Mr. T (not that one) is a one-man army in the studio blaxploitation effort TROUBLE MAN on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.
Private eye Mr. T (N.Y.P.D.'s Robert Hooks) is a thorn in the side of the police, living in style through a combination of seeking justice for wrongs afflicted upon members of the neighborhood in which he grew up, hustling pool, and occasionally taking on investigative work for parties that are not always above-board. When masked marauders are ripping off the take of a gambling operation jointly run on the white side of town by Pete Cockrell (THE WALTONS' Ralph Waite) and the black side by Chalky Price (Paul Winfield, THE TERMINATOR), they hire T to discover who is behind it and how they do it. T is present at one of the games that is hit but is unable to stop Chalky from gunning down one of the robbers who turns out to work for their formidable rival Big (Julius Harris, LIVE AND LET DIE). Chalky has one of his men (Akili Jones, POLICE STORY) dispose of the body, but he disappears and T finds himself accused of the murder and arrested by Captain Joe Marx (DALLAS' William Smithers). T is released when the cops can come up with no physical evidence but he is then targeted by Big. As people he cares about are threatened – including SOYLENT GREEN's Paula Kelly as his singer girlfriend and tin-legged pool hall owner Jimmy (Bill Henderson, FLETCH) – T must discover who is trying to set him up as the fall guy for a gang war takeover of the city's gambling trade.
TV writer John D.F. Black's follow-up to his screen adaptation of Ernest Tidyman's novel SHAFT and the feature directorial debut of HOGAN'S HEROES actor Ivan Dixon (who quickly followed it up with THE SPOOK WHO SAT BY THE DOOR before going back to episodic TV with an episode of GET CHRISSY LOVE!), TROUBLE MAN is more of a mainstream crime film with a black cast than an AIP/Dimension Pictures/New World blaxploitation pic. The pacing is deliberate and the focus is on T's investigation with gunplay and fisticuffs parceled out judiciously. Production values are slick – if a set has a glass window, someone will likely be tossed through it or shot in front of it – and Marvin Gaye himself provides a theme song and an underscore that is more supportively suspenseful than bombastic. While the idea of a Walton as one of the film's heavies seems ludicrous, Waite had just started the series for which he was best known the same year and was already a character actor with films like CHATO'S LAND and THE GRISSOM GANG under his belt while Winfield and Harris chose to underplay their parts to suit the film's sober approach to T's vengeance. Stunt coordinator-turned-director Craig Baxley (DARK ANGEL) does some uncredited stunt work here and the film was edited by future Steven Spielberg cutter Michael Kahn (RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK). The supporting cast also includes familiar faces like Vince Howard (who would begin his run as a recurring character on EMERGENCY the same year), WKRP IN CINCINATTI's Gordon Jump as a slum property owner, CPO SHARKEY's Harrison Page, THE TOWERING INFERNO's John Crawford as the verbose police records clerk, and TNT JACKSON's Jeannie Bell.
Released on DVD in 2006 by Twentieth Century Fox on dual-layer disc with both anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) and fullscreen transfers as well as original mono and upmixed stereo audio tracks, TROUBLE MAN looks spectacular on Kino Lorber's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.85:1 widescreen Blu-ray with striking blues amidst colors mostly subdued in the wardrobe and set decoration color choices. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 rendering of the original mono track crisply renders the dialogue and gunfire. There are no subtitles or captioning options. Besides a trailer for the film (2:30) and trailers for TRUCK TURNER, ACROSS 110TH STREET, COTTON COMES TO HARLEM, and REPORT TO THE COMMISSIONER, the disc single-layer disc features an audio commentary by film historians Nathaniel Thompson and Howard S. Berger who discuss the ways in which the film differs from Blaxploitation entries, Dixon's semi-autobiographical touches, the subsequent prominent credits of the cast, as well as the significance of the year in the film was made for black actors in mainstream cinema (Winfield and Cicely Tyson were both nominated for Academy Awards for SOUNDER which co-starred Hook's son Kevin who would direct his father years later in PASSENGER 57). All-in-all, this is a very respectable Blu-ray presentation of a film that would likely have been entirely forgotten by its own rights owner Fox as far as their own releases of catalog titles. (Eric Cotenas)
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