Cast & Crew
In Los Angeles, an African-American private detective known as Mr. T, short for "Mr. Trouble," goes to his "office," a billiards parlor run by his friend Jimmy. The cocky, well-dressed T, known throughout the neighborhood for being able to "fix" any problem, angers a young pool shark by easily besting him. Watching the game are two racketeers, African-American Chalky Price and his white partner, Pete Cockrell, who ride along with T as he investigates a crooked building management firm. During the journey, Chalky and Pete explain that their illegal craps and card games are being raided, always by silent bandits wearing masks and gloves so that it is impossible to discern their race. The two racketeers want to hire T to stop the robbers, although they balk when he demands a fee of $10,000. T orders them to call him when they decide, and after they leave, they go to the building where their next game will be held that night. Chalky and Pete, along with their henchmen, Billy Chi and Frank, have invented the robbery story and kidnapped Abbey Walsh, a collector for rival gangster Mr. Big, and intend to frame T for Abbey's murder. They hope that after framing T, Big will retaliate and either get killed or arrested, thus clearing the way for them to take over his territory. After finalizing the arrangements, they call T to give him their location, at which T plans to observe the game. During the craps game, several masked, gloved men enter and rob the players, who quickly scatter. As the robbers leave, Pete puts a hood over Abbey's head and shoves him into the hallway, where he is shot in the back by Chalky. Because one of the robbers was wearing a distinctive, blue sports coat exactly the same as Abbey's, T assumes that Abbey was one of the culprits. Curious about why Abbey would be involved, T goes to the Main Street Gym, where he asks boxer Bobby Golden, a friend of Abbey, if the dead man would participate in the stick-ups. Bobby asserts that Abbey would do so only if he had been ordered to by Big. Meanwhile, Chi has dumped Abbey's body and called the police to inform them that T murdered Abbey, and where the corpse is located. Police detectives Paco Valdez and Tim Millers come to the gym to arrest T, who protests his innocence to Capt. Joe Marx. Although there is no physical evidence linking T to the murder, Marx, who hates the belligerent T, is still suspicious. Upon his release, T is picked up by Leroy and Pindar, two of Big's hoodlums. T knocks out the men and gets the drop on Preston, Big's bodyguard, then confronts the black gangster, who controls much of the crime in the community. T convinces Big that he is being framed for Abbey's murder, then persuades him that because a gang war will bring unwanted police attention, he must negotiate with Chalky and Pete. T goes to the commercial laundry facility where Chalky and Pete have their office, and after they assure him that they are not behind the frame-up, they agree to meet Big at Jimmy's. The next night, T goes to Jimmy's and tells his friend to close early and then leave, before the meeting occurs. When Preston and Big arrive, Big reveals that he found two players at the fateful game who confirm T's version of the events. As they talk, four hoodlums dressed as policemen arrive, take away Preston and Big's other bodyguard, then shoot Big with T's handgun to make it look as if he is responsible for another murder. After the men leave, T retrieves a hidden gun and arranges the scene to look as if he had been forced to kill Big in self-defense. He then calls Marx, who disparages T's narrative of the shooting and arrests him, even though he knows that the evidence will not support a murder charge. T is released soon after being booked, and when he returns to the pool hall, he tells Jimmy to leave town for his own protection. T also calls his girl friend, singer Cleo, to tell her to pack. Meanwhile, Chalky complains about T's release, although Pete asserts that they can now kill T with impunity, as the police will assume that Big's vengeful men did it. Chalky is still nervous, however, prompting Chi to go after T. Chi and two of his men grab and beat Jimmy before he can reach Cleo's, but a roving patrol car prevents them from killing him. T stops by the police records and evidence room, where the affable Sgt. Koeppler is distracted by a phone call from Cleo, allowing T to slip into the locked evidence room and retrieve both of his handguns. After Chi reports to Chalky and Pete that he cannot find T, Chalky declares that he is leaving town, but Pete, who lives in Century City, a white, upper-class area of Los Angeles, insists that T will not be able to get to him there. Chalky goes to his own office to empty his safe but is surprised by T, who demands his fee. Chalky pays, then pleads that framing T was Pete's idea, but T knows that he is lying. When Chi bursts in, T pushes Chalky toward him, and the hot-headed hoodlum shoots Chalky before being killed by T. T then drives to Century City, where Pete's apartment building is being protected by his many thugs. T outwits and outfights them to reach to the penthouse, and after leveling his gun at Frank, makes the hoodlum take him to Pete. Pete is locked in his mirror-lined bedroom and accidentally shoots Frankie to death before T knocks over the lights and, gun blazing, kills the racketeer. His mission accomplished, T changes into a clean suit then heads back to the evidence room. There, he sweet-talks a black policewoman into distracting Koeppler long enough for him to return the handguns to the evidence locker. With the handguns seemingly having been in police custody the entire night, T knows that he cannot be connected to the killings of Chalky and Pete. T then leaves with the young policewoman, who flirtatiously admits that she knows who he is.
