Prosperity was just around the corner...at the nearest bank!
cookieman108 | Inside the jar... | 12/18/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Big business can make for strange bedfellows as is the case here, with the recently re-released film Big Bad Mama (1974). Seems not too long ago The Walt Disney Corporation, through their Buena Vista Home Entertainment group, acquired the rights to release onto DVD some 400 Roger Corman films, including this one...if you're not familiar with Roger Corman, he probably the single, largest producer of low-budget exploitation films in the last 50 years, features someone generally wouldn't associate with the Walt Disney image. Produced by Corman, co-written by William W. Norton (White Lightning, I Dismember Mama) and Frances Doel (Deathsport, DinoCroc), and directed by Steve Carver (Lone Wolf McQuade), the film stars Angie Dickinson, who first made an impression on me as Sgt. Suzanne "Pepper" Anderson in the mid to late 1970s television series "Police Woman". Also appearing is William `The Shat' Shatner ("Star Trek", Kingdom of the Spiders), Tom Skerritt (MASH, Alien), Susan Sennett (The Candy Snatchers), Robbie Lee (Switchblade Sisters), Noble Willingham (The Last Picture Show), Dick Miller (X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes), Tom Signorelli (The Cotton Club), Royal Dano (Killer Klowns from Outer Space), William O'Connell (Every Which Way But Loose), and Joan Prather, whom some may remember from the television series "Eight Is Enough", as Janet McArthur Bradford.
The movie, set in the depression era south, begins as we see three women, one older, two younger, heading to church. Seems recent widower Wilma McClatchie (Dickinson) is taking her two daughters, Billy Jean (Sennett) and Polly (Lee) to the church as Polly done got herself engaged to a dirt farmer. The trio arrives, met by skeezy Uncle Barney (Willingham), a bootlegger by trade, shortly followed by the groom, showing up on the back of a truck...I must say, he's quite the prize pig...anyway, Wilma seems unhappy with her youngest daughter's choice in men, and promptly puts the kibosh on the affair in the middle of the nuptials, as she decides she wants better for her girls. A good, old fashioned ruckus ensues, and the three women, along with Uncle Barney, skedaddle...right into a trap set by a lawman named Bonney (Miller), who's been chasing Barney the bootlegger for some time. There's a car chase, and Barney ends up with a terminal case of lead poisoning, to which Wilma decides to take over the business, thus beginning her life of crime. After the bottom falls out of her moonshine business (thanks to a corrupt local sheriff), Wilma and her girls, who are about as ripe as Georgia peaches, fleece a crooked preacher, and then get tangled up with a bank robbery, eventually taking on one of the robbers, named Fred Diller (Skerritt), as a partner, in more ways than one, if you know what I mean...homina, homina...Wilma, deciding it wise never to pull the same caper more than once, decides their next score will be a race track, where they meet Captain Kirk...er, I mean William J. Baxter (Shatner), an upper-class hustler, resulting in another partnership, along with more of Ms. Dickenson doffing her clothes...set phasers on stunning! Anyhoo, the group makes their way west, to California, with Sheriff Bonney hot on their heels, and Wilma comes up with one last big score, involving kidnapping a comely, yet snooty, heiress (Prather) and ransoming her off for a million bucks...but jealousies threaten to tear the group apart, along with their ever increasing notoriety.
