Big Bad Mama (1974)

Girls, Guns and Ghouls is as much a seventies drive-in cinema website as anything else, and this Roger Corman production, though not one of my favorite movies by any means, is a good example of this era of film-making. There's quite a few appealing elements here, and schlock-stalwart William Shatner even has a sex scene with gorgeous star Angie Dickinson, so it rates a review from that aspect alone! This is a Bonnie and Clyde type-story without the art and skill involved. Still, it's an enjoyable romp with a couple of feminist undertones behind the exploitation veneer.

It's Prohibition-era America, and young Polly McClatchie (Robbie Lee) is about to be married off to a dirt-poor half-wit. In the end, her Mama, Wilma (Dickinson), cannot stand the thought of her daughter, who seems mildly retarded and carries a teddy-bear, being forced into a life of domestic slavery and poverty. They flee the wedding along with older sexpot daughter Billy Jean (Susan Sennett) and Uncle Barney (Noble Willingham), a family friend who runs a sly liquor run in the area. Barney ends up shot dead by police and in desperation, Wilma and her daughters attempt to take over the liquor game.

After spontaneously robbing a strip-joint where Polly and Billy Jean do an impromptu dance for some old soldiers - and boy, this is the most inept and non-revealing strip ever, Wilma and her clan end up at a bank in the process of being robbed by Fred Dilller (Tom Skerritt) and his gang. Most of the gang are shot dead by arriving police, but Fred escapes with Wilma (who appropriates the money, naturally) and they form a new gang. At first, Wilma and Fred are lovers, but soon Wilma meets the distinguished but broke southern conman William J. Baxter (Shatner) at the horse races, and Baxter takes over as Wilma's bed-mate. This leaves Fred to bed both Wilma's daughters, much to her annoyance. At one point Polly becomes pregnant, but this plot point seems to get dropped. Over forty at the time, Angie Dickinson certainly acquits herself in the sexiness stakes against her younger co-stars. Only naked in shadows and brief shots, she still cuts a sensual presence. William Shatner still seems like a dweeb in his sex scene with Angie, sorry, but that's how your reviewer calls it!

The rag-tag gang next try to penetrate high society and succeed, robbing an upper class party by stealing some captured guests' clothes. Soon they arrive at the idea of kidnapping ramsoming one of the guest's spoilt daughters, which they eventualy do, snatching her from a tennis game. Fred's lustful ways leads to the hostage's escape, though, and puts the whole lot of them in peril. As a result, there is a final shoot-out with the inept police (one of them played by Corman regular Dick Miller in mean mode) and only a few will survive this hail of bullets. The ending is a little bit of a surprise, so I'd better hold back on any spoilers.

There ain't much to this one folks, but there's enough to enjoy the running time. Dickinson trys to convey some of the frustration of being trapped in a time where a woman's choices are even more limited, and yearns to break free. Shatner is Shatner, but Tom Skerritt is quite good at portraying the impulsive, lustful but ultimately loyal Fred Diller. There are at least a few layers to his character. For those of you with a bent for vintage cars, there's quite a few car chases and some destruction of these old jalopies. The soundtrack is typical old trashy bluegrass, which is mandatory for a piece of cinema like this, and a lot of fun. Director Steve Carver uses a lot of wipes and dissolves which simulate the silent picture era of film-making - an unnecessary touch but quite appealing. The nudity is reasonably plentiful, especially with Wilma's daughters, for those of you with this requirement of your movies, but the sex scenes are brief, shadowy or virtually non-existent. Oh well, you can't have everything...

I don't know if I'd buy this one as a DVD, but if you can find it at your local video library, I'd rate it worth a look. Your mind won't be expanded, but you'll have a hour and bit of semi-mindless drive-in fun.

© Boris Lugosi 2004.


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Review written: 09/29/2004 21:30:34