Mitchell (played by Joe Don Baker and don’t you forget it) is a detective who rubs everyone the wrong way because he’s a huge slob. In order to keep Mitchell from investigating a murder committed by a mobbed-up lawyer named Walter Deaney (John Saxon), Mitchell’s superiors order him to conduct surveillance on businessman James Arthur Cummings (Martin Balsam). Cummings is in the export/import game, which can only mean that he’s looking to smuggle heroin in the United States. Mitchell balks at having to spend hours sitting in a car and watching a house but he finally agree to do it just so he can show up his superiors. “I’m going to get Deaney and Cummings!” he says.
In order to get Mitchell off of his back, Deaney sends him a prostitute named Greta (Linda Evans). Mitchell doesn’t have any problem having sex with Greta but he does have a problem with her smoking grass. After spending two nights with her, he hauls her off to jail for possession because the only intoxicant that Mitchell needs is Schlitz beer.
Eventually, both Deaney and Cummings get tired to being harrassed by this slob so they team up to kill him. This leads to both a dune buggy accident that has to be seen to be believed and an exciting helicopter chase.
Mitchell is best-known for having been featured on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Everyone remembers Joel and the bots making savage fun of Joe Don Baker and commenting on the plot’s incoherence. What is less well-known is that the version that was shown on MST 3K was a heavily edited version that was missing some key scenes. Earlier today, I watched the unedited version of Mitchell. It’s still pretty bad but the plot does make slightly more sense. In the unedited version, we actually learn why John Saxon just vanishes from the movie and we also see the end result of Mitchell’s final confrontation with Cummings, instead of just cutting away. Even more importantly, in the unedited version, we discover that Mitchell spends the entire movie being threatened, abused, and insulted. It makes it easier to understand why he’s in such a terrible mood throughout the entire film. The unedited version of Mitchell is not much better than the edited version but it is a tougher and more violent film in every way.
Mitchell is usually described as being a take on Dirty Harry but it’s actually more of a French Connection rip-off. The slovenly Mitchell has more in common with the erratic Popeye Doyle than with the cool and collected Harry Callahan. Unfortunately, Mitchell doesn’t have any scenes that can compare to the chase scene from The French Connection nor does it have that film’s gritty, semi-documentary tone. Whereas Doyle and Callahan got results through being smart along with being tough (Dirty Harry, for instance, goes out of its way to show that Callahan is dogged investigator and not just a trigger-happy cop), Mitchell just annoys people until they try to kill him.
For all the shit that Joe Don Baker has taken for starring in Mitchell, his performance is not that bad. He’s convincing as a borderline fascist cop who doesn’t get much sleep and who doesn’t trust anyone. It’s just that Mitchell, as written, is never a likable hero. Instead, he’s the type of hero who busts his girlfriend because she has a tiny amount of grass in her purse. Of the villains, John Saxon is believably sleazy as Deaney but Martin Balsam sleep walks through his role as Cummings and, even in the unedited version, his plan never makes much sense. Balsam and Saxon should switched roles.
Finally, no review of Mitchell would be complete with including the lyrics of the haunting Mitchell theme song, sung by Hoyt Axton:
“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!”