Scraping the Barrel: #87, ‘Mitchell’

Thousands and thousands of films are made every year. And while some of them are destined for Oscar glory and widespread Metacritic acclaim, others wind up scraping the barrel on the IMDB Bottom 100. What makes these films so universally despised? Are they all really that bad? And, seriously, what’s the deal with From Justin to Kelly? We’ll answer all these questions (and hopefully more) with “Scraping the Barrel,” in which we review the ENTIRETY of the bottom 100, in order.

In today’s installment, Ryan Poynter takes a closer look (when he’s able to uncover his eyes) at #87, 1975′s Mitchell.

(Editor Note: We realize the Bottom 100 has changed slightly since we began this series. Our master list was frozen in July 2013.)

The Gist:

Joe Don Baker plays Mitchell, world’s luckiest alcoholic, who survives car crashes, fist fights, and shootouts, all while managing to keep his job as a detective and maintain his relationship with a high-dollar hooker.

Those Who Shall Be Held Responsible: Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen; Written by Ian Kennedy Martin.

IMDB Stats: #87, 2.4 rating

The Straight Dirt:

Ian Kennedy Martin, writer of 1975’s Mitchell, knows exactly what he’s accomplished with this ham-handed crime drama starring Joe Don Baker as Mitchell, a car-crashing, revolver-toting, shitstain-of-a-cop with all of the skills of an entire kindergarten class, but none of the charm. “People don’t like you, Mitchell,” crows Albert Pallin (Robert Phillips), police chief of wherever and provider of Mitchell’s case assignments. It’s a heavy-handed bit of dialogue disguised as character development for the leading man (as if the knowledge that no one likes him somehow makes him more compelling), but I have to believe it is secretly Martin’s admission of guilt. If he’s alive (IMDB was no help here), I feel bad for him; this is one hell of a burden to carry for 40 years.

It’s true — Mitchell isn’t a likeable guy. Let’s set aside the fact that he’s an awful police officer for a bit, shall we? He’s also a dopey-eyed drunk (and not the fun kind) with an awkward car fetish and a haircut like a 14-year old boy who wears too much Hollister cologne. He talks, smiles, and kisses hookers like he doesn’t know his lips exist. Plus, he just isn’t very nice — his exchanges with other people throughout the film seesaw from showing him mildly annoyed to blatantly rude. (At one point, he tells a young boy on a skateboard to “go to hell”. All a part of “protect and serve”, I guess.)

With this in mind, one has to wonder why the team behind Mitchell chose to name their film after this guy at all. The act of titling a movie after its lead is usually reserved for characters who are either famous or historical (think 2004’s Ray or 2012’s Lincoln), or well-developed characters who are entertaining enough to carry a story from beginning to end (2001’s Donnie Darko). This film has neither. Surely there’s something else — some overarching theme, some crucial piece of narrative — that would be more fitting to grace the film’s front cover?

Actually… no. There isn’t. There’s 98 minutes of footage in the final cut, including shoot-outs and car chases around every corner. And, even still, Mitchell is their decided chef d’oeuvre. Not much else needs to be said about the quality of this cinematic shit-show.

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 2.03.31 PM

But, please — let’s not stop there. Mitchell’s loosely-woven plot (and even that is being generous) revolves entirely around the main character’s overwhelming inability to do his job. After showing up to a late-night crime scene, drunk, asking too many questions and getting in everyone’s way, Mitchell is placed in the proverbial K9 house by chief Pallin. Instead of cruising the city looking for bad guys to bust like any self-respecting police officer who suffers from chronic alcoholism should be allowed to do, Mitchell is relegated to babysitting duty. His assignment? James Arthur Cummings (Martin Balsam), a wannabe-playboy and suspect in a drug trafficking investigation. Cummings spends most of his time in a big house that he shares only with his butler and body guard, Benton (Merlin Olsen), complaining about the temperature of his coffee and conspiring to commit crimes via telephone with pseudo-Italian mafiosos. Oh, and occasionally he plays golf.

Other members of the supporting cast include Walter Deaney (John Saxon), a sleazy socialite who Mitchell suspects killed a burglar in cold blood earlier in the film, and Greta (Linda Evans), the upscale prostitute Deaney hires to entertain Mitchell and suppress any future allegations of murder he might consider making.

None of these characters are particularly interesting or worth mentioning in any way, except for the one thing they all have in common: Each person is instrumental in conveying to anyone who actually watches this movie that Mitchell (I’m talking about the character here, though the same could be said for the film) is remarkably bad at anything he tries to do.

Here are just a few examples:

Early on, Mitchell is given the orders by police chief Pallin to arrest a certain member of an Italian gang in cahoots with Cummings and bring him in for questioning. Cummings unknowingly brings both Mitchell and the criminal in question to the same place, at the same time. Bingo. Let’s make this quick and head home early, right? Nope. Mitchell shoots the guy instead.

Later, Greta wades through stacks of pornography and beer cans to visit Mitchell in his bed. She is literally being paid to have sex with him. After what is possibly the least seductive conversation I’ve ever heard, Mitchell decides to spend the rest of the night licking her feet. (To his credit, they do have sex — or so I think — later on in the movie; the two roll around under his sheets like characters from The Sims.)

Near the end of the film, Mitchell and Deaney clash in a high-speed dune buggy chase. After some back-and-forth and a few circles around the dirt track, Deaney manages to (with no help from Mitchell whatsoever) drive himself over a lump in the soil and flip his vehicle. It explodes instantly. Mitchell is literally so stupid he makes the people around him dumber. Our beloved hero lights a cigarette and looks at the flames, dejected, before driving home to drink himself to sleep.

However, despite his total ineptitude, the stars manage to align for Mitchell just long enough for him to catch the bad guys. Oh, and by catch, I mean kill. Yeah — he just kills them all. Benton is skewered with a gaff hook, Cummings is shot between the eyes, and countless no-named thugs are driven into ditches, stabbed through their plaid sport coats, or have their hands slammed shut into car doors. How’s that for justice?


Hire Mitchell to pick your lottery tickets.

Should-Be IMDB Score: 9.11

Random Quotes:

“Did you ever do any of that, you know, obscene photographs and all that?” — Mitchell, revealing his vices to Greta

“What kind of a police man are you, anyway?” — Chief Pallin, asking what we’re all thinking

“You wanna lick it off?” — Greta, after Mitchell spills beer down her fishnets

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