Tough, nasty, and violent, Trackdown tells the story of a modern-day cowboy who travels to the big city because his little sister has gone missing, then dives headlong into a cesspool of human exploitation and organized crime while looking for his lost sibling. The movie is something of a cousin to Paul Schrader’s provocative Hardcore (1979), although Schrader’s movie deals with pornography instead of prostitution, and there’s a big gulf between the theologically charged Hardcore and the no-frills Trackdown. Still, what both movies share is the rich premise of a man from a simple place wading through the muck of late-’70s Los Angeles, where pretty dreamers looking for new opportunities are easy prey for flesh merchants. In fact, had a stronger actor been cast in the lead of Trackdown, the movie might have found a niche among the era’s memorable exploitation films, since it benefits from a well-constructed plot, interesting supporting characters, and vivid action scenes. Alas, while James Mitchum inherited his father Robert’s hangdog eyes and hulking physique, he didn’t get his dad’s charisma or talent.
The picture begins with Betsy Calhoun (Karen Lamm) running away from her Montana home and taking a bus to Hollywood. Almost immediately after her arrival, she’s mugged by a group of Latino street toughs, but one of the Latinos takes sympathy on her plight. He’s Chucho (Erik Estrada). Chucho gives Lynn a place to crash and a lead on work, so they become friends—but Chucho’s cronies have designs on the pretty blonde. They kidnap and drug Lynn, delivering her to Johnny Dee (Vince Cannon), a mob-connected pimp. He entrusts Lynn to high-priced call girl Barbara (Anne Archer), who offers to train Lynn as a prostitute. In one of the picture’s most interesting nuances, Lynne accepts the overture after she’s recovered from the influence of drugs—as she explains, there’s a reason she left small-town America for the bright lights and endless promise of the Golden State. Once Lynn’s brother, Jim (Mitchum), shows up to “rescue” her, he quickly learns that he’s looking for someone who doesn’t want to be found.
Lest the preceding give the false impression that Trackdown is a sensitive exploration of human feeling, it should be emphasized that Trackdown is a lowbrow thrill ride. (Note the fact that Cathy Lee Crosby, who plays a social worker and provides a love interest for Mitchum’s character, spends most of the movie wearing skin-tight jeans and revealing tied-off shirts.) Nonetheless, the filmmakers take their time establishing characters and situations in logical ways, so once the shooting starts, there’s a believable emotional context. Furthermore, while one might expect this sort of film to be presented in the grungy style of a Roger Corman-produced quickie, Trackdown instead has the look of a studio picture, and the polished images get juiced by tasty, disco-infused musical scoring.