Cast and Crew: Ted Lange
What It’s About: “White Folks” (Kiel Martin), or just “Folks” to his friend, mentor and partner in crime Blue Howard (Mel Stewart), is also known by the more derogatory sobriquet “Trick Baby”, because he is the son of a black prostitute and her white john. Folks and Stewart make good use of Folks’ ability to pass for white in their various scams which depend upon prejudice and race based assumptions. When one of their victims has a heart attack, things turn from bad to worse-the man was the uncle of a powerful mobster, who wants their heads. Howard and Folks don’t realize they need to leave town until they are already deeply involved in a real estate scam. Will there be any place left to hide by the time they cash in?
Why Watch it Today?: Iceberg Slim, the author of the novel today’s film was based on, was born Robert Beck today in 1918. Slim was a pimp, con man, and gambler who became an influential cult author after writing books based on his experiences. Trick Baby was the first, and so far, only adaptation of his work to make it to the big screen, in a very low-budget effort from Universal.
Never having read Slim’s work, I can’t comment on the Trick Baby‘s fidelity to the novel. On its own merit, Trick Baby is a fun and well acted crime film. Mel Stewart puts in an especially fine performance as a man who loves to run a con, overreaching and overconfident, but loyal. The gritty Philadelphia locations bring a great deal of authenticity. Director Larry Yurst (whose strange filmography includes a few feature films, TV work, shorts, and even a sex ed film) plays down the outrageous elements found in later blaxploitation films in favor of character development and suspense on a tight budget. Trick Baby shares much in common with Across 110th St., featuring likable protagonists caught between the police and the mob and a palpable sense of inevitable doom as they struggle to escape powerful enemies and their own flaws