Joe Don Baker is Mitchell!

Hard-hitting police action came to the theaters in 1975's Mitchell, an Allied Pictures release. Joe Don Baker is Mitchell, a hard-drinking sloppy-loving always-eating cop who doesn't play by the rules. When he stumbles upon a homicide he begins to connect the murder with the heroin trade and decides to hound and pester a local successful businessman (played by Martin Balsam). People are shot, Mitchell drinks heavily, and it all ends with a stunning confrontation at sea. You'll come for the action, but stay for the steamy love scene (think "baby oil") between Mitchell and the prostitute played by Linda Evans. Please do not give away the surprise ending of Mitchell.

Mitchell is available on VHS for around $2 in the bargain bin or on DVD and VHS as part of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 experiment (#512 of the series) for around $15. The Mitchell episode of MST3K is also the episode where man-in-space Joel Robinson finally escapes from the Satellite of Love with the aid of Gypsy and Mike Nelson. The grapevine says that after this episode of MST3K aired, Joe Don Baker became enraged at the cast of the show and vowed to take revenge on all of them some day. Apparently this didn't phase the cast, as they went on to skewer another Joe Don Baker film years later in Final Justice.

"Hey, cut out that Rockford music! I'm Mitchell!"

Mitchell is a movie that can loosely be categorised as a "crime drama." It was released to theatres on September 10, 1975, by Allied Artists Pictures. Its video release was slightly delayed, finally hitting the home video market on November 14, 1997, with an NTSC VHS release (available for about $15.00 at amazon.com). It was rereleased by Rhino Home Video, on DVD ($18.00 at amazon.com), on November 20, 2001, as part of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 video line, which means it contains certain embellishments that are standard fare for MST3K releases, most notably the row of theatre seats, and Joel and the Bots seated therein, riffing on the movie as it plays. (Also notable about the MST3K screening of Mitchell is that it was Joel Hodgson's final show as host).

The movie was written by one Ian Kennedy Martin, who was then enjoying success with his scripts for Baretta, a similarly-themed, but infinitely better-executed cop show. The film was directed (inasmuch as the performances in Mitchell can be called "direction") by Andrew V. McLaglen, whose only other claim to fame was a rather long string of equally cheesy and obscure B-movies stretching back to the mid-1950s. Steven Speilberg, he ain't. I mean, Jaws was released the same year as Mitchell, and the differences in production are astounding, despite the fact that quality movie production equipment and ample budgets were not the standard back then, you really have to fault Mitchell for not even trying to look good. It doesn't even sound good -- it recycles the theme music from The Rockford Files, as well as the 1960s muzaky theme for 3M corporate presentations. Even the intentionally bad Rocky Horror Picture Show, also released in 1975, manages to do better, with fewer resources.

Mitchell stars (inasmuch as "star" means "camera is generally pointed at") the following list of distinguished performers:

Joe Don Baker as Mitchell, a fat, sloppy, incompetent, alcoholic, unlikable cop on the edge
Linda Evans as Greta, a prostitute (whose services are apparently tax-deductible) with questionable taste in men
John Saxon as Walter Deaney, a corrupt trade union lawyer and dune buggy enthusiast
Martin Balsam as James Arthur Cummings, an imperturbable crime boss with a great love for soup
Merlin Olsen as Benton, Cummings' lumbering, incompetent manservant

...and a bunch of other people who excel at being unassuming and unremarkable.

What can be said about Joe Don Baker as Mitchell? He's fat; he's tactless; he's greasy; he doesn't seem to have a first (or last?) name; he walks with a pronounced gait and shoots people for no good reason. As the title character, he generally just wanders around from scene to scene, stumbling onto various situations that really have no cohesion and don't seem to be at all related, and annoying everyone within earshot. For example, that stuff at the beginning with Deaney killing a burglar -- about halfway through the film, Deaney appears again and attempts to bribe Mitchell, but we don't see him again after that, or hear about what became of him, although I've read that the subplot involving him can be seen in the unedited version of Mitchell -- he apparently dies in a dune buggy accident or something. If you listen closely, you can hear the police dispatcher announcing it on Mitchell's radio as he arrives at Cummings' house for the umpteenth time (right before the "BUZZ OFF, KID!" scene).

