Rewind: Films of the 60s, 70s, 80s – Mixed Company (1974)

by RICHARD WINTERS

Kathy Morrison (Barbara Harris) works at an adoption agency that specializes in placing minority children into stable homes of white families. Although she already has three children of her own, she comes under pressure to “practice what she preaches” and adopt a child of her own. Her husband Pete (Joseph Bologna) is the head coach of the Phoenix Suns basketball team who are in the midst of a very long losing streak. He is cool to the idea because he feels he will soon be fired and also harbors certain latent racist feelings. However, when it is found that they can longer conceive a child of their own due to him suffering from the mumps, they decide to go ahead with the idea. At first they adopt a young African-American boy and eventually add a Vietnamese girl and an Indian boy.

The film was written and directed by Melville Shavelson, who only six years earlier had done the successful Yours, Mine, and Ours about a widow with eight children marrying a widower with ten. Clearly he was trying to go back to the same well, but the concept is uninspired and forced. The plot is too simple and formulaic. I sat through the whole thing feeling like I had seen it all somewhere else before. There is some snappy dialogue at the beginning, but it quickly runs out of gas. The pacing is poor and it plods along with no real momentum or cohesion. The lighting is flat and the action is captured like it was a TV sitcom instead of a movie made for the big screen.

The children deliver their lines in a robotic fashion and the script gives them little that is clever or interesting to say. I did like the six year old Indian boy named Joe (Stephen Honanie) who is cute and precocious, but he does have a propensity to pick his nose and there is one icky scene where he appears to eat what he has picked out of it. The film generated some controversy at the time of its release for featuring the kids swearing, but this amounts to nothing more than a few “damns” here and there. I kind of liked the fact that the kids weren’t portrayed as complete wide-eyed innocents and their salty behavior seemed realistic, but the problems and issues that they deal with are highly contrived.

Joseph Bologna is a standout. His brash, flippant, hard-edged persona is terrific and fun. It is the one thing that holds the movie together and keeps it from being a complete bore.

The basketball sequences are clearly staged. They do edit in some actual footage, but it’s done on a different film stock, which is distracting. I think the one thing that really bugged me in this area is that Pete eventually gets fired as the coach due to the team’s continual losing. Yet, only a few days later the owner of the team comes back and begs him to return. Besides being a movie fan I am also an avid sports follower and I can attest that this has never happened. Yes, sometimes a coach is fired and then many years later he can return to coaching the same team, but that is usually because it is under different management and it is rare. There was also New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner who hired and fired manager Billy Martin a total of five different times, but that was an extreme anomaly and never after just a few games. I know movies and especially TV shows never want to show our favorite characters getting fired and STAYING fired even though it happens to real people all the time and it only makes sense that film characters should deal with the same type of hardships.

It is difficult to tell what audience this movie was aiming for. There is not enough action or comedy to keep the kids entertained, but it also lacks the sophistication needed for adults. After a total of 105 minutes it becomes strained and tedious.

My Rating: 3 out of 10 stars

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Last Time on Rewind: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)
Coming Up Next: Closely Watched Trains (1966)

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