Thursday, March 13, 2008
( 1975 Allied Artists) Director: Andrew V. MacLaglen Starring: Joe Don Baker, Martin Balsam, John Saxon, Linda Evens, Merlin Olsen
I first became aware of this unintentional comedy goldmine through Mystery Science Theatre 3000....
...as a matter of fact, the "Mitchell" episode (episode #512, for MST3k freaks out there) was the first of the Rhino Home Video VHS cassettes of the series that I ever purchased, circa 1996. In the days since, I still consider it to be one of the funniest, if not the funniest episode of the series. Host Joel Hodgeson and the bots were so merciless in their heckling, that it's rumored that actor Joe Don Baker is actually pissed off at the show's creators. And, I don't blame him....I would be, too...if one of my current claims to fame is being the target of a constant barrage of fat and drunk jokes.
For years, I actually wanted to experience the torment and pain that is the uncut MITCHELL. Just to see for myself if this flick was as bad as it's made out to be by MST3k. I mean, this was Joe Don Baker...my hero from Walking Tall flicks as a kid. Y'know...James Bond's "Ugly American" buddy. And, John Saxon was in it....the coolest guy in American film, circa the 1970s. How could it be bad? MST3k musta been mistaken, seeing as how they had to make sense out of an obviously cut and chopped edit of a print.
Boy....was I in the wrong. In a BIG way.
Oh, dear God....why?
Watching MITCHELL (well, watching it sober, at least) is like viewing home movie footage taken of your favorite uncle, circa 1975. Y'know the one....everybody has that one uncle whose the "lovable lush" of the family, the one that was married more than once, but stayed a bachelor the majority of his existence. The one from family photo albums whose pictures never seem to be absent of the presence of a beer can of some kind, like it was surgically bonded to his hand.
The Plot: Joe Don Baker is "Mitchell"...whether it's his first or last name is unclear (even to himself, it seems), for it's never mentioned one way or another throughout the course of the film. As the DVD case cover-blurb points out, he's a cop "with a gun, a drink, and no friends" in an unspecified American city (one assumes that it's Los Angeles) who's assigned to tail and pester a scummy druglord named Cummings (Martin Balsam) into a confession about a large shipment of heroin he's supposedly filtering in the country. Mitchell is a no-nonsense kinda cop, shooting civilians purely out of suspect and launching into investigations based on hunches and instinct. That's the problem, I guess, with the American legal system...too much time spent worrying about petty stuff like "evidence" and "probable cause". He has an uncanny method of legwork and keen deductive practices, which seem to involve sleeping with hookers (Linda Evans), drinking beer, and a series of dumbfounded looks (for an example, see below).
Upon investigating the uncut MITCHELL, one finds a few scenes that are missing from the MST3k version that stand out-
-Mitchell getting revenge on the Mustang driving hitman
- Mitchell kills a guy with a blow to the head with a rock (the footage which makes up the slow motion opening credit sequence can be seen here)
-Mitchell has a dune-buggy fight with Deaney (John Saxon), the burgular killin', male chauvanist bad guy, which ends in his fiery death (which finally explains where Saxon disappeared to in the MST3k cut)
-an extended verbal bout with the Adam Rich-like skateboard kid, the original track surprisingly contains the phrase "piss off" instead of "buzz off"!
All in all, it's not a bad movie....just alot of really bad performances. Definitely not Joe Don's shining moment (if he ever really had one to begin with). Stick with the MST3k treatment, unless you are a Baker completist....