James "texas Blood" Brown
Danny "little Red" Lopez
John D. F. Black
John D. F. Black
Walter P. Burrell
Clarence C. Eurist
Eddie Foy Iii
Logan R. Frazee
Joel D. Freeman
Lloyd V. Isbell
Robert O. Ragland
It's a fundamental irony that white filmmakers were heavily involved in blaxploitation, which was quickly embraced by Hollywood studios as a way of reaching African-American moviegoers, a scandalously underserved demographic that made up almost a third of the ticket-buying audience in some cities. A goodly number of black filmmakers did get their voices heard, however, and few were more able than Dixon, who was also a well-established actor with a long list of credits including a starring role in Michael Roemer's sensitive drama Nothing But a Man, which had reaped deserved acclaim in 1964. Trouble Man was the first feature he directed, and while it owes a large debt to the blaxploitation formulas that had taken their definitive shape in Gordon Parks's private-eye thriller Shaft a year earlier, its efficient storytelling and stylish acting demonstrate the professionalism that made Dixon a busy film and television director for the next two decades.
The main character of Trouble Man is the mysteriously named Mr. T, whose moniker definitely stands for Trouble and may also be a deliberate echo of Mr. Tibbs, the African-American hero played twice by Sidney Poitier, first in Norman Jewison's In the Heat of the Night, which won multiple Academy Awards in 1967, and again in Gordon Douglas's They Call Me Mister Tibbs! in 1970. Played by Robert Hooks with unflappable cool interrupted by bursts of hard-boiled intensity, T is a freelance fixer based in the South Central neighborhood of Los Angeles, where he spends his time shooting pool, doing detective work for selected clients, and sparring with police officers who treat him with a combination of open suspicion and grudging respect.
The story starts when T receives a visit from two smalltime gambling kingpins, a black crook named Chalky (Paul Winfield) and a white crook named Pete (Ralph Waite), who want him to attend their floating dice game and unmask the four thieves who have been robbing the operation on a regular basis. After demanding a large fee for his services, T arrives at the game and goes to work. He realizes too late that the whole scheme is a setup designed to take out a rival boss called Big (Julius Harris), and when Chalky shoots Big's collector under cover of a stickup, T finds that he's the top suspect for the murder. Now his task is to stay out of jail, steer clear of Big and the antagonistic police captain Joe Marx (Bill Smithers), and finger the real killer before he goes down for the crime himself.
Dixon made Trouble Man for Twentieth Century Fox using excellent actors and a first-rate technical crew. The most distinguished member of the cast is Hooks, who came to the production as a Tony Award-nominated actor, established TV star, and founder of New York's renowned Negro Ensemble Company, which he headed for more than a dozen years starting in 1965. Chalky is played by Paul Winfield, a prolific stage and TV actor who became one of the first African-Americans to receive an Oscar nomination with Martin Ritt's drama Sounder (1972), which opened a few weeks before Trouble Man premiered. Ralph Waite achieved TV stardom in The Waltons, the 1972-81 series that started regular episodes on CBS just as Trouble Man was released, and Harris, who made his screen debut in Dixon's Nothing But a Man, went on to blaxploitation fame in pictures like Gordon Parks, Jr.'s Super Fly (1972) and Larry Cohen's Black Caesar (1973), although he's probably best known for playing the chief villain in Guy Hamilton's 1973 James Bond thriller Live and Let Die. Trouble Man was produced by Joel D. Freeman, who had entered the blaxploitation arena as producer of Gordon Parks's Shaft. The art director was Albert Brenner, one of Hollywood's most respected designers. The film editor was Michael Kahn, now known for a long list of Steven Spielberg pictures. And the music is by no less a Motown legend than Marvin Gaye, whose themes for the film have been recycled in numerous other productions over the years.
