STUDIO: Buena Vista Home Entertainment
MSRP: $19.99

RUNNING TIME: 84 Minutes
• Mama Knows Best: A Retrospective
• Commentary by Roger Corman and Angie Dickinson
• Original Trailer

Ah, Roger Corman. Even if you don’t love many of the hundreds of films he’s produced or directed over the past 40 years, you have to give the man some respect for perfecting the B-movie quickie and for sustaining a presence in an industry that cruelly washes many more talented people through the Hollywood rinse cycle every few years. He also mentored a few brilliant filmmakers like Coppola, Scorsese, Dante, Demme, Cameron and others along the way, so give Uncle Roger a break, okay?

To his credit, Corman produced a load of cheese-filled exploitation films throughout the 70’s. His focus on making cheap but profitable movies merged nicely with the sexually-revolutionized public’s desire to see lots of bare boobs. After tackling the themes of horny nurses and women’s prisons a few times each, Corman wanted to make a gangster movie with a strong female lead. He found the perfect woman for the part in Rat Pack dame and future Police Woman Angie Dickinson. William Shatner, Tom Skerritt and a couple of half-naked young ladies joined in to make the titillating shoot’em-up Big Bad Mama.

"Wait! You’re supposed to stay for worship after the pancake feed!"

The Flick

Wilma McClatchie (Dickinson) struggles to raise her teen daughters Billy Jean and Polly (the latter played by Robbie Lee of Switchblade Sisters fame) in the midst of the moral degradation and economic depression that plagues East Texas in the early 30’s. Wilma does what she can to bring her daughters up right, including breaking up Polly’s wedding because she doesn’t want her younger, more innocent daughter to marry the wrong boy. When the three women and Wilma’s boyfriend Charlie race away from the church, a wily federal agent named Bonney (played by square-mugged fan favorite Dick Miller) recognizes Charlie’s car as a bootlegger vehicle (he sells homemade booze, not burned copies of Final Fantasy VII) and attempts to chase down the group. Even though Wilma runs the feds’ car off the road, Agent Bonney manages to squeeze off a lucky shot, killing Charlie.

Wilma and the girls then try to sell off Charlie’s booze to earn some money, but they quickly lose all of their proceeds when Polly gets caught sharing a bottle (and her soft parts) with the local sheriff’s son. After bribing the sweat-dipped sheriff for Polly’s freedom, Wilma moves her family to another town for a fresh start. Wilma finds a job as a waitress while her daughters stumble upon a paying job of their own as strippers for the local VFW clubhouse. The girls strut their young stuff behind a more seasoned dancer with wind machine knockers (the woman could dry laundry with those things). When Wilma discovers that her daughters’ virtues are being drained away for the enjoyment of a bunch of slobbering veterans, she pays back the insult by robbing the joint.

"This assignment really sucks. We’re just supposed to wait for aliens

to show up?"

As the three tear out of town, Wilma realizes that thievery is the only way she can guarantee a good life for her daughters. Her next attempt to make some easy money is interrupted when a couple of armed men bust in to rob the bank she’s trying to scam. The robbery doesn’t go so well, but Wilma grabs the cash and dashes out. One of the robbers, Fred Diller (Skerritt), hops in the car as Wilma pulls off another narrow escape.

Wilma and Fred (yabba dabba d…oh fuck it) quickly become partners in crime and in bed. Billy Jean has eyes for the mustachioed older man as well, but she must tuck her skirt ‘tween her trembling knees for the time being. While enjoying a day at the horse races, Wilma finds herself attracted to a southern gentleman named William J. Baxter (Shatner!). The two sow the seeds of romance with a couple of winning bets. Fred seethes in the background at the emergence of a new male in Wilma’s life. The gang then makes a large haul by robbing the track cashier’s office. Baxter realizes just what he’s become involved in, but he doesn’t mind because he’s a bit of a grifter himself. Wilma and Baxter celebrate their caper with a round of unsavory sex. Fred beds down with Billy Jean, and later gets the McClatchie family hat trick when Billy Jean lets him deflower her younger sister.

"No Mister. I’m the one ordering a milk shake."

The beginning of the end gets rolling when Wilma and the gang kidnap a rich young debutante. They want to make one last big score and head out west to live the life of wealth and comfort they have always dreamed about, demanding one million dollars in ransom from the girl’s father. Baxter gets cold feet and decides to rat out the gang to the local cops and the agents who have been only a couple of steps behind through the whole adventure. A final standoff ensues between the McClatchie gang and the cops. Naked flesh, blazing machine guns and a splash or two of blood come together in an entertaining battle that makes an Andy Sidaris film look like…an edited for television Andy Sidaris film.

"Sweet sweet liquor! Oh how I’ve missed you so!"

This entry virtually screams “Corman Classic”, which is both a blessing and a curse. There isn’t much plot to speak of, and there is even less logic to the plot we get. Wilma’s character speaks about raising her daughters to be proper ladies, but she lets them screw around with her cast-off boyfriend and help out in all of the robberies. The idea that wealth somehow enhances one’s morality may be popular these days, but the theory hasn’t proven itself out historically. Nobody is going to study this movie for the wisdom of its premise anyway.

