Vintage Pulp Nov 1 2022
THE REAL MR. T
There are only three sure things: taxes, death, and trouble.


Above is a poster for the drama Trouble Man, a well known movie from the blaxploitation cycle, not least because Marvin Gaye wrote the excellent soundtrack. In fact, a line from his theme song provided our subhead about taxes, death, and trouble. Like his music, unusual talent went into the film. That goes for the direction by Ivan Dixon, the writing, and the acting. All of that is pretty well known. The movie usually makes it onto lists of best blaxploitation movies. But it can also hold its own with most detective movies from outside the genre made during the early seventies, and because blaxploitation had so many cheap, fly-by-night productions, the fact that you don't have to squint beyond many shortcomings to see it as a good movie is something to appreciate.

Robert Hooks plays a Los Angeles badass who everyone calls simply Mr. T. He makes his money as a fixer, taking care of people's troubles for payment. That's where the “T” comes from—T for trouble. Two underworld figures who run craps games come to him because their game nights are being robbed by masked men. For $10,000 T agrees to stop the thieves. Unfortunately, the robbery tale is a set-up. The two underworld guys plan to frame T for murder. The how of it is a bit complicated to explain in a short write-up, but the important detail is why—the planned mark is a top henchman of a rival gangster, and his death will make the rival's territory ripe for a takeover. The plan works, as does the frame, but T doesn't end up in jail or dead, which means he's on the loose to dig for answers.

Hooks had already been a working actor for years by the time he took on the role of Mr. T, and the experience shows. He's far better than the music stars and ex-athletes that often headlined blaxploitation productions (though a few of them were good too). An ace cast is needed because this is the type of film where the audience knows exactly what's going on from the beginning, while T and the cops are in the dark. Without a mystery, the tension is provided by filling the movie with numerous tough guys who don't give an inch. Hooks has more than enough presence to hold his own. Thanks to him and his capable co-stars, including the regal Paula Kelly as his girlfriend, Julius Harris as a top criminal figure, and Vince Howard as Harris's main strongman, Trouble Man delivers the goods. It premiered today in 1972.
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 21
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
April 20
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
April 19
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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