Sunday, July 15, 2018

Joe Don Baker IS "Mitchell"!

Bewitched, bothered, bewildered or blotto? Joe Don Baker IS "Mitchell".

Hello and welcome, movie lovers.

The late 1960's and early 1970's were the golden age of the cinematic anti-hero: cocky, anti-social types who thumbed their noses at authority and disdained rules and regulations. 

Classic anti-heroes include Paul Newman in "Cool Hand Luke", Robert Redford in "Three Days of the Condor", Jack Nicholson in "Chinatown", Al Pacino in "Serpico", Marlon Brando in "The Wild One" and Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland in "M*A*S*H".

To this illustrious roll call of independents and agitators we can now add...Joe Don Baker?!

As the lead in 1975's "Mitchell", Joe Don is a crude, slovenly, hard drinking, cigarillo-smoking, girly magazine reading police detective who (the movie's poster proudly boasts) has "no friends." Yet underneath the rumpled suits and beer sweat, beats the heart of a dedicated public servant ne plus ultra, committed to truth, justice and the American Way.

"I'm jut gonna crash here and get some sleep, OK?": Dedicated detective Mitchell is on the scene.

Or so the movie wants us to believe. Desperately. 

In reality, what "Mitchell" in the bloated form of Joe Don Baker is is not an anti-establishment rule breaker who marches to the beat of his own drummer, but merely an unpleasant, unlikable slob who lives in an apartment that smells like a petting zoo.

The tale of "Mitchell" begins in the limo of Walter Deaney (veteran bad guy John Saxon). Sharing the ride is a "business associate" and the gentlemen's two, uh, "dates." Once the party arrives at Deaney's home, the men leave to "go get some juice." Meanwhile, their "dates" are asked to "prepare" for the evenings "entertainment."

"I want you to exercise the bottomless resources of your imagination," Saxon says with a smile. "Surprise me, like you always do."

Once he's out of ear-shot, Saxon's "date" gripes, "What the hell does he think I am? An acrobat?"

Baddie John Saxon is upset to learn his hooker is not also an acrobat.

While fetching the "juice", Saxon realizes there's a burglar in his den. Rather than exiting the house and calling the police, Deaney instead pulls a gun from a drawer and shoots the guy (he even smiles while doing it). Then he calls 911 and gives the cops a cock-and-bull story about the intruder grabbing a gun off the wall and pointing it at him, first.

"So you see why I had to shoot him," Saxon explains between puffs on a cigar.

Lucky (?) for us, who do think is passed out in the back seat of the police car sent to Deaney's house? Mitchell! Once he staggers onto the scene, the detective realizes things are just a little too cut and dry. For instance, Mitchell wonders, how come Deaney can't remember which one of the guns mounted on his den wall are loaded? Since the burglar was kinda short, how could he grab a gun placed so high? And who gave Saxon's guests to the OK to leave?

"The party's over," Saxon shrugs.

"There's a police investigation going on!" Mitchell barks, closing the automatic gates before the trio can drive off.

"I Drink Alone": Mitchell enjoys quality time with his only friend, booze.

Because of these loose ends, Mitchell refuses to sign-off on the police report. This infuriates his C.O. Pallin (Robert Phillips), who states, "Mitchell, people don't like you. In fact, I don't care for you myself. Why is that?" When Baker replies, "I don't know", Pallin throws him out of his office in disgust.

For being so picky about the Deaney case, Mitchell is put on a 24-hour surveillance detail--alone. This really pisses Mitchell off; after all, he demands, when is he suppose to eat? Mitchell could care less that his target, James Arthur Cummings (Martin Balsam), is a baddie mixed up in drugs and the mob. He wants a proper eating schedule! And nap time! And what about taking care of his personal hygiene? When it's suggested Mitchell handle those details between midnight and 6 AM, he scowls and stomps off.

