If she ever knew that you were crawlin' out and carryin' on that way...
Crackin' their heads, and 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?"
The film opens with the shooting of an unarmed home invader by Walter Deaney (John Saxon). Though Deaney claims self-defense, Mitchell is doubtful but can't properly pursue the charge due to the FBI wanting Deaney for far worse. The police chief tries to keep Mitchell busy by getting him to stake out a man named Cummings (Martin Balsam) who's involved in trafficking stolen merchandise and later drugs. Deaney also sends Mitchell a hooker named Greta (Linda Evans) to try and butter him up. After a disturbing sex scene involving beer and baby oil, he arrests her for having pot. Eventually Deaney tries to kill Mitchell, but dies in the attempt. Cummings is meanwhile trying to stop some Italian mobsters from bringing a shipment of heroin through his port. After a rather long scene of Mitchell yelling at a child, Cummings manipulates Mitchell into believing he'll help him catch the mobsters but in reality Cummings just plans to steal the real heroin and set up Mitchell. Mitchell gets wise and kills the Italian gangsters, then chases Cummings's boat. After a brief fight on the boat, he kills Cummings's "lousy" butler (Merlin Olsen) and finally Cummings himself. He returns home to find Greta waiting for him and he goes ahead and arrests her again for good measure (as she's been revealed to be high on pot, the viewer suddenly understands why she was willing to sleep with Mitchell).
Initially released by Allied Artists, the film was later recut for television by Lorimar to remove all of the nudity, profanity, and violence, with some scenes obviously having been shot twice during production to remove swearing. It was the Lorimar cut that appeared on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in 1993, now further recut for the length of the program and actually losing the resolution to the Deaney subplot in the process. The episode went on to be extremely popular largely for its jokes focusing on the unpleasantness of the Mitchell character. It also featured the departure of original host Joel Hodgson, thus guaranteeing its visibility among other episodes of the show. Not surprisingly, it is this version of Mitchell that most people are familiar with.
This film contains examples of:
- Affably Evil: Cummings is immensely more likable than Mitchell, and even gives him some good advice on how to be nicer (It amounts to "Don't shoot people you want information from").
- Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: The opening credits show a super slo-mo (about 1 frame-per-second) shot of Mitchell heaving a rock at the ground. This is from a scene late in the movie where he bludgeons a henchman to death with said rock. In the TV cut of the film, that whole scene is edited out, but the opening credits are the same. It doesn't make much difference, as it's hard to even tell what he's doing in the slo-mo version, and it doesn't make much more sense to have it in the opening credits to start with.
- Anti-Hero: Mitchell combines elements of the classic definition (lacks heroic traits like... competence) and the modern definition (does immoral things without remorse).
- Battle Butler: Benton is presumably one of these to Cummings. While he does fight Mitchell on the boat at the end, he doesn't do a particularly good job of it. According to Cummings he isn't even a good butler.
- Badass Boast: Mitchell seems to try and invoke this when talking to Deaney after finding out he was the one who paid Greta. Deaney seems unconvinced. Though Mitchell ends up being right.Mitchell: "She'll lie in my bed for nothin'."
- Big Bad Ensemble: The movie has at least four characters who could count as the Big Bad and are all at odds with each other. Deaney is the first one we meet, though Cummings becomes more important at the end. There is also Mistretta and Gallano, although the latter seems to get away. Most likely they planned to have him come back in a sequel or a tv series that never materialized.
- Bowdlerise: See Jerkass below. Originally it was "Bastard", not "Jerk", written on the windshield. Likely a cut intended for TV. In the same scene, during the argument with the kid, "Piss off!" was reshot as "Buzz off!"
- The scene where Cummings yells at Benton was shot twice — once with "you're a goddamn awful butler", and once with the even more surreal and childish "you're a lousy butler"; this is especially strange since the profanity is completely useless in the scene, and if the unwieldy word "goddamn" (which was too long to dub around, prompting the re-shoots) was removed, it would make almost no difference.
- The Cassandra: Poor Cummings. He hears about a drug shipment coming into his port from the cops before he hears about it from the person actually making the shipment. Yet his pleas that something has clearly gone badly wrong and that at the very least a change in plans is in order, fall on deaf ears. Little wonder he ultimately decides, to hell with everybody.
- Chalk Outline: Tape version, which plays a role in Mitchell's unauthorized investigation at Deaney's house. Mitchell uses the tape outline to judge the height of the robber and the length of his arm compared to himself, and figures out that the robber was too short to reach where the gun Deaney had planted was normally stored.
- Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Had Cummings played straight with Mitchell and not tried to double cross him, too, he'd have gotten off scot-free.
- Cowboy Cop: At the very least, Mitchell thinks he fits this role, but he doesn't display the usual competence you'd expect from one. Whether it was a deliberate attempt to deconstruct this trope, or just a poorly-done straight example, isn't clear.
