The Seventies With Mitchum, Mitchum and Mitchum
One thing movie goers could count on during the decade of the 1970’s was plenty of opportunity to see any one of three Mitchum family members on the big screen. The iconic Robert, his lookalike/soundalike son Jim or the fair haired Chris, the youngest son in the Mitchum household.
Robert really needs no introduction to fans of classic film having begun his career in the 1940’s and maintaining his leading man status throughout the 1970’s and beyond. Plain and simple, he’s a legend when it comes to movie history even if he didn’t give a damn as he’d tell it. Jim Mitchum made his movie debut opposite Daddio in the 1958 cult classic, Thunder Road, as did Chris in a minor role but it really wasn’t until the seventies that his acting career became a full time job beginning with a trio of John Wayne westerns.
Having recently picked up a pair of titles on blu ray starring Robert’s offspring, I thought rather than put a spotlight on them singly, I’d take the opportunity to chat up a trio of films with the Mitchum brand beginning with the patriarch himself.
The Wrath of God (1972)
This Ralph Nelson directed feature returns Robert Mitchum to familiar territory on a pair of counts. He’s back south of the border dabbling once again in “The Revolution” as he had done previously in 59’s The Wonderful Country and 68’s Villa Rides as well as donning the robes of a Priest as he had done famously in Night of the Hunter and less so though enjoyably in 68’s 5 Card Stud.
This time out he’s a machine gun toting bible pusher circa 1920 who gets tangled up with a young Irish expatriate, Ken Hutchinson, who comes across like Richard Harris and a slippery gun runner played by Victor Buono in a delicious scene stealing performance.
The three men will cross paths which ultimately leads them to a firing squad unless they’d rather act as a trio of undercover assassins for John Colicos who can’t get his army close enough to take out a vicious renegade played by Frank Langella who is backed by an army made up of guerilla fighters and outlaws.
But three men, one a Priest who kills as easy as he prays with the other two acting as mine surveyors might be able to ride into the town commanded by Langella and get close enough to eliminate him. Did I mention that Miss Rita Hayworth also stars here as Frank’s Mother? Sadly, this proved to be her final role before dementia took hold of Mitch’s one time leading lady from 1957’s Fire Down Below.
The mission will prove to be a violent bloody affair. The first setback being that Langella will have nothing to do with the church and kills Priests on sight. Mitchum will receive a reprieve but only at the behest of Hayworth who dons a widows black for the balance of the film.
To a small degree the film turns into somewhat of a Magnificent Seven on a smaller scale. The people are oppressed and Mitchum will tempt fate by performing religious ceremonies and in the people’s eyes appears to be the second coming of Christ. Even with the Tommy Gun. He’ll have to overcome his own religious setbacks and loss of faith before committing to the final stand off with Langella who is clearly in training here for his eventual role as Uncle Dawg in Cutthroat Island. A film far more enjoyable than any paid critic would have you believe.
Langella hams it up, Mitchum commands the screen as always and yeah, Buono walks off with the picture reminding me that he was far better than the camp he was often expected to deliver when the cameras were rolling.
Bloody though not quite up to Peckinpah standards and uneven with comical tones highlighted by Lalo Schifrin’s score, it’s still watchable and draws one in thanks to the Mitchum legend. If you’re looking to see this one it turns up on TCM occasionally and is also available on disc through the Warner Archive operation.
Playing like a cross between a slasher flick (1982’s underrated Alone in the Dark comes to mind) and an Irwin Allen disaster extravaganza on a tight budget minus Newman and McQueen, executive producer Ivan Reitman! no less brings this Canadian production to the screen starring Jim Mitchum as an everyday patrol officer who finds himself in a 27 floor apartment building with a quartet of psycho’s running amok during a New York City blackout. Hell, it even has a Die Hard ring to it before we knew what a Bruce Willis was.
Just as the blackout hits, our number one psycho, Robert Carradine and a trio of others are in a paddy wagon being moved to a new holding cell. When the vehicle crashes, Carradine, teams with a rapist, another nut in love with his pocket knife and a giant sized behemoth making their way to the high end apartment across the street. Carradine donning a police uniform taken from the dead driver is armed to the teeth with hand guns and an automatic rifle.
Under the guise of checking in on people during the blackout, Carradine, scores easy access to the building with his cohorts and begin their apartment to apartment looting spree and when they feel like it, kill those they find within. It plays like Jeff Goldblum and the two other goons in the original Death Wish have hit the jackpot.
Cue the guest stars.
Canada’s own, Belinda J. Montgomery, scores third billing as an eventual rape victim who will soon forget her own horrors to aide others in need. Then we have French actor, Jean-Pierre Aumont, as a kindly magician who will play host to our boys from the funny farm.
Miss June Allyson, long away from her girl next door roles in the 40’s and 50’s, plays caretaker to her ailing husband who will suffer a cruel fate at the hands of Carradine’s twisted sense of humor. Then we get Ray Milland playing to form (meaning he’s a cranky old bastard) who would rather see his wife harmed then give up the combination number to his wall safe. However the Picasso on the wall just might get him talking numbers.
There are others that suffer at the hands of our psychos but again, we’re on a tight Canadian budget so unlike those star studded Allen pics, they shall go unnamed.
Jim gets involved when he happens by the crash site of the paddy wagon and luckily hears Miss Montgomery’s screams from her apartment balcony. Incredibly, he isn’t in time to save her from our rapist but he does deliver swift on the spot justice. When Belinda tells him there were three others, our plot is set is stone.
