation era are being released on blu-ray; the latest one soon to join the ranks, is the 1972 Fox film “Trouble Man” starring Robert Hooks, Paul Winfield, Ralph Waite, William Smithers, and Paula Kelly.
The film centers on a private eye, Mr T (not be confused with that other Mr. T with the gold chains and the mohawk) played by Hooks, who gets hired by two gangsters (Winfield and Waite) to find out who’s been robbing their hugely-profitable gambling operation. Needless to say, things get all complicated and very dangerous.
As a blaxploitation film, it’s pretty routine; but it’s undeniably entertaining. Although it’s got 3 things that separate it from the pack. First of all, it was directed by Ivan Dixon, the former actor who broke out when he directed the still revolutionary film version of Sam Greenlee’s scorching book “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” (about a black CIA operative who sues his skills to start a black revolution in the US). Of course “Trouble Man” is nowhere as fiery, but it is better directed than a lot of other films from the era.
Secondly, it is the only film that had a music soundtrack written by the legendary Marvin Gaye; and not surprisingly, it’s a standout.
And third is the film’s lead, Robert Hooks. Unlike a lot of other blaxploitation films which tended to use former athletes (like Fred Williamson and Jim Brown), or actors of limited means and past experience, Hooks was an actor. I mean a real actor.
One of the founding members of the legendary theater group The Negro Ensemble Company, Hooks had a long list of credits on stage, including playing the lead in Shakespeare’s “Henry V” at the New York Shakespeare Festival back in 1965. He was even nominated for a Tony Award as Best Actor in a Musical. He appeared in films and TV series starting in the early 1960s, and has nearly 100 credits in his long career. One could argue that Hooks was over-qualified, and just too good an actor to be in a blaxploitation film.
But that’s what makes him stand out in the “Trouble Man.” He brings a sort of cool elegance, but also an intensity and a charismatic presence to the role, where other actors would have just stomped through it.
Now “Trouble Man” is coming to blu-ray through the Kino Studio Classics label, on Oct. 18. The release will include audio commentary by film historians Nathaniel Thompson and Howard S. Berger.
A question to ask here is why I’ve never been asked to do a commentary track for a blaxploitation film. I was raised on them and know them backwards and forwards. Better yet, why didn’t Kino Studio ask Robert Hooks himself do the commentary for his film? He’s very much alive and kicking, and looking great.
Here’s the trailer for “Trouble Man.” Pay special attention to the narration, as well as the lapels on the suits. Remember we’re talking 1972.