- Determinator: One of Mitchell's more endearing qualities.
- Did I Mention It's Christmas?: The film actually takes place during the holidays (a Christmas tree is visible in the scenes at Deaney's house, Christmas cards can be seen at the police station, Greta is hired as a "Christmas gift" for Mitchell), but it doesn't really figure into the plot at all.
- Which also implicitly makes it An Ass-Kicking Christmas.
- Does This Remind You of Anything?: "I'm sorry, the beer got a little excited."
- Drugs Are Bad: Mitchell doesn't seem to care if Greta's a prostitute (at least as long as she doesn't try to charge him), but as soon as she pulls out a joint, he hauls her in for Possession. Twice. However, the first time he busted her was because she called him a dirty cop, daring him to arrest her for possession. The second time is Played for Laughs.
- Enemy Civil War: Half the reason Mitchell wins is that Mistretta and Cummings are engaged in one of these because Cummings, understandably, doesn't want to deal with the hijacked heroin shipment.
- Fan Disservice: Baby oil.Crow T. Robot: My, my, my, MY GOD, NOOOOO!!
- Fingertip Drug Analysis: Done by Mitchell and Mistretta. Both immediately realize the heroin's been switched with chalk.
- Fingore: In the uncut version, Mitchell catches up to the Larry Miller-esque mook who ran him off the road and hangs a beating on him, capping it off by slamming a car door on the mook's fingers. Ow.
- For the Evulz: Deaney's killing of the Mexican burglar. He claimed it was self-defense, but in reality the burglar was unarmed, hadn't actually stolen anything and was trying to run away, Deaney called him back and shot him purely for the malicious pleasure.
- Frame-Up: Deaney plants one of his guns on the burglar after shooting him to justify his claims of self-defense. However when shown where the gun came from, Mitchell quickly deduces the burglar was too short to have easily reached it.
- Gambit Pileup: Okay, so Cummings double-crosses Mistretta and Mitchell, Mistretta plans to double-cross Cummings and kill Mitchell, and Mitchell is going through the motions of cooperating so he can take his time and arrest everyone. Mitchell somehow manages to come out on top and kill all the bad guys, but it's a narrow scrape.
- Good Is Not Nice: Mitchell.
- Police chief Pallin is arguably worse. The dialogue suggests he gave Mitchell the stakeout assignment hoping Cummings would kill him. He also chews out Mitchell for simply doing his job (finding the holes in Deaney's story) without explaining why Mitchell should drop it (at first).
- Go-Karting with Bowser: Cummings invites Mitchell in for dinner.
- Hollywood Law: It is extremely unlikely that Deaney would have ever been brought up on murder charges even if he had told the police the exact circumstances under which he shot the burglar. California law creates a presumption that a person is reasonably afraid of death or of great bodily harm if someone breaks into their house unlawfully and forcibly. Shooting an intruder in your home, even if he is running away, is self-defense. Even though the burglar was running away from Deaney when Deaney shot him, his exit path through the house took him through the room where Deaney kept his guns. In other words, if Deaney had said, "I was afraid he was running to get one of my guns," a prosecutor would bear the burden of not just trying to prove that the burglar wasn't trying to do that, but that Deaney didn't *THINK* he was trying to do that.
- Mitchell's stakeout of Cummings is a joke. He is told to sit in a car parked across the street from Cumming's front door where he looks the most conspicuous for sixteen hours a day. He has no relief, the stakeout just kinda pauses if Mitchell has to leave to get something to eat or take a leak, and during the eight hours he's allowed to go home and sleep. He doesn't even have a partner. Cummings would have to be blind to not know the surveillance was going on, and he would have to be an idiot to not be able to figure out how to cheat it. Justified, in that Mitchell is told by a department friend that the chief is trying to silently get Mitchell out of the way.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Although at first she's being paid to sleep with Mitchell as a bribe, by the end of the movie, she's willing to do it for free — thus demonstrating either utter lack of taste or the charity of a saint.
- Although Mitchell turns down this offer, and we are led to believe he turns Greta back in to the police on further drug possession charges anyhow.
- Hypocritical Humor: Cummings lectures Mitchell on his unlikeable personality and how he should try harder to cultivate good relationships, but all the while Cummings is relentlessly browbeating and insulting his butler, Benton. Granted, this is definitely one of those cases of the kettle still being black.
- Incredibly Obvious Tail: Mitchell doesn't even try to be subtle at staking out Cummings.
- Jerkass: Everyone in the movie thinks Mitchell is an asshole. Even the villain.
- Greta walks up to Mitchell's stakeout car while he's inside with Cummings, and writes "Bastard"/"Jerk" on the windshield in lipstick.
