Nov 10, 2011
Mitchell (1975) (part 1 of 8)
The Cast of Characters:
Mitchell (Joe Don Baker). Portly, slovenly cop on the edge who plays by his own rules. Mess with him, and he might just step on your foot.
Greta (Linda Evans). Total pothead prostitute who inexplicably falls for Mitchell. At long last, a hooker who gives out receipts!
Walter Deaney (John Saxon). Gun collector and part-time dune buggy enthusiast. Crosses Mitchell’s path when he shoots a guy for stealing his silverware.
James Arthur Cummings (Martin Balsam). Drug smuggler and bonafide soup lover. Constantly stalked by Mitchell, whom he eventually treats to a steak dinner and a really big orange.
Benton (Merlin Olsen). Cummings’ henchman, butler, doorman, chauffeur, and all-around nursemaid. Gets endlessly tweaked by Mitchell before finally being killed Gong Show-style.
Salvatore Mistretta (Morgan Paull). Tries to force Cummings to smuggle some drugs for a mob boss named Gallano. Mitchell shoots him for rolling through a stop sign on his dirt bike.
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Joe Don Baker is a truly one-of-a-kind actor. He started his career with a cameo in the classic prison film Cool Hand Luke, then went on to achieve prominence playing real-life old-school sheriff Buford Pusser in Walking Tall. After that, his career started going downhill. And much like any piece of debris when it rolls down a hill, Joe Don just got larger and larger as he got closer to the bottom.
Seemingly twenty pounds heavier in every successive film he made, he wouldn’t truly enjoy success again until he reminded the world that he could act by taking over for Telly Savalas in Martin Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear. In recent years he’s had some success with spoofing the cop characters he played during his early period, most notably as Jack Wade in two James Bond films.
Is his career back on the rise? Probably not, but if it is we’ll always have Baker films of the 70’s and 80’s to look back on as supreme examples of movie badness.
A brief note about the version of the film I’ll be recapping. There are two different edits of this movie floating around, and the more popular version (if any version of Mitchell can really be called “popular”) is the one that’s been edited for TV to remove all the violence and profanity. (Also missing is all the nudity, but since most of that is on the part of Joe Don you’re not gonna hear me complaining.) The version that was featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (where most people know this movie from) is actually the TV version. I’m recapping the R-rated version that somehow saw theatrical release, so you’ll find several discrepancies between this and the MST3k episode.
Mitchell starts out with a cruel reminder that the film was made in 1975, because in addition to general awfulness we’ll also be getting a healthy dose of your typical 70’s action movie score, complete with horns blaring, a guitar playing walk-a-chicken, walk-a-chicken riffs, and a disco beat. Disco is, putting it lightly, not for all tastes, so even the opening credits are hard to endure.
Not helping matters is a huge screen-sized graphic of the film’s title, inside of which is a super slow-mo shot of Joe Don picking up a rock and flinging it to the ground [?]. Actually, “slow-mo” doesn’t quite describe it. It’s really a series of bizarre, blurry freeze frames. I have no idea why these were used for the opening credits, though we’ll eventually see that these frames are taken from a scene that occurs later in the film. However, its use here won’t make much more sense then, either.
We then abruptly cut to a black limo, and in the back are Walter Deaney (played by prolific character actor John Saxon), some old guy, and a couple of hookers. This scene starts with one of the hookers, a blonde one, talking about how her manicurist tells her “every detail” about her sex life, so much so that “I can’t even keep my fingers still!” She mentions that her manicurist is 16 years old, by the way. If this was supposed to make these people seem really, really sleazy, the filmmakers have accomplished this goal all too well.The film proper opens with a pan across a house that vaguely resembles the Miller home from Eegah. The camera moves incredibly slowly, giving the impression that the filmmakers were very proud about getting the rights to film this house and were determined to get their money’s worth, no matter how dull this made things. A burglar who looks like the result of throwing Johnny Mathis and Wayne Newton in the Brundlefly machine hops a fence. Then, he uses the same move to hop a cement railing. Yeah, you can climb over things. Can we move on, please?
Meanwhile, Deaney is nuzzling with the other, brunette hooker, until he finally turns to Blonde Hooker and tells her to “Shut up! I’m thinking!” He must be thinking about how he’s going to fire his agent after this movie.
We then return to the burglar as he breaks into the house. He smashes a pane of glass in the back door, then carefully closes the door behind him. Then it’s back to Deaney’s limo turning a corner. Then back to the burglar helping himself to some silverware, before becoming very interested in the gun cabinet. Then back to the limo coming into the driveway. Man, you can slice the tension with a knife, huh? That is, if the burglar hadn’t just helped himself to all the knives.
Finally, these two little scenes come together when the limo parks outside the house that the burglar just broke into. Deaney and Company down a few last shots of whiskey, then get out and head inside. As the burglar checks out the TV in the back of house, Deaney tells the hookers, “You know where everything is, use your imaginations. Surprise me. Like you always do.” Okay, that’s going to have me shuddering for a while.
Deaney and the old guy head into the back for, in their words, “some juice”. When they’re gone, Blonde Hooker says to Brunette Hooker as a hooker aside, “What the hell does he think I am, an acrobat?” Well, certainly no one’s accusing you of being an actress.
Deaney and Old Guy spot the burglar, so Deaney grabs a gun out of a convenient drawer. He and Old Guy quietly run back to the front door where Deaney tells the curious hookers, “We’ve got a [something, sounds like ‘fish stock’]!”.
