Blue Howard (Mel Stewart) has come into possession of stolen goods: a small fortune in diamonds that he needs to get rid of, and local Pittsburgh criminal White Folks (Kiel Martin) is only too happy to help, having teamed up with an associate who offers a wad of cash for them at a fraction of their price, nevertheless. Once this pair arrive at Blue's hotel room, they strongarm him into handing over the stones for that money, and go their separate ways, but that is not the end of the story, for Folks meets up with Blue later on to celebrate. This is because they are conmen, who have just liberated that cash from their mark for their own gain... but maybe it's time to think a lot bigger?
Trick Baby was based on the novel by Iceberg Slim, and oddly, considering how influential in hip-hop culture the writer would become, is the only one of his stories adapted into a movie. For that reason, these cinematic results came across as considerably more literary than your average Blaxploitation flick, to the extent that while there were assuredly elements of the thriller genre contained within, quite often it resembled an indie drama set on location in one of the lower rent regions of a major American city rather than a production from one of the main studios out of Hollywood at the time, in this case that old stalwart Universal, who were casting their net wider than some.
All in the service of finding a hit, and adapting Peter Benchley's Jaws, another popular if on the trashy side novel, would do that for them as they hit the jackpot, which with all respect they were not going to do drawing from the works of a cult author. Still, you could discern from the manner this unfolded that Trick Baby would be a very decent read, one you imagine had been toned down from the page, no matter that this was an R-rated effort on celluloid. There were idiosyncrasies here that were obviously taken from the text (aside from Stewart's blue-hued hair and beard makeup), since nobody else was emulating them and this was drawn straight from the inspiration to so many African Americans who just wanted a good book to read.
And the people who made Blaxploitation movies were more likely to be middle-aged white men, seeing an opportunity in the market, able to drum up the budget, and get the films made and aimed at the urban audiences. The director here was Larry Yust, a photographer who came from an academic (white) family and made a few forays into making motion pictures though nothing that had a tremendous impact on the public consciousness at large; on this evidence, he had a good enough eye for composition and feel for the environment his characters populated, but little that would mark him out as a lost talent as far as helming a movie went. No matter the solid basis for the plot, pretty much everything here looked as if it could have been presented by any number of the low budget thriller creators of this period.
The most unusual aspect was White Folks, since he was passing for white when he was in fact black, or half-black as his mother had been a person of colour and his father had not. The trouble with this was that Martin was too obviously all white and though part of the conceit was that he would never be rumbled as to his race, watching him it was because he blatantly had pure Caucasian blood in his veins, which made it a little uncomfortable to see him pretending to be otherwise, using the N word and acting as if Stewart was his soul brother from another mother. Given the trouble with cultural appropriation that arose as headlines in the next century, Martin may take some getting used to if you apply those values to this 1972 effort, yet there were some really effective captures of time and place to be enjoyed, perhaps more than the narrative which got bogged down in our antiheroes running away from criminals even worse than they were. For that reason, you can see why Trick Baby has its fans. Music by James Bond. Not that James Bond.