Along the way, Mitchell frequently helps himself to various foodstuffs and drinks offered to him by crime bosses, sleeps with Linda Evans a number of times (ugh!), arrests Linda Evans, gets into the most unhurried car chase scene ever filmed, loses a battle of wits to a little boy ("BUZZ OFF, KID!"), and at the end of it all, he shoots Cummings, despite the fact that what little plot there was proved that he didn't have anything to do with the heroin trade that Mitchell was going after, completely removing the need to shoot him.

Mitchell is kind of funny, though, in that unintentional 1970s kind of way. All the cars are gigantic land yachts ("The Chrysler Fury: the car that thinks it's a house!"); everyone has that goofy 1970s shaggy hair and awkwardly cut clothing; and all the police roles are of the extremely stereotypical 1960s-70s type (think Dragnet and Adam 12 for inspiration); and on top of that there isn't one single likable character in the whole thing. Martin Balsam's character is bearable, mostly because he's just boring, as opposed to being actively irritating like every other cast member. Everyone else, from the police chief, to the burglar, to John Saxon's unnamed date, to the old Mafia don, to that weird guy that appears seemingly for the sole purpose of being shot by Mitchell, to the old lady in the patsy heroin delivery car, to the Andy Kaufman lookalike thug, to all of Mitchell's co-workers, everyone in this movie is as annoying as a car alarm and as bland as an infomercial.

Some poignant, meaning-laden quotes:

Mitchell: I've got beer, and uh... vodka.
Greta: I'd like a beer.
(Mitchell hands her a can of Schlitz.)
Greta: You've got me wrong... I'd like a glass.
Mitchell: Oh, huh, right.
(Mitchell pours the beer in a glass, spilling some on Greta's legs in the process.)

Oh, can you feel the sexual tension?! It's so thick you could cut it with a knife!

Cummings: The coffee is cold and you are a lousy butler.
Benton: I am not a lousy butler.
Cummings: You are a lousy butler.
Benton: I am not.
Cummings: I say you are a lousy butler. The coffee is cold!

A more spirited argument surely exists only in the minds of the world's greatest philosophers.

Police Chief: People don't like you, Mitchell. I don't care for you much myself. Now why is that?
Mitchell: ...I dunno.

Not exactly what I'd call character development.

If you're after character or plot development, you won't find any traces of it here. If not for Joel and the Bots, I doubt very many people would be able to endure this movie, without being incited to commit acts of senseless violence. While I haven't seen the "original" version of Mitchell, I heartily recommend the MST3K version.

Of course, this writeup would not be complete without the lyrics to the appalling Mitchell theme song, sung by Hoyt Axton ("Hoyt, how could you?!").

My my my my Mitchell
What do your Mama say?
What would she do
if she knew you
were fallin' round and carryin' on that way...
Crackin' some heads, jumpin' in and out of beds
and hangin' round the criminal scene...
Do you think you are some kind of a star like the guys on the movie screen...

Well oh my my my Mitchell
What would your captain say?
If he knew you was hangin' round
Eatin' with the crooks and shootin' up the town
Know you been out there, roundin' up the syndicate
succeedin' where the others have failed
Oh my my my Mitchell
You shoot 'em just to get 'em in jail
When they take a look in the record book, they'll find you got a lot of class...

The whole shebang, arrestin' painted ladies for a little grass
Oh my my my Mitchell!

To follow up a bit on Servo5678's blurb above about Final Justice -- that episode of MST3K, experiment #1008, originally aired on June 20, 1999. As a further follow-up, I can say with certainty that Joe Don Baker has not taken any aggressive action against anyone involved with the cast or crew of MST3K.

Finally, an oddly large number of people who worked on this film (mostly minor characters and stunts crew) somehow came to be involved in the Robert Blake murder-for-hire trial in 2001, with at least three such people serving as witnesses for the prosecution or defense. It's a small world, after all.

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