He pushes a button, causing a pair of rather flimsy-looking wood lattice doors to swing together and block off the hallway. The burglar hears this, and rather than just skedaddle with the loot he’s collected already, he decides to come out and investigate. Finding the lattice doors closed, he runs back to the room he just came out of, but Deaney yells “Hey!” and then shoots him. In a very lame attempt at an auteur shot, we see Deaney’s mouth turn to a smile through the lattice. Oooh!
In a police squad car, we get an all-too-appropriate introduction to our “hero” Mitchell, who’s sleeping in the back seat. The cops up front, the ones who are actually doing their jobs, they get a call about a burglar being shot at Deaney’s place, so they wake Mitchell up by turning the siren on. Heh heh, that’ll learn him.
As the squad car pulls into Deaney’s driveway, we get another indicator of the non-existent budget when the sound briefly cuts out. They park and one of the cops is irked that “Private Enterprise” beat them to the house when they see another car with PATROL written on the trunk. The Private Enterprise cops quickly fill in the Public Sector, then split. Well, they sure were useful.
Mitchell stumbles up to the door, where Deaney introduces himself and gives the cops a fake story about the burglar grabbing a gun out of his cabinet. He handily refers to the burglar as “one of those wetbacks!” Yep, Deany’s a bad guy, alright. He tells them that “fortunately” he had gotten to a gun first. Yeah, that sounds reasonable. We then get a shot of the burglar’s body, where Deaney has obviously planted a gun. Then Deaney sees Mitchell and grimaces for some reason. If these two already know each other from somewhere, we’re never told.
Mitchell puts the gun in a Ziploc, presumably to prevent any fingerprint evidence from being destroyed. However, this probably won’t be of much use considering he picked up the gun with his bare hand to put it in the bag in the first place. Deaney then further wrecks his credibility as a witness when he tells Mitchell that he’s not sure which of the guns in his cabinet are loaded. Naturally, Mitchell takes a gun out of the cabinet and holds this one in his bare hand, too.
Mitchell looks down the hall and spots Old Guy and the Hookers leaving. Deaney explains that the “party’s over”, and that Old Guy is not just old, but important too, because he’s got to be at his desk at eight in the morning for some reason. However, Mitchell thwarts their exit and closes the front gate by pushing a button on the same control panel that Deaney used to trap the burglar. Boy, that Mitchell’s one bad—watch your mouth!
Mitchell gives Deaney a good hard stare, then heads down to the limo. Old Guy rolls down the window as Mitchell introduces himself with a rather inappropriately goofy look on his face. We don’t find out what Old Guy and the Hookers tell him, not that it ever becomes important anyway.
Inside, Deaney busies himself at his desk by talking on a Batman-esque red phone, telling someone to tell a guy named Mistretta to talk to a guy named Gallano. Got all that? In the living room, the cops are using masking tape to mark where the burglar’s body is. Did they run out of chalk? Mitchell checks out another gun from the cabinet, while he stares hard at Deaney one more time for no reason.
The next day, we waste some time watching a guy in a tweed jacket walk into police headquarters. He passes an officer who calls him “Chief” and tells him that Mitchell is here to see him. The Chief then walks into his office, which simply has the word “PRIVATE” on the door [?]. Wouldn’t it make more sense to put, oh I don’t know, the Chief’s name on there?
The Chief gets all settled in his chair, then starts chewing Mitchell out. Adding to the unintentional hilarity here is that this guy, with his slicked-back black hair, dumpy features, and tweed jacket, looks exactly like a typical Dave Berg character from Mad magazine.
He starts out with, “Mitchell, people don’t like you. [pause] In fact, I don’t care for you myself. Why is that? [pause] You refused to sign this report. Why? [pause] What kind of policeman are you anyway?” I think he’s read a few too many Harold Pinter plays.
Mitchell tells him that none of the guns in Deaney’s cabinet were loaded, and that the only loaded gun on the premises was the one next to the burglar. He then says that the gun collection was “high up on the wall”, and the burglar was too short to reach it. This seems like a perfectly sensible deduction to me, but since a cop on the edge like Mitchell needs an idiotic superior to butt heads with, the Chief’s only response is, “So, what does that prove?”
Mitchell says, “If Deaney’s lying, he’s not gonna get away with it!” For some reason, this causes the Chief to go ballistic and get right up in Mitchell’s face and wag his finger. “You’re gonna get me goddamn mad, Mitchell! Now when the shit hits the fan, I wouldn’t wanna be in your shoes! Now get out!” Mitchell simply says, “Right,” and goes for the door. Before he exits, the Chief tells him to go to some guy named Aldridge for his next assignment, and orders him to “forget about Deaney!” Little does he know that in “cop on the edge” lingo, this means “sit right on his ass for the rest of the movie.”
Mitchell goes to Aldridge and gets his assignment, which is to stakeout the home of James Arthur Cummings. Mitchell repeats the name, sounding oddly upbeat for no reason. Aldridge wants him to watch Cummings until he reveals “something incriminating about a crime in Mexico!”
Mitchell is somewhat dismayed to learn that he’ll be working alone on this and asks, “What do I do for sleeping? How about eating?” Aldridge says he won’t have to worry about sleeping since, oddly enough, nothing will happen at night [?], but I suspect Mitchell’s much more worried about the latter.