Blaxploitation has always been controversial, and although Dixon's picture has plenty of supporters, the influential New York Times critic Vincent Canby was troubled by Trouble Man in 1972. Describing it as a "white-financed black film," he wrote that by sanctifying the material success (cars, clothes, the works) of a murderous and mercenary "supercat," it becomes "a four-square, all-American movie that urges the preservation of the rotten system that makes all the loot possible" and mindlessly "neutralizes" the social change needed to reform and repair that system.
A more recent and sympathetic view came from NPR commentator Jimi Izrael, who commended the film as a "narrative tailored for a specific audience that was hungry for no-nonsense heroes," adding that some viewers "count it among the best of its kind" while others "count it among the worst." Deciding which take on Trouble Man has more to offer is one of the best reasons to watch Dixon's picture today.
Director: Ivan Dixon
Producer: Joel D. Freeman
Screenplay: John D.F. Black
Cinematographer: Michel Hugo
Film Editing: Michael Kahn
Art Direction: Albert Brenner
Music: Marvin Gaye
With: Robert Hooks (Mr. T), Paul Winfield (Chalky), Ralph Waite (Pete), Bill Smithers (Captain Joe Marx), Paula Kelly (Cleo), Julius Harris (Big), Akili Jones (Chi), Wayne Storm (Frank), Vince Howard (Preston), Stack Pierce (Collie), Larry Cook (Buddy), Virginia Capers (Macy), James "Texas Blood" Brown (Wesley), Tracy Reed (Policewoman), Felton Perry (Bobby), Howie Steindler (Howie), Bill Henderson (Jimmy), Rick Ferrell (Pindar), Jita Hadi (Leroy), John Crawford (Sergeant Koeppler), Gordon Jump (Salter) Edmund Cambridge (Sam), Lou Peralta (Detective Vadez), John Gruber (Detective Millers), Charlene Jones (Lucille), Karen Welch (Salter's Secretary), Betty Bresler (Nurse Katz), Jean Bell (Leona), Eric Strode (Dude), William Stevens (Bogus Cop), Harrison Page (Bogus Cop), Simeon Holloway (Watchman), Johnny Edwards (Abbey Walsh), Tom Hernandez (Police Sergeant), Danny "Little Red" Lopez (Danny)
by David Sterritt
The film's climactic battle sequence, which ends with "Mr. T" killing "Pete Cockrell," is reminiscent of the sequence from the 1948 Columbia Pictures release The Lady from Shanghai in which two characters shoot each other in a room filled with mirrors. Trouble Man was shot on location in Los Angeles, and included sites such as the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City and the historic United Artists Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Howie Steindler, who appears in the film as himself, owned the famed Main Street Gym in downtown L.A., which also was used as a location site. Steindler was the trainer of real-life featherweight champion Danny "Little Red" Lopez, who plays himself in the picture. Modern sources include Harry Caesar in the cast. According to news items, the picture's world premiere in New York was a benefit for the Negro Ensemble Company, a theatrical company co-founded by actor Robert Hooks.
Several reviewers compared the film unfavorably to the 1971 blaxploitation detective film Shaft, which was also co-written by Joel Freeman and produced by John D. F. Black. Trouble Man was the only production made by Freeman and Black's production company, JDF/B Productions. Trouble Man marked the feature film directorial debut of television actor and director Ivan Dixon and contained the only film music score composed by singer-songwriter Marvin Gaye (1939-1984). Music from the score, including the title song, was used extensively in the 2005 Paramount Pictures release Four Brothers, directed by John Singleton.
Released in United States 1972
Released in United States 1995
Lead actor Robert Hooks is co-founder of the Negro Ensemble Company.
Released in United States 1972
Released in United States 1995 (Shown in New York City (Film Forum) as part of program "Blaxploitation, Baby!" June 23 - August 10, 1995.)