I've seen plenty of exploitation films in my time, but few do them as well as Roger Corman. That's not to say his touch is always gold, but he usually manages to finagle more than most of out so very little. I think the one aspect about this production that elevates it to the upper echelons within the B movie realm is the strong and capable cast, especially Ms. Dickenson, who, in her forties at the time, looked better than the females half her age appearing in this film, and that's not to say they were hard on the eyes (the actress playing Polly seemed to have the most difficult time keeping her top on). She provided an exceptionally strong, intelligent, determined female character, one who knew what she wanted, and knew how to get it...overall I really enjoyed this gangster drama with a feminine twist. Director Carver keeps story moving along well, which included predictable twists, exciting car chase and gunplay sequences, along with a whole lot of freaky deaky...check out the scenes where Tom Skerritt's character, after getting replaced as Wilma's bed warmer by The Shat's character, hooks up with her daughters, in a creepy. Southern fried threesome. And then there's the scene near the end when Skerrit's character is seduced by the kidnapped heiress (in an attempt by her to escape), and The Shat creepily watches on from the doorway...but never fear, The Shat does get his groove on in one, particularly revealing scene with Ms. Dickenson...thankfully, for myself at least, his nekkidness is covered up by her nekidness (actually, Ms. Dickenson has about three or four gratuitous nekkid scenes, if you're looking for that kind of thing). As far as the acting goes, its better than I expected, given the amount of experience in the cast, both in recognizable actors and character actors. And how could you not like a script that features lines like this? "Uncle Barney...was you trying to feel up my Mama?" Oh Uncle Barney...whotta sleaze...the story is decent enough, as there seemed to be attempts to flesh out the various relationships, but it never really went to far which was good because that really wasn't something I was looking for in a movie like this...another aspect I really liked was the ending, as I thought it a great way to wrap things up.
The fullscreen (1.33:1) picture on this DVD release looks decent, but does show some signs of age. I'm betting the quality here is the same as the previous DVD release, so if you own that, and that's all you care about, there probably isn't much reason to be sucked in by this `Special Edition' release. The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio is decent enough, with no complaints. As far as extras, there is a featurette titled `Mama Knows Best: A Retrospective' (14:38), that includes Corman, Dickenson, The Shat, and a number of people involved with the film discussing their experiences, all looking quite old and crusty. Also included is a commentary track with Corman and Dickenson, and a rough, original theatrical trailer.
By the way, the film apparently did well enough to warrant a sequel titled Big Bad Mama II (1987), featuring Ms. Dickenson. I haven't seen it, and doubt I will as the DVD, which is currently out of print, seems to be a bit over priced...love them gougers...maybe Disney will re-release it, too...
David Baldwin | Philadelphia,PA USA | 12/30/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"From the retrospective included on the disc you get the impression that star Angie Dickinson thought she was making high art. I'm not so sure Roger Corman thought so. The film seems to have a split personality. Stars Dickinson, Tom Skerritt, and William Shatner play their characters pretty straight to the vest. The script, however, suggests a parody of "Bonnie and Clyde" with alot of comic violence and gunplay and humorously gratuitous nudity. I did enjoy the contributions of the young actresses playing Dickinson's daughters, Susan Sennett and Robbie Lee. I purchased this film expecting some trashy fun and it did deliver the goods."
Trevor Willsmer | London, England | 01/18/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Big Bad Mama is the archetypal Roger Corman 70s b-movie, with the monsters and sci-fi of the 50s and 60s replaced by plentiful low-budget action, tongue-in-cheek humor and mandatory nudity from almost every actress in the cast in a fast-moving Depression-era backroads gangster flick. Angie Dickinson is the Ma Barker figure tryin' to do right by her two gals, stumbling her way from bootlegging to armed robbery to kidnapping with the aid of Tom Skerritt's bank robber and William Shatner's Southern conman (unfortunately the mandatory nudity rule also applies to him, though we are spared the sight of the captain's log). While not as smart as John Sayles' and Jonathan Demme's Corman flicks there are occasional nods to history - not least the resistance of hypocritical establishment figures and the Big Rich to the New Deal, leaving the poor to fend for themselves as best they can - and some mildly anarchic sight gags (watch out for the cripple `healed' by William O'Connell's phoney preacher) but mostly this has few aspirations beyond throwing in as many shootouts, car chases and nude scenes from Ms Dickinson as it can in its 83 running time."
Matthew V. Clemens | 11/09/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Angie Dickinson is gorgeous, William Shatner and Tom Skerritt are cool. The story is better than you might expect in a B-movie, and there's plenty of sex and violence. What more could you ask?"