- Jerkass Has a Point: Mitchell may be a dick, but he's the only one who figures out that Deaney's killing the robber at the start of the film was more than just a home robbery gone bad. No one else believes him, probably on account of him being a jackass.
- The Mafia/ The Syndicate: Cummings works with them, but they make him do things against his will, like the drug shipment.
- Juggling Loaded Guns: Deaney gives a profoundly stupid answer ("Some of 'em. I can never be sure which") when the police ask him whether his guns were kept loaded. Had he responded that the burglar could have loaded it on his own and he wasn't willing to risk finding out for himself if that was the case, it may have deflected a lot of Mitchell's suspicion.
- Just Between You and Me: Mistretta, who by all account has never met Mitchell and thus has no reason to gloat, does this while he and his Mooks have Mitchell at gunpoint.
- Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: Deaney killing a burglar evolves into Mitchell taking on a massive drug smuggling operation by The Mafia.
- Overt Rendezvous: Cummings meets with Gallano on a park bench to express his displeasure over getting the shipment dumped on his shoulders, only to be reminded by Gallano about their longstanding arrangement.
- Pants-Positive Safety: A gun falls out one of Mitchell's pant legs in one scene because he had stashed it in his waistband.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Deaney refers to the Mexican thief as a "wetback." Mitchell is not amused.
- Porn Stash: Greta finds Mitchell's, and asks him if she's as good as the models inside.note
- Punishment Detail: To pull him away from Deaney, Mitchell is put on a one-man stakeout of Cummings's house. Never mind that it takes many people to properly stake out a house; his boss is obviously just shuffling him out of the way. It's pretty much confirmed in dialogue when Mitchell is briefed on-site, but he's determined to succeed anyway.
- Reckless Gun Usage: Deaney admits he doesn't know which guns in his gun cabinet are loaded as an excuse to why he shot the cat burglar. Mitchell immediately realizes Deaney is trying to bullshit the police.
- Run for the Border: Cummings attempts to flee to Mexico by boat after double-crossing Mistretta and Mitchell.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Mitchell. He refuses to let the vile Deaney go for shooting an unarmed intruder.
- Serial Escalation: Mitchell goes from the shooting of a burglar to dealing with a major international drug cartel and ending it.
- The ending is an Homage to (or outright ripoff of) Key Largo. The casual killing of a minority (Native American in the original, Mexican here) is another reference to the Key Largo.
- The whole film appears to be an attempt at "Dirty Harry meets The Long Goodbye," with one character (Gallano) who seems like he got lost on the way to the set of The Godfather.
- Smug Snake: Deaney, who assumes that his connections and charm will help him get away with any crime.
- Something Else Also Rises: As Mitchell watches Greta wipe the spilled beer off her knee, his concealed revolver falls down his pant leg, looking briefly like a massive descending bulge. Crow is horrified.
- Spanner in the Works: Mitchell is a walking disaster for every character's plans, up to and including his own department's. The amazing thing is he rarely bothers to do anything proactive. He mostly just hangs around and waits for the bad guys to screw up on their own before he acts against them.
- Stop Copying Me: Done to the point that it drives Mitchell insane.Boy: My mother doesn't like you.
Mitchell: Well I don't like your mother.
Boy: Why not?note
Mitchell: Why not?note
Boy: No, why not?
Mitchell: No, why not.
Boy: Why are you repeating what I say?
Mitchell: Why are you repeating what I say?
Boy: I'm not!
Mitchell: Well, I'm not.
Boy: You are!
Mitchell: Piss off.
Boy: What did you say?
Mitchell: What did you say?
Boy: Did you say something?
Mitchell: Did you say something?
Boy: You said piss off!
Mitchell: You're lying through your teeth!
Boy: YOU'RE LYING THROUGH YOUR TEETH!
Mitchell: Piss off, huh?
Boy: Piss off!
Mitchell: PISS OFF, KID!!
- Too Dumb to Live: At one point Mitchell does a Fingertip Drug Analysis and takes a big old lick of what he thinks is heroin. While it's really just chalk, it's still pretty dumb, as it could have been something poisonous (as the trope page explains), and if it really was heroin, getting that high from it would make it a little hard to fight effectively.
- Villain Ball: Cummings would've almost certainly gotten away scot-free if he hadn't tried to double-cross Mistretta and Mitchell, since Mitchell hadn't uncovered any evidence that a DA would consider using against Cummings apart from knowing about a heroin shipment.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The censored TV edit cuts out the scene where Deaney and one his goons try to kill Mitchell, but end up dead, themselves. (Mitchell bashes the goon's skull in with a rock, and Deaney dies trying to flee when his dune buggy takes a bad bounce and explodes.) As a result, it seems that Deaney just sort of disappears partway through the movie.