Floor by floor, Mitchum, is trailing the carnage left by Carradine who turns in a commendable performance as he goes about chewing the dialogue with a far away look in his eye. He may look like a Nerd, but he’s not behaving like one this time around.
Keeping the template of the disaster flicks front and center, Mitchum, will assist two people caught in an elevator, give fatherly advice to a pair of kids playing in the halls, make sure a pregnant woman is tended to as she goes into labor by Miss Montgomery and an accompanying drunk who quickly passes out at the sight of the newborn, and of course face off against Carradine in a fiery climax.
I can’t be sure but I may have seen this as a youngster on Canadian television growing up. I seem to recall my Mother watching this on late night City TV out of Toronto. This one plays fine for the era but as I look at it seems to be begging for a bigger budget, a tighter script and of course a who’s who of apartment dwellers. But I will say Mitchum suits the role and has that swagger his father could bring to the screen. He’s just likable and laid back. Even when under pressure. If we were to turn this into a bigger flick, I’d keep Carradine as well. Mainly because he seemed to be having fun with his time spent on a Canadian set.
This one I picked up on blu ray thanks to a Code Red Release. Part of the bonus materials is an engaging interview with Robert Carradine who recalls this production and some of his other early roles. He jokingly mentions they probably wanted the Carradine name on this one but couldn’t afford David and Keith was likely unavailable thus giving him the chance to play a baddie.
As close to a drive-in classic of the times you’re likely to see, this Christopher Mitchum flick easily proved to be the most enjoyable watch of the three Mitchum films I’ve chosen to spotlight.
It’s got a great set-up to get the plot moving, a Smokey and the Bandit likability and a female villain that hammers it out of the park complimented with a payoff that hits like Michael Winner’s Mechanic.
When lowlife criminals William Watson and Bert Hinchman see their drug deal break down, they leave two men dead and keep both the cocaine and the quarter million dollars to themselves. To stay clean from pursuing police, they dump their goods behind the backseat of a 1964 Stingray on a used car lot planning to return when the heat dies down.
Little do they know that the car is sold and about to be driven off the lot by Chris and his pal, Les Lannom. Our chief villain who bullies anyone within earshot, Sherry Jackson, isn’t overjoyed with this latest development. Her entrance to the film dressed in a Nun’s garb is inspired.
Watson calls it correctly when he refers to Miss Jackson as “The devil in drag.”
So here’s the setup, Chris and Les get pulled over for speeding. Not surprising given he’s just drove off in his dream car. Watson, Jackson, Hinchman and another goon, Cliff Emmich, move in for the kill in a drive by shooting dropping both officers who have pulled over the Stingray but when Chris hears the gunfire he slams the pedal to the metal making a clean getaway.
Well, almost. The officers had called in they were pulling over the red Stingray. Local Police put it all together and it would seem that the drivers of our red sportscar have shot and killed two patrolman. This makes Chris and Les armed and dangerous in the eyes of the police force. So not only are the local law enforcement officers targeting them, but so are the highly volatile Miss Jackson and company.
Let the car chases and road rage begin.
Chris would like nothing better than to go and turn themselves in to explain their misfortune but when cops begin to shoot at them onsite and Les finds the bags of cocaine, they begin to have other ideas.
So yeah Chris and Les are doing their best Dukes of Hazzard improv here but honestly, this one is all about Watson and Jackson as the two chief villains. Their interaction with each other coupled with her outrageous acts of violence keep this one at a high level of entertainment.
As we all know it’s very often the villains that can make a movie so much fun. Right Mr. Gruber?
Outrageous? How about putting a good old boy in his place at a local Honkytonk by pouring a glass of booze down the front of his pants and then lighting them on fire. She also doesn’t suffer fools gladly when it comes to her gang of misfits as you’ll play witness to should you grab the recently released blu ray edition from Dark Force Entertainment who have rescued this exploitation gem from obscurity.
Yeah it goes on about 10 minutes too long at the fadeout for my liking but damn I love the payoff and wrap up where Jackson and Watson are concerned. So much so that I hit the rewind button to see our sexy gal in the tight jeans play her final scene. Then there’s the sexy blonde hitchhiker to recommend it played by one, Sondra (Miss July 1977) Theodore, cast as a favor to one, Hugh Hefner, as opposed to the original idea of giving the role to a young Annette O’Toole.
You learn this stuff by watching the bonus materials included on the blu ray release with the cool slipcover to accompany it.
Stunts are plentiful in this Richard Taylor directed flick which makes me yearn for the days when car and motorcycle jumps and crash ups were done for real as opposed to what we see on the screen nowadays. Yes that’s another jab at CGI. And I suppose this first time viewing took me back to my early days of movie watching with a definite yearning for 70’s nostalgia attached to it.
Easy to recommend to all of you Tarantino lovers out there looking to uncover a hidden gem that might have escaped you over the years. Grab the blu ray and enjoy the director’s original cut seen for the first time that was apparently heavily edited of the violence upon it’s initial release through Avco Embassy.
There are of course many other Mitchum outings during the 1970’s no matter which Mitchum you’re a fan of. Robert continues to be loved among Noir and classic film buffs to this day, Jim’s acting career turned to low budget fodder and apparently petered out through the 80’s while Chris found himself busy in a number of action flicks made overseas that occasionally find there way to the home video market here in North America.
Now go out and find a Mitchum film to watch. Just which Mitch is up to you.