KAMAD Throwback Thursdays 1975: Mitchell

Throwback Thursday #TBT

Throwback Thursday on the KAMAD site will be a regular occurrence in the next year. As a motivational project, to make sure I am working on something, even in a week where I don’t see a new film in a theater, I am going to post on movies from 1975. Along with 1984, this is one of my favorite years for movies and it is full of bittersweet memories as well. 1975 was my Senior Year in High School and my Freshman Year in College. The greatest film of the last 60 years came out in 1975, as well as dozens of great and not so great cinematic endeavors. Most of the films in this weekly series will have been seen in a theater in 1975, but there are several that I only caught up with later. I hope you all enjoy. 


It’s going to happen a few times more this year, you will get a Throwback Thursday 1975 post on a film that I have never seen before. In addition to revisiting the films of my youth, this project will plug a few holes in the watchlist I have of 1975 films. I don’t remember hearing about this film back when it came out, but over the last few years there have been occasional references to it that encouraged me to toss it on the pile. That is an appropriate euphemism because this movie has thew lowest rating on IMDB for any film I have ever written about myself, a 2.7 out of 10. There are a lot of people who don’t like this movie very much. 

The low rating is probably a result of the film being the subject of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode back in 1993. The star of Mitchell, Joe Don Baker, took exception to the treatment given to the film by the writers and threatened to “kick their ass”. I suspect that fans of this show followed up after another Baker film was mauled by the parody show, by visiting IMDB to kick Baker’s ass. The movie is not very good, but it is certainly not deserving of this dismal score. Having never watched MST3K, I am going to stay out of this particular fight and just talk about the movie I watched. That may still be influenced by the TV show because the version of the movie that is available for streaming, seems to be the one edited for the show without the riff track. 

“Mitchell” is a very typical cop movie from the era. A loner detective is doggedly pursing criminals that he refuses to ignore. This cop has integrity but he is also a bit of a slob and definitely not cooperative with his higher ups. There are two crimes being investigated here, one is a self defense killing that Detective Mitchell believes was actually a murder, and then there is the drug case he has been assigned to that no one wants because it involves other agencies and politically connected mafioso types. John Saxon is the sly businessman who used a burglary as cover for shooting a guy for kicks. Martin Balsam is the mid-level crime syndicate guy who doesn’t want to cooperate with the family on a drug heist, but also doesn’t want Mitchell to nail him. 

If there is a mystery here, it is in how these two cases get connected to one another. I did not think that was clear at all. Eventually it seems that Balsam and Saxon have some business arrangement but it never becomes clear what that is. Their connection does lead to the one cool action sequence in the film, where dune buggy racers are being used to hunt down the cop and try to kill him. It is not a perfect scene but it is believable, unlike the later action scene where Mitchell uses a helicopter, dangling a large compressed gas tank, to attack a yacht and then repel down to the boat for the final confrontation. This must have been the scene that inspired the movie to be selected by the MST3K team, because it is preposterous, despite being a lot of fun.

Linda Evans plays a high priced hooker who shows up at Mitchell’s door and takes him to bed, without telling him who is paying her. Their relationship never seems straight, but we are supposed to get the impression that she actually starts to go for him. Baker is not exactly matinee idol material, and his character sleeps on a fold up couch in a crummy apartment, so where the attraction comes from is never credible. She gets paid a lot of money and he will never have any. It is a little amusing that he does bust her over some minor drug possession charges and she keeps showing up anyway. 

Like a lot of 70s films, there are more car chases than needed. The cop also kills a lot of people and there is never a lot of follow up, so it does sometimes feel like we are watching a TV movie rather than a feature, but remember, it is a low budget, drive-n feature, so don’t expect much and don’t ask too many questions. The one element of the show that has some verisimilitude, is the physical threat from Balsam’s character’s henchmen. Joe Don Baker is a big dude, so how could someone be intimidating and a real threat to him? By casting Rams Defensive back Merlin Olsen, who was 6’5″. Olsen had made three films before this and this was his last feature before he transitioned to television both as commentator and actor. He may not have been much of a thespian, but he looked like he could take Baker, and that’s about all that was expected of him. 

Joe Don Baker is one of my favorite character actors of the 1970s. He was in “Junior Bonner”, “Walking Tall”, “Charlie Varrick”, “The Outfit” and “Golden Needles, all right before this film. He continued to work but never had a streak like that again. “Mitchell” seems to be the period at the end of those hard scrabble character parts that I loved so much in that era. There is another 1975 film that he made, “Framed”, that I have not seen, so maybe I will catch up with that one later this year as well. 

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