Xavier Quinn (Denzel Washington) is the chief of police on a small, unnamed Caribbean island (the novel was set on the fictional island of St. Caro). When Donald Pater, the millionaire owner of a luxury resort hotel, is found murdered, everyone assumes that the culprit is Maubee (Robert Townsend), a petty crook who also happens to be Quinn’s best friend.
Quinn doesn’t believe it and clashes with the local bureaucracy: Thomas Elgin (James Fox), an arrogant political fixer, and the island’s underqualified governor (Norman Beaton). Quinn’s worries over the murder exacerbate his troubles at home; he is estranged from his wife, Lola (Sheryl Lee Ralph), and rarely has time to see his son.
Maubee eludes the police at every turn, even appearing personally to Xavier now and again, before running off. On one of these occasions, Quinn questions a witness afterward, who says that Maubee was carrying a “$10,000 bill. Trying to track down Maubee, Quinn questions Ubu Pearl (Esther Rolle), the local witch and aunt of Maubee’s current girlfriend, Isola; and Hadley Elgin (Mimi Rogers), Thomas’s wife, who feels a powerful attraction to Quinn. The governor also introduces Xavier to Fred Miller (M. Emmet Walsh), an affable American said to represent the murdered man’s company.
The cause of Pater’s death seems obvious: he was found floating in a Jacuzzi tub, decapitated. Against the governor’s instructions, Quinn has the body autopsied by the elderly Dr. Raj (Keye Luke), who reports that Pater died of a venomous snake bite and was already dead when his head was cut off.
Quinn notices a Latin man following him and stops to apprehend him. The man, Jose Patina (Alex Colon), claims to be on vacation, but Xavier finds he has also been questioning people around the island trying to find Maubee. Quinn questions Hadley about her encounter with Patina. She tries to seduce him, but he resists, and wanders to a bar where he entertains the crowd with a piano performance. Half drunk, Quinn is picked up by Maubee in a stolen car, and they spend a night on the beach when they remininsce. In the morning, Quinn wakes up to find Maubee gone, despite the handcuffs that he put on him.
The Mighty Quinn is a 1989 thriller film starring Denzel Washington, Robert Townsend, James Fox, Mimi Rogers, M. Emmet Walsh, and Sheryl Lee Ralph. The screenplay by Hampton Fancher is based on A. H. Z. Carr’s 1971 novel Finding Maubee. In the film, Washington plays Xavier Quinn, a police chief who tries to help his childhood friend Maubee (Townsend) after he becomes a murder suspect.
The film takes its name from the Bob Dylan song of the same name, a Reggae cover version of which appears on the soundtrack. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film an overwhelmingly positive review, calling it one of the best films of 1989.
The Mighty Quinn (1989)
Directed by: Carl Schenkel
Starring: Denzel Washington, James Fox, Mimi Rogers, M. Emmet Walsh, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Robert Townsend, Esther Rolle, Art Evans, Tyra Ferrell, Maria McDonald
Screenplay by: Hampton Fancher
Production Design by: Roger Murray-Leach
Cinematography by: Jacques Steyn
Film Editing by: John Jympson
Set Decoration by: Jennifer Chang Binns
Art Direction by: Gregory P. Keen
Music by: Anne Dudley
Distributed by: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release Date: February 16, 1989