True to his nature, Mitchell quickly begins to annoy Mr. Cummings. After all, he's planted himself outside his house, follows him wherever he goes and even manages to survive the "high speed car chase" Cummings unleashes. At the end of his rope, Cummings decides to do something drastic: he invites Mitchell over to his house for dinner. Although Mitchell thoroughly enjoys the meal (soup, steak, baked potatoes, gravy, veggies, rolls), he resists his host's suggestions to improve his personal skills. Mitchell also refuses to allow Cummings to put him on his "payroll". Other than that, the dinner date is going along swimmingly until Cummings mentions the hooker Mitchell is (gasp) sleeping with.

Oh, excuse me, did I forget to mention that?

Well, you see, Mitchell is sleeping with a hooker named Greta, played by a pre-"Dynasty"/pre-Yanni Linda Evans. How she got there is a bit complicated, so please try to follow along: even though Mitchell is suppose to be tailing Cummings 24/7, he can't take his mind off the Deaney case. He even breaks into Deaney's house to double-check the crime scene! Deaney catches him, but Mitchell out runs him--a bit of Hollywood magic I don't buy, since Baker is heavier than Saxon, who keeps himself in good shape.

"I have got to get myself a new pimp": Hooker Greta (Linda Evans) prepares for her worst assignment ever--sleeping with Mitchell!

Anyway, in hopes of keeping Mitchell off his case (and perhaps to get him on his "payroll"), Deaney begins sending Greta the happy hooker over to be Mitchell's "new friend".

Whatever Deaney's paying Greta, it's not enough. (Actually, he's paying Greta $100 bucks an hour. That's $468.38 an hour in 2018 values. Like I said, it's still not enough.) Not only is Mitchell an unappealing person, he lives in an apartment that looks (and smells) like a petting zoo. I can just imagine Greta, emerging from a night under the covers with Mitchell, rushing home to shower off all the beer sweat, cigarillo stench and baby oil grease, wondering how her life got so awful.

Mitchell, by the way, has no problem accepting Greta's "favors". He also isn't curious about who's picking up the tab, either--although Linda is paying the ultimate price, if you know what I mean.

Therefore, when Cummings tells Mitchell that Deaney is paying for Greta's "services", Mitchell gets supremely miffed and stomps off.

Full of righteous indignation, Mitchell confronts Deaney. Saxon gleefully admits that he's the one keeping Mitchell "sweet". Baker then insists Greta is sleeping with him freely and gladly, which makes Deaney (and the audience) laugh hysterically. His romantic illusions shattered, Mitchell stomps off.

Meanie Deaney enjoys his life of crime.

"Mitchell" is suppose to be a crime drama; however, that aspect of the flick tends to be over-shadowed by the general loathsomeness of the main character. Never the less, the fact that Deaney appears to have gotten away with murder becomes a canker on Mitchell's gum-line. Why won't the police arrest Deaney? Because, it turns out, Deaney is "a crooked union lawyer" and the FBI has had him under surveillance for two years. In fact, they have mountains of evidence tying him to "every violation in the book." Pallin informs Mitchell that his messing around with the Deaney case could destroy all the feds' hard work.

"Deaney is FBI property!" Pallin hollers.

OK, fine, but why didn't somebody say so earlier? 

Now, about this Cummings fellow: he supposedly runs an "import/export" business. Way back in 1963, he struck a deal with an Italian mobster named Gallano (the stone faced Harold J. Stone) to handle certain "shipments" for the mob. This agreement has worked out great ("We have made a lot of money, no?" Gallano reminds Cummings) until an operative named Mastretta (Morgan Paul) informs Cummings that a shipment of hijacked heroin from Mexico will be coming through his port. Unfortunately, it's a very inconvenient time for such a package to pass through Cummings' port; after all, he's got Mitchell on his case 24-hours a day. Besides, the way the drug deal was carried out wasn't nice.  "If you want drugs, you can grow 'em, you can buy 'em," Cummings lectures Gallano, "but to steal 'em is greedy." Balsam also tells Gallano that Mastretta, who is Gallano's cousin, "is a punk." Yet Gallano remains intractable; the heroin shipment WILL go through Cummings' "facilities"--and that's final!

