Sunday, August 7, 2011

Mixed Company (1974)

Directed by Melville Shavelson. White family adopts a black kid, a Korean kid and a native American. Awkwardness ensues. The weirdest thing about it is that it vacillates between trite dialog and many scenes that feature situations that would really happen given the premise of the movie but you'd never see in any piece of shit a studio tried to make these days with this premise.

Of the many reasons to see this movie, if you are my age (44) one reason is to see Haywood Nelson, the young black actor who plays Freddie. At 14, his very young look lets him play an 11-year old here, but within two years he'd play Dwayne on TV's "What's Happening!" It's funny how much this kid aged in two years. Also, it occurs to me that Dwayne's catchphrase was the same as Fat Albert's ("Hey hey hey!") with only a slight variation on pacing the "heys." Unimaginative.

When orphan Freddie is first brought home to meet the Morrison family, the father, Pete (Joseph Bologna) calls him a spade, and the youngest daughter says she's going to lock her doors. Throughout the film, a good deal of comic gold is mined from the fact that the youngest daughter, at the age of six or so, seems to have established a solidly irreversible personality as a bigot. Anyway, in part because he seems to be pretty good at basketball, Freddie is adopted despite Pete's insistence that "it's hard enough to love your real kids."

Because almost nobody in the Morrison's community has ever seen a black person, Freddie is either greeted with hatred or patronizing special treatment, such as the school teacher who assures him that until he catches up with the other children, he will not have the added burden of homework, and if he is unable to measure up with the other children he will not be blamed, the archaic and ignorant educational system will be considered at fault. While the script loses point for lack of subtlety, the story gets a point for a consideration lost on most people these days.

When Freddie's assimilation dead ends because of the alternating doses of hatred and condescension, the bright idea is to adopt more kids, kind of like when the animal shelter tells you that you should only adopt cats in pairs. So the Morrison's adopt Quan, who the children all call a slope until she locks herself in a closet and cries, and a native American boy who apparently isn't important enough to get a screen credit.

Though for all of its frank dialog, "Mixed Company" was a crazily non-challenging move for director Meville Shavelson, who had essentially made the Brady Bunch Movie several times during his career; in addition to "Mixed Company" there's "Yours, Mine and Ours" (1968), "Houseboat" (1958) and "The Seven Little Foys" (1955), all of which are comic dramas or dramatic comedies about serendipitous/reluctant family situations.

Not suprising is that one of Shavelson's closest friends was Sherwood Schwartz, who "created" the Brady Bunch presumably by staring at Shavelson for 90 seconds. And then get this; in the 1973 season of the "Brady Bunch," Schwartz used an episode to test drive an idea for a TV pilot that would be called "Kelly's Kids," about a family that adopts a black child, an Asian child and a native American child. "Kelly's Kids" never happened, but Schwartz rebooted the idea twice more with "Together We Stand" in 1986 and "Nothing Is Easy" in 1987.

By the way, in this movie Joseph Bologna plays the coach of the Phoenix Suns, who take a beating as a shit team, although in 1974 they'd hardly set the world on fire. However, the season following the year this movie was released, the Suns went all the way to the finals and even though the Boston Celtics took the title, I have a theory that the message of racial unity behind this movie is what turned them around unless it was acquiring guard Paul Westphal and forward Gar Heard.

Normally about here I say whether I would recommend this movie or not, but I'll let this description speak for itself. I'll also mention that I enjoyed the brief appearance of the character Milton, unless he was named Marvin, since Shavelson seems to have left a blooper in the flick.


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  2. I didn't know Sherwood Schwartz was responsible for the forgotten sitcom "Together We Stand," but the later "Nothing is Easy" was actually the same show after being on hiatus for a few months. Elliott Gould decided he didn't want to play the dad on the show anymore, so they did the reasonable thing and killed off his character leaving the mom a grieving widow.