"I know you're surprised that a big Hollywood star like me would appear in this movie. A lot of Hollywood stars have done exploitation films, like Angie Dickinson in 'Big Bad Mama.'" - John Vernon, "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka."
Roger Corman directed and produced a fair share of gangster pictures during his long and illustrious career. This included "The St. Valentine's Day Massacre," one of the rare times Corman worked for a major studio, Fox in this instance. "Massacre" happened to come out two months before Arthur Penn's seminal "Bonnie & Clyde," a film that was right up Corman's alley. Full of sex and violence, Corman wanted to capitalize on the success of "Bonnie & Clyde." Along came 1970's "Bloody Mama," featuring Shelley Winters as Ma Barker and a then-unknown Robert DeNiro as one of her hooligan sons. Corman wanted another female driven gangster film and called upon writer Frances Doel for ideas. Without any real-life criminals to draw from, Doel created a cast of fictional characters and "Big Bad Mama" was ready to go.
Corman had a knack for spotting talent. While many of the actors who appeared in his films faded into obscurity, many more became huge stars such as the aforementioned DeNiro. For "Big Bad Mama," Corman had access to some well-known thespians including Angie Dickinson in the title role. The stunning Miss Dickinson had already starred in many memorable films such as Don Siegel's "The Killers" and the original "Ocean's Eleven," alongside the Rat Pack. One of my favorite of her roles had to be as the leggy showgirl, Feathers, in "Rio Bravo." Like fine wine, Dickinson only got better with age. She was in her 40's when she made "Big Bad Mama" and looks like she could have easily melted the camera. The fact that she did several nude scenes absolutely puts the movie over the top.
"Big Bad Mama" takes place during the Great Depression with Dickinson as Wilma McClatchie, the fiery mother of a pair of rambunctious teenage girls named Billy Jean (Susan Sennett) and Polly (Robbie Lee). Billy Jean is the wild child of the pair while Polly has a Lolita quality about her. She's a little more naïve and carries around a doll, but seems to be more than aware of her sexuality. After her lover is killed by federal agents, Wilma takes over his bootlegging operation in order to provide for her daughters. Unfortunately, she's forced to pay off the local sheriff after he arrests Polly. Having lost all the money in record time, Wilma finds her new calling in life when she robs a nearby men's club.
The McClatchie Clan's operations really kick into gear when they stumble into the middle of a bank robbery by the Tommy Gun toting Fred Diller (Tom Skerritt). As an experienced thief, Diller convinces Wilma to let him tag along. Of course, they waste no time getting into bed together. Later, they pick up William Shatner as a smooth talking gambler who becomes a monkey wrench in Diller's relationship. This wasn't Captain Kirk's first time in Corman country as one of his first starring roles was in 1962's "The Intruder." Here, Shatner tries out one of the worst Southern accents I have ever heard, but you know what? He makes it work because he's William Shatner and William Shatner makes anything work. Well, except being able to turn some guy's Twitter feed into compelling television.
"Big Bad Mama" is exactly what you would expect from an exploitation film. There's plenty of shoot 'em up scenes as well as jiggling breasts. Diller beds the entire McClatchie family and managing to get both daughters in the sack simultaneously. Sally Kirkland even appears in one scene for a topless cameo. But, Angie Dickinson just blows them all away in the looks department. 1974 was a great year for her as "Big Bad Mama" was well-received as was her new NBC series "Police Woman." That show became a frontrunner for other female led shows such as "Charlie's Angels" and "Cagney & Lacey."
Faster than you can say, "They didn't start chasing us until you played that getaway music," the score composed by David Grisman is the perfect accompaniment for car chases along a dusty, backwoods road. Fun bit of trivia, Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead played guitar and banjo for those tracks. Also, look for a non-speaking cameo from Paul Bartel, the director of "Death Race" and "Eating Raoul."
Over a dozen years later, Dickinson would return to the role in 1987's "Big Bad Mama II." The second movie isn't so much a direct sequel as it is a loose one. It's as much a sequel as "For a Few More Dollars" and "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" were to "A Fistful of Dollars." In fact, "Big Bad Mama II" has a bit more of a Western feel to it.