So what is a mobster to do? Why, he calls Mitchell, of course, in what appears to be a set-up for Gallano. But it's not! In reality, it's an elaborate double cross involving a rich old lady stooge, the precious heroin replaced with bags of chalk, a helicopter chase over the high seas and a deadly gun battle on Cummings' boat...all thought out, organized, timed and executed like clock work under the leadership of Mitchell (!), a man normally too stewed to pass a drunk driving test.

Joe Don Baker takes aim at all the critics who mocked drunk-pig antics (and horrible wardrobe) in the movie "Mitchell".

Movies like "Mitchell" rise or fall on the audiances' identification with the main character. Considering that Mitchell is a disagreeable, slovenly, argumentative booze hound with an apartment that looks (and smells) like a petting zoo, the only person who could identify with (or be inspired by) Mitchell would be the Son of Sam. What's more, "Mitchell" doesn't offer a critique on current society, official procedures or accepted hypocrisies, as so many anti-hero movies do. Mitchell is no champion of the under-dog; he just wants another beer. The only "message" viewers could glean from "Mitchell" is to cut out the booze and cigarettes, join a church or at least enter counseling unless they, too, want wind up a friendless, cranky couch potato who reeks of beer sweat.

In my "Daughters of Satan" post, I mentioned Tom Selleck earned a Golden Turkey nomination for the "Most Humiliating Performance by a Future TV Star". Also nominated was Linda Evans in "Beach Blanket Bingo." However, after watching both films, I firmly believe Linda's performance as Greta in "Mitchell" is far more humiliating to the future Krystal Carrington/Yanni cuddlemate than her role as Sugar Kane in "Beach Blanket Bingo". In choosing Joan Collins for "Empire of the Ants" as the winner, the Brothers Medved took into account Joan's humiliation on and off the screen as the deciding factor in giving her the Golden Gobbler. However, Linda had to (pretend) to have sex with Joe Don Baker multiple times and enjoy it. In their earliest encounter, Joe Don spills beer on Linda and she asks him, "You want to lick it off?" EWW! On another occasion, Mitchell asks Greta if she ever posed for porn. "Sure," she replies, "when I needed the bread." His suave response? "Where can I buy some?" Double EWW! Later on, when Greta suggests she and Mitchell have more than just a "business relationship" going, Mitchell pushes her away snarling, "You were a Christmas gift!" OUCH! Perhaps the Brothers Medved didn't catch "Mitchell", but if they had, they would have seen the multiple humiliations heaped on Linda in the course of the flick--and she had to kiss Joe Don Baker, too! In the end, fighting off fiberglass ants is nothing compared to snuggling under the sheets with Mitchell.

"Mitchell" was not a hit at the box office or with critics. However, it did provide ex-football player Merlin Olsen with his first movie role. As Martin Balsam's butler and general flunky Benton, Olsen  wears a flat cap and delivers his lines in a droning monotone, showing none of the charisma so evident in his FTD-Florists commercials.

Because there was--thank heavens!--no sequel to "Mitchell", viewers are left to wonder what the future had in store for this nasty piece of work. Personally, I think Mitchell died as he lived, alone, in his petting zoo of an apartment, a girly magazine in his lap and a can for beer (with a cigarette floating in it) in his cold, dead hand.

Mitchell should be kept out of the reach of children.

King George IV was a lot like Mitchell: big, slovenly, a marathon drinker, loud, boorish. When he died, the august London Times didn't even pretend to feel sorry about his passing. Their words about George are strangely apt for Joe Don Baker's "Mitchell", which I shall paraphrase: "There never was a movie character less regretted by his fellow creatures than Mitchell."



King George IV: Mitchell's inspiration, perhaps?

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