The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Big Bad Mama

I've had a string of bad luck when it comes to movies lately with some real stinkers.  Thanks to TCM Underground, that string was busted up a little by 1974's Big Bad Mama.  It's a B-movie from producer Roger Corman that doesn't try to be anything other than entertaining and because of that, succeeds in a big way.  It has no concerns of a movie with a bigger message.  Instead, there's lots of action, car chases and nudity, basically the big 3 of B-movies.

Corman's flick plays with familiar territory of the 1930s gangsters and bank robbers that took America by storm during the Great Depression.  One of the most famous was Ma Barker, or so people thought, because in the 80 years since it has been proven that the Barker matriarch wasn't really a crook at all.  Using the notion that Ma Barker's legendary exploits were true, 'Bad Mama' is ever so loosely based on those exploits.  That is, if Ma Barker was about 40 years younger and looked like Angie Dickinson.  Minor sticking points if you ask me.

Fed up with not being able to provide a good life for her two teenage daughters, Texas mother Wilma McClatchie (Dickinson) hits the road.  With her daughters Billy Jean (Susan Sennett) and Polly (Robbie Lee) in tow, Wilma starts robbing banks, moonshining, pulling cons and basically anything else that will bring in some much-needed money.  Along the way, they form their own little gang with bank robber Fred Diller (Tom Skerritt) and down on his luck conman William Baxter (William Shatner) joining the trio of women.  They cut a path of crime through the southwest and into California with two clueless, bumbling detectives on their trail.

A 1930s gangsters story wouldn't seem to be the ideal choice for a lighthearted, sex romp, but if anybody could pull it off, it'd be Roger Corman.  All of the action scenes have a fast-paced banjo playing as the soundtrack and most of the violence is saved for the finale.  Sure, there's some gun battles sprinkled into the story, but 'Big Bad Mama' rivals The A-team for most shots fired with no one actually getting shot.  When the bullets actually do hit their mark, watch out for some 1970s bright red squibs.  The finale especially is over the top and ridiculous with Skerritt's Diller blasting away at cops with a tommy gun that never runs out of ammunition.

Lots of slapstick and generally low-brow humor throughout this B-movie.  Apparently though to get an R-rating, Corman had to tone down some of the nudity in the movie which is surprising considering how much was left in the finished product.  All the cast is nude at some point -- some more than others -- and I'd wager Dickinson and her two "daughters" spend a quarter or so of the movie either topless or completely naked.  It's a very 70s story in terms of the nudity, and it is never long before any two (and in one case three) of the five main cast members shack up.  It's surprising with Dickinson especially because she was an established actress, in movies and on TV with Police Woman starting the same year as Big Bad Mama was released.

This isn't going to be a very long review because let's face it, there isn't much to review.  The cast seems to having a good time, Shatner hams it up as only he can (watch this short scene), Skerritt plays the gun-crazy bank robber, and Dickinson is the oblivious mom gangster trying to help her kids and looking great doing it.  It is the trashiest of movies with plenty of nudity, lots of gunplay and violence and just enough story to keep things moving along.

Big Bad Mama <----trailer (1974): ** 1/2 /****

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