A Family For Joe (1990)
Like many of his contemporaries, Robert Mitchum, turned to the small screen once the 1980’s came around appearing in a number of TV movies and the epic Winds of War miniseries to hang his hat on. Along came the 90’s and Mitch took on a one joke series pilot that resulted in a failed series that lasted all of 9 episodes. While I don’t recall the short lived series I did see the telefilm back in the day and recently unearthed a copy of the film that kicked it off.
The plot is rather ridiculous but there is a certain amount of charm in seeing that classic “I don’t give a damn” style that our Noir poster boy, Mitch, made his own as a grumpy old timer who finds himself picked up off skid row by four orphans looking for an elderly gent to pose as their long lost grandfather. The reason being they don’t want to be shipped off to separate foster homes but instead remain together in the only home they’ve known. That of their recently deceased parents.
Four kids. Two boys and two girls. My guess is the cute as a button youngest girl is maybe 5 and hasn’t spoken a word since the death of her parents while the oldest is a teenage boy heading towards his rebellious years without that crucial father figure. Paging Bob Mitchum.
Playing to form, Mitchum, comes to the aid of the children as they wander around a not so pretty area of the homeless and young toughs doing their best to intimidate the children. Just as some punk rocker looking dude decides to take what money the children have, out pops Mitchum from his hideaway looking larger than life and acting tough to prevent the mugging. Chris Furth, the oldest of the foursome decides Mitch is the man for the job. After some prodding and cajoling, Mitch, takes the bait for a decent meal and shower. maybe even a change of clothes. The children plead their case and Mitch, a former merchant marine with no prospects begins to think things over and as we’ll soon see gets in deeper and deeper when he passes the first test with the children’s aide society represented by a stern Barbara Babcock.
She wants the kids to be split and sent to foster homes. In her eyes this will give them a far better home life than what the elderly Mitch will be able to offer.
“I don’t do cute.” Just one of Mitch’s many comments over the course of this 87 minute series pilot that caters to his bad boy image. Speaking of bad boy image, what’s Mitch to do when his young charge, Furth, is caught smoking marijuana? If you know Mitch’s real life story than it’s rather amusing to see him admonish the youngster over his possession of weed and just how Mitch goes about playing father figure to teach the youngster a lesson.
Don’t know Mitch’s story? Long before Willie Nelson became the premiere celebrity promoting the intake of marijuana, Robert Mitchum was charged with possession and spent close to two months incarcerated in a prison farm back in 1949. Didn’t seem to hurt his career one iota.
The first hour of A Family For Joe is the set up while the last half hour plays like the first episode has been tacked on to the proceedings. Mitch contends with the marijuana, snake bites, bikers, a runaway child resulting in a hospital visit and of course, Miss Babcock, who’s waiting for him to fail.
Let’s stick to the facts. If it weren’t for the participation of the legendary Robert Mitchum I wouldn’t have given this flick so much as a first look when it debuted on television back in 1990 let alone a second glance years later. Such is the drawing power of one of cinema’s great leading men. One who never appears to be acting. He’s just showing up and collecting a paycheck. At least that’s what Mitch always wanted people to believe. Truth is he was a far better actor than anyone really ever gave him credit for. Most notably the Academy who shunned him for years aside from a supporting Oscar nomination when he was getting started in 1945’s The Story of G.I. Joe.
Directing Mitch as he “travels light” one year before his cameo in the Cape Fear remake is Jeff Melman who has helmed series television shows from Night Court and Wings to Desperate Housewives and Two and a Half Men. Mitch’s brother John also turns up in a minor cameo as a Preacher. Never a “name” actor, John, racked up an incredible 167 acting credits according to the IMDB. Often in his brother’s films but also scoring a role in the Dirty Harry series as De Giorgio.
For the trivia hounds who stop in perhaps the most interesting tidbit is the fact that the older of the two girls Mitch takes care of was played by Maia Brewton in the series pilot but was replaced by another actress in the nine episodes to follow. Would you believe Juliette Lewis?
Should you be a Robert Mitchum fan that needs to have a complete filmography on the shelf at home, (like me) I guess you’ll need to track down this DVD release from Features For Families. Just don’t expect to see the 9 episodes that followed before the series got cancelled to surface anytime soon aside from youtube. Perhaps the more successful TV series, African Skies, featuring Mitchum that ran for 52 episodes between 1992 and 1994 might turn up instead.