From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Based on the book by legendary writer Iceberg Slim, Trick Baby is in the tradition of other great con artist films like The Flim Flam Man (1967) and The Sting (1973). The film tells the story of two con men (one black, one white) that have gotten to the crossroads in their lives and their partnership in the flim flam business. The two have an interesting relationship because they use their race to manipulate "marks" into thinking they are for real. When we first meet them they are pulling a con on an old man who thinks he's buying diamonds worth $500,000 for a much cheaper rate of $10,000. The scam goes perfectly after the great acting job by Johnny "White Folks" O'Brien (Kiel Martin) and his black mentor/father figure "Blue" Howard (Mel Stuart). Blue and Folks act as if they are total strangers and Folks puts on a real racist edge to his role as the co-buyer of the diamonds. This fools the old man that hes gotten to fall for the con real good. The old man doesnt know it, but the "diamonds" are just cheap glass. Blue and Folks have scored again and they plan to celebrate. After they split from their con, they both meet up and talk about how great it was. Meanwhile, the old man they sold the diamonds to has found out that they are in fact cheap glass from a broker and he is so shook up he has himself a heart attack and crashes his car. Folks and Blue dont know it, but they scammed the wrong man. It turns out the old fool is the uncle of a guy named Frascatti (David Thomas) one of the citys biggest gangsters!
Folks is back out on the streets feeling good. As hes walking down the street he spots a young white woman (Beverly Ballard) trying to hail a cab. We can see shes in the wrong part of town where the local black folks are giving her looks like shes an alien from another world. Folks and the woman both catch each others eye and pretty soon, Folks is helping her out by hailing a cab for her. Folks puts on a real front, telling the woman hes visiting from Chicago and hes staying in a fancy hotel downtown. He invites her for a drink and maybe more. The only thing is, hes not even staying at the hotel...yet. When they get there he breaks out some of his cash and asks for the Presidential Suite. The hotel clerk explains that the room isnt available, but when Folks lays down a few hundreds, he quickly changes his tune. Folks and his new girlfriend head up to the suite and in a few minutes, Folks has conned HER, as they make love we see Blue is doing the same exact thing with his wife Cleo. The scene crosscuts and we can see that Johnny has finally reached the stage of being Blues equal as a grifter in the game.
Folks' new girlfriend invites him to a fancy dinner party and as the upper crust older white men discuss their business, Folks gets a great idea. These men dont know it yet but they are going to be brought in on an investment of property in a poor part of the city where they can make a huge profit. Folks strings them along perfectly, we can see he has picked up some great grifting skills from Blue. The great thing about Folks and Blue is that they can play people on their racism. While Folks lays down the big con, Blue is at the local bar chilling out with friends. Folks then tells the richies that he has to call his contact to see if the men can at least come and see the property since they already have other buyers. The richies want in on this deal and Folks plays them like a violin with his scam.
Blue and Folks meet up at the bar to discuss their new con job, but a local corrupt police officer named Dot (Dallas Edward Hayes) whos being paid by Frascatti to find out who scammed his poor uncle. When Dot sees Blue and Folks at the bar, he knows hes found his men. When he grills Folks and Blue, they try to act innocent, but Dot presses them until they break down and ask him what he wants to get off their back. He tells Blue he wants 5000, Blue tells him he'll give him $1000. Dot says no way. Dot explains to Blue if he doesnt give up the $ 5000, Frascatti will be down on him like a ton of bricks. Finally, Blue agrees, but he says he has to goto the bathroom first. While hes in the john, Blue uses his con skills to devise a trick to keep his money. He rolls up some tissues to take the place of the actual money for one envelope and slices the bottom of the envelope hes putting the money in. He shows the envelope with the money to Dot, and Folks comes up with a plan to get Dot the money the following day. Only, if he goes back on his deal, there is a message attached telling the precinct seargent that Dot is workling for Frascatti. Dot agrees to this but he wont let Blue mail the envelope unless hes there to see it. They both hang onto the envelope and walk outside and stick it in the mailbox.