Shatner runs hammy circles around the rest of the cast as Wilma’s discount Casanova. I swear, this guy is one of the most fortunate people to ever enter the entertainment business. When he comes on screen, it’s as if a Smell-O-Vision nebulizer sprays pork essence straight into my face. Susan Sennett and Lee as the young daughters don’t give very compelling performances either, but they are basically in the film as jail-bait eye candy (insert your own “too old for Dave Davis” joke here).

"I love the jelly donuts, but I hate washing my hands.

This’ll kill two birds."

On the other hand, the Corman stamp is a blessing because the movie is a ripe slice of pure entertainment. There is a simple pattern of robbery, shoot-out, car chase, sex scene that circles around only enough times to avoid getting too boring. Most of the action sequences are competently staged by director Steve Carver, even if they are often repetitive in execution. An endearing sense of humor runs through the entire movie, so no one should see this thinking that it’s any kind of serious gangster movie. There is also plenty of skin on display, including a quick cameo flash from frequent Corman player Sally Kirkland before she super-sized her dirty pillows. Dickinson leads the cast in the acting department with a strong iconic presence. Wilma McClatchie might not be the most logical person in the world, but she has a positive goal in mind for her family once the money pile gets high enough. She represents the type of hard-nosed female lead we rarely see in movies. Skerritt also gets points for not mucking up the slower moments. Realistically, his character is only valuable as an extra gun in the robbery scenes and as a sexual hot potato for the three McClatchie women. He only had to avoid going over-the-top to fulfill his role.

Big Bad Mama was a regular late-night feature on Cinemax during the T & 80’s, which means that I watched it over and over again in my teens (those years are more than a decade in the past now, but then so are 99% of my zits and those embarrassing boners every half-hour, so it’s not all bad). It says something good for a movie when I can admit that I never get tired of seeing it. Maybe the greatest compliment I can give the movie is that it is extremely watchable.

7.0 out of 10

She hated when smartass geeks left Aladdin’s Castle tokens.

The Look

Something strange happens to the newly remastered film about a third of the way through. The early minutes of the movie are overly grainy, scratched and washed out, but then the damage to the print seems to clear up somewhat and the color pallet takes a turn for the Technicolor. Did the disembodied spirit of Cor-Man possess some Buena Vista executive and force him or her to go cheap on the cleanup job, or was more than one print of the film used to create the DVD? If the latter is the case, whoever lost the first third of the cleaner print deserves a major Jaa in the jock. Either way, you will more than likely notice the difference. There were not any noticeable defects in the digital transfer, but purists will be kinda pissed that the original widescreen presentation has been chopped down to 4:3 for this release. Why, I cry to no one in particular, why?

5.5 out of 10

"Beam me up Scotty, I left my rubbers on the bridge."

The Noise

The audio quality is definitely more consistent than the video, but being consistently mundane isn’t exactly a positive. Don’t forget that Corman always worked with tiny budgets, so you can’t really expect a multi-layered soundscape to somehow emerge just because the movie has been transferred to the optical format. Nevertheless, the soundtrack is not always timid. There is some lively music to go with the action (in and out of the bedroom) that helps to cover the unremarkable sound.

6.0 out of 10

"I can’t wait until some kind of typewriter-based communication

contraption is invented."

The Goodies

The commentary track with Corman and Dickinson is the type that I tend to enjoy the most, in other words a friendly conversation between two people who worked together on a movie they haven’t seen in a while. The banter is disarming and natural, except during some of the steamier scenes. Why do directors or producers stop talking during the sex scenes? Sure, it’s a bit uncomfortable to sit next to an actress while she’s naked on the screen, but these are old pros. The least you can do is tell a classy older woman that she’s got a nice rump (not that she “had” one, because that’ll get you slapped). Dickinson makes clear that she did not enjoy her sex scenes with Shatner, even though she blames the lighting and scene setup. Her face tells the true story in those scenes, though. Shatner looks like he’s molesting an ice sculpture.

The sole featurette, Mama Knows Best: A Retrospective, includes interviews with Corman, Director Carver, Dickinson, Shatner and Writer Frances Doel. It’s a bit brief, but the piece offers a view into the mind and techniques of Corman. One anecdote describes how he avoided leasing lots of cars for traffic shots by painting each side of the car a different color so it could pass by the camera twice and stand in for two different cars. Dickinson again talks about her loathing for the sex scene with Shatner, but Bill only admits that he was shy with all of the crew members standing around. A theatrical trailer completes the trilogy of features.

6.5 out of 10

No wonder Republicans get so keyed up at rallies.

The Artwork

If this was a detective mystery, I suppose the image of a “gun-shoe” would make a nice pun for some young graphic designer punk’s clipbook. For this movie it only illustrates a missed opportunity. It’s ridiculous how much amazing poster art is ignored in favor of slapdash imagery that tells nothing of the classic nature of the film. Plus, someone prove me wrong, but I could swear that the image of Dickinson in the bubble bath with champagne flute and gun is from Big Bad Mama II!

Don’t try to sneak one past me, Buena Vista. I know a thing or two.

2.0 out of 10

Overall: 6.5 out of 10

Bride Schmide.