None of the events of the original film are mentioned. This time around, Wilma and her daughters (now played by Danielle Brisebois and Julie McCullough) are helpless when their home is being foreclosed on by the ruthless tycoon Morgan Crawford (Bruce Glover). Wilma's husband is killed by Crawford's henchman, Lucas Stroud (Ebbe Roe Smith, writer of "Falling Down"). Wilma strikes back by robbing any bank with the name Crawford stamped on it. After crashing a fundraising party for Crawford's gubernatorial campaign, the ladies kidnap the villain's handsome young son, Jordan (Jeff Yagher). Wilma decides the perfect revenge would be to turn the Crawford boy into a criminal just like her. Turns out, it's easier than expected when Jordan becomes smitten with Polly. Meanwhile, a reporter from Philadelphia named Daryl Pearson (Robert Culp) believes their perfect front page news and follows them across the country.
Just like the first film, "Big Bad Mama II" is set during the Great Depression and the political commentary is a lot heavier than before. Sadly, it still feels timely after twenty three years. Unemployment is rampant and foreclosures are frequent. The wealthy sneer at the poor and scoff at godless ideas about "redistributing the wealth."
"Big Bad Mama II" does suffer from a case of 'been there, done that.' There's not much new here while the plot and the dialogue are sillier than ever. Not only does the sequel feel recycled, some scenes are literally recycled from the original. A montage of the McClatchie Gang's exploits consists mainly of footage from the first film along with scenes that took place only a few minutes before. This shouldn't be too surprising when you notice the director of "Big Bad Mama II" was Jim Wynorski who also helmed the "Not of This Earth" remake with Traci Lords. In that film, Wynorski reused numerous scenes from other Corman sci-fi flicks to cut down on costs.
In her mid-50's, Dickinson looks a little weathered, but still beautiful nonetheless. No nude scenes for her this time. Any shots of nudity were either taken from the original picture or done by a body double. The young actresses who play her daughters don't have a problem taking their tops off, especially not when they can frolic with each other in a lake. Danielle Brisebois has gone on to become a noted songwriter having penned hits for Kylie Minogue and Natasha Bedingfield, among others. Julie McCullough was a Playboy Playmate who had a short stint on "Growing Pains" as Kirk Cameron's girlfriend. Her time on the show ended controversially when Cameron had her fired as her decision to pose nude clashed with his evangelical Christian beliefs.
The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Neither film is in excellent condition. Both transfer suffer from noticeable grain as well as print damage and shimmering.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. The sound on "Big Bad Mama" is decent enough, if underwhelming. The sound for the sequel comes off muted.
"Big Bad Mama" was previously released on DVD by Buena Vista in 2005. Shout has included all the extras from that release including a commentary track by Corman and Dickinson. The two of them clearly have fun watching the movie again. Perhaps, a little too much fun as there are stretches of silence and they tend to repeat what we already see on the screen. Still, it's an easy listen and Dickinson is both amused and embarrassed by her nude scenes.
Mama Knows Best (14:37) is a retrospective with interviews from Corman, Dickinson, director Steve Carver, as well as William Shatner.
New to the Shout Factory release is a second commentary track with director Steve Carver, cinematographer Bruce Logan, and moderator Walt Olsen. This is a little more informative than the other track as the participants share anecdotes about the production.
Leonard Maltin Interviews Roger Corman (5:28) is a quick segment from an interview conducted by the film critic as Corman discusses "Big Bad Mama."
"Big Bad Mama II" comes with an audio commentary track with director Jim Wynorski who talks a mile a minute. Wynorski talks about the locations, the cast, and his time directing the picture.
Leonard Maltin Interviews Roger Corman (2:33) essentially recycles some of the same footage from the interview segment.
Interview with Bruce Glover (9:44) is a sit-down discussion with the actor (who most will know as one of the hitmen in "Diamonds Are Forever") as he talks about "Big Bad Mama II" and the unusual way he got into the movie business.
The DVD also includes a collection of trailers and photo galleries for both films. You also have the option of watching both films grindhouse style as a double feature with trailers.
If it had been any other actress in the title role, I probably would have given "Big Bad Mama" a 5 or a 6 on a good day. But, it's Angie Dickinson and, boy, does she look pretty damn hot. I'll give it a 7, but the sequel is inferior in almost every aspect and only gets a 4. I'll average the scores for this double feature and give it a total of 6.