By the time that they go to meet Blue (whos now going by the false name "Mr. Merritt") at his office, the men are ready to pay double what the other investors are paying. Blue acts as if hes an honorable man and doesnt want to go back on his deal with the other investors, the more he relents, the more money he gets from the richies. Finally, he agrees that he will go with their deal. A great con scene in the film that works perfectly. The investors only have one problem handing over the money to "Mr Merritt", they want to know that the deal is for real because the papers they are given arent the official sales papers, so they decide to wait until the next day. After arguing about where the money will go, they give it to a local bank to hold in a lock box and Blue and Folks both sign the security slip and they both get a key. They decide to leave and come back right after the con before 3:00 when the bank closes. After Folks drops the richies off they tell him to stay for a drink to celebrate, but Folks is off to get the money at the bank. Problems arise when Dot cuts Folks car off and holds him up, telling him if that money isnt in the envelope hes dead. Folks asures him it will be. Dot finally lets him go but when Folks arrives at the bank its closed. Blue and Folks are now in deep trouble since they need to get out of town right away since they now scammed both Dot and Frascattis uncle.
As they try to figure out what theyre going to do next, they decide to hide out until 10:00 am the next day when the bank opens. Only problem is, Folks knows they are in big trouble and they need to split town ASAP. Blues cant go, he needs the money they scored, its the biggest score of cash hes gotten and he wont go without it. Folks gets angry and tells him to forget the money and stay ALIVE. Blue wont go. While theyre driving they see a new mark, they decide to pull the old "lost wallet" trick on him. The only problem is, when Blue is alone with the man waiting for Folks to return with the cash, The man tells Blue hes going to shoot "the white boy" and they will split the money themselves. Blue tells him thats not a good idea. Pretty soon Folks is coming back but hes way down the street, the man sees him and Blue tells the guy Folks wants HIM to go down to meet him, as the guy heads towards Folks, Blue starts to walk the oppsite direction and as the guy walksfurther, Folks starts to move backwards, pretty soon the man sees hes been had and both Blue and Folks are out of there running.
Folks runs back to his hotel suite, but then he sees Dot and he knows hes in deep shit. Dot chases him and shoots him. A very crazy chase ensues as Folks tries to escape from Dot whos right on his tail. Folks manages to barely get away after jumping over a brick wall and making it to a train platform and hopping on before Dot can catch him. Foolks is wounded bad now and he needs a doctor, but he knows the grifters rules: no doctor if a cop has shot you. When he gets back to his hotel, his girlfriend is waiting for him, but we can see Folks isnt into it. She tries to "be nice" to him, but he explodes and tells her to get lost. She loses it and breaks down as he storms out of the hotel.
Folks and Blue meet up back at their con pad where we first met them in the film. They both know they need to get out of there fast and find a better place to hide. They barely escape from Dot when he and Frascattis thugs come calling. They get down the fire escape and head to the lasat place Blue can think of: his old friend Father Josephus (Clebert Ford). Josephus is a very religious and tells Blue if hes in trouble with the law, he cant help him, but Blue lays down one of his great fake stories and Josephus decides he can stay. Meanwhile Folks is still bleeding and sick from being shot in the arm by Dot. Bluetells Folks that he realizes that his life as a grifter has come full circle, that this is it for him. Hes been lucky too long and now hes heading for the bottom where he started. After awhile, Blue knows they need to get out of there so they ask Josephus if they can borrow his truck, Josephus lets them.
Blue goes to his old friend Felix to ask for help, but Felix turns him away. Blue and Folks were always outsiders before, but now, noone wants anything to do with them, especially now that they are wanted by the police and Frascatti. They are just bad news all around. Blue finds out Cleo is at a bar nearby so he goes to see her, after he comes out of the bar, and he sees some of Frascattis men and gets scared. The men ask him if his name is Blue, he says his name is Blue, but its not Blue Howard, but he knows Blue Howard. The men find out he is lying and shoot him right in the street. As Blue falls down, Folks runs to his side. In the shocking and tragic end to his life, Blues' last words to Folks are the first rules of grifting.
Peter Roberts is the co-founder/editor-in-chief of the Grindhouse Cinema Database (GCDb) and contributor to the GCDb's sister site Furious Cinema. A Massachusetts native, he is an avid film fan that has been immersed in the world of entertainment and pop culture his entire life. He is currently majoring in Communications and Interactive Media Design.