Mitchell (1975)

Posted: December 5, 2015 in Movie Review
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Mitchell (1975)

Director: Andrew V. McLaglen

Starring: Joe Don Baker, Martin Balsam, John Saxon, Linda Evans, Merlin Olsen

A movie about a cop who champions the side of law & order by working slightly outside the confines of both shouldn’t be that hard to pull off. Clint Eastwood did it, turning 1971’s “Dirty Harry” into a classic and reprising the role four more times. But, while Harry Callahan’s methods were at times questionable, he was always a likeable character. Joe Don Baker did it with 1973’s “Walking Tall,” likewise playing a sympathetic hero. The title character of “Mitchell,” also played by Baker, is anything but that. The end result is less surprising than it is (unintentionally) amusing.

Mitchell, an out-of-shape plain-clothes detective, begins investigating the shooting death of a burglar at the home of Walter Deaney (John Saxon). Mitchell belives that Deaney did not kill the man in self-defense as is his testimony. We know that Mitchell’s suspicions are correct, because we see the unarmed trespasser being shot by Deaney in the film’s opening scene. However, Mitchell is discouraged from pursuing the case any further due to Deaney being under the watchful eye of the FBI. Naturally, Mitchell is bullheaded enough that he prefers to continue his pursuit of Deaney, but he reluctantly takes a stakeout job at the home of James Arthur Cummings (Martin Balsam), a smuggler of various illegal items (including drugs). While all of this is going on, Mitchell is also fooling around with Greta (Linda Evans), a “hooker with a heart of gold,” who looks less like a hooker and more like a centerfold for one of the many porn magazines in Mitchell’s home. Once Cummings is introduced, the only real contribution to the film that Deaney has left is to be the guy paying Greta’s bill before he unceremoniously disappears from the movie.

On the condition that Mitchell would allow him to go free, Cummings opts to use Mitchell as a chauffeur in a drug trade so that Mitchell can arrest Mistretta (Morgan Paull) instead. However, the sly Cummings pulls a double-cross on BOTH men, alerting Mistretta to Mitchell’s true identity and replacing the heroine shipment with chalk. After Mitchell fights off and kills Mistretta and his men in a gunfight, he goes after and kills Cummings and his bodyguard on their boat.

Filling the requirements of a movie set in December with the inclusion of a decorated tree in one scene and two other mentions of the word “Christmas,” there is very little about the original release of Mitchell to recommend it unless you’re a John Saxon fan who just has to see everything the man’s been in. The story itself is boring as hell. Joe Don Baker is certainly no help, playing a complete swine of a lead character. Nope, when a movie is as lame as “Mitchell” is, you have two options left available. Either you can eject the video and forget you ever tried to watch it, or you can stay the course and laugh your way through the grueling experience. That’s where “Mystery Science Theater 3000″(MST3K, for short) comes in.

Picked as the subject for the twelfth episode in the fifth season of MST3K, “Mitchell” becomes not only watchable, but downright hilarious as Joel Hodgson and robot pals Tom Servo and Crow T. Robot riff the hell out of it, much to the chagrin of its lead actor. It’s been too long for me to remember which movie wound up as my introduction to MST3K, but I know that “Mitchell” was definitely one of the first. It would probably be advisable to sample a few others first before seeking this one out, though. “Mitchell” is also notable as the episode in which series creator Joel Hodgson handed the reins over to head writer Mike Nelson, who would continue watching crappy movies with his robot companions throughout the rest of the series’ run. To this day, “Mitchell” remains one of my favorite MST3K episodes, and is the ONLY way that one should EVER watch this Christmas turkey.

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