Despite heavy-handed storytelling and sketchy production values, Mixed Company offers just enough heart and humor to merit a casual viewing by forgiving viewers, because the picture serves an admirable theme of racial tolerance. Although co-writer/director Melville Shavelson’s storyline represents Hollywood white-guilt liberalism in its most primitive form—a bigot overcomes prejudice upon meeting three loveable orphans of various races—Shavelson is such an old pro at one-liners that quips make the bleeding-heart speechifying palatable. Joseph Bologna stars as Pete Morrison, the short-tempered coach of the Phoenix Suns basketball team, and Barbara Harris plays his wife, Kathy. Pete’s preoccupied with his job, thanks to friction with a diva star player and a persistent losing streak, so Kathy does charity work that makes her conscious of problems faced by nonwhite orphans. Thus, Kathy adopts an African-American boy named Freddie (Haywood Nelson), even though she and Pete have three kids of their own. Freddie’s arrival cues all sorts of racial tension in the Morrison household, much of it stemming from Freddie’s expectation of prejudice. Shavelson hits some interesting notes, including a trope of people practicing reverse discrimination by cutting Freddie too much slack academically, but nothing that happens is surprising. Later, when Kathy expands her brood to include a Hopi Indian boy, Joe (Stephen Honanie), and a Vietnamese girl, Quan (Jina Tan), Shavelson slips into the mildly enjoyable group dynamics he employed for such previous films as The Seven Little Foys (1955) and Yours, Mine and Ours (1968). While it’s all a quite old-fashioned, Bologna’s brash Noo Yawk attitude lends much-needed tension, and his character’s frustration about an out-of-control household feel credible. Harris is less effective, coming across as eccentric and spacey even though her character is supposed to be the voice of level-headed humanism. As for the child actors, they’re more cute than talented, though Nelson exhibits spunk. Mixed Company suffers for an insufficient budget, with Shavelson relying on stock footage for scenes of Suns games, and the movie generally looks rushed and ugly. Still, it’s hard to question the fundamental value of any picture that aims to simultaneously edify and entertain.
Mixed Company: FUNKY