Generally considered one of Roger Corman's finest productions, 1974's Big Bad Mama might be not much more than Bonnie & Clyde with a lot more nudity and a lot less sense ... but I'd be lying if I said this colorful ol' piece of camp doesn't have some real and lasting appeal. It's silly and simple and even a little mindless, but Big Bad Mama still stands up as good, clean B-movie fun. (Except for all the murders, kidnappings, and statutory rape, that is.)
Angie Dickinson is a whole lot of fun in the titular role, that of a Depression-era, tommy-gun-wielding matriarch of two ever-gigglin' teenage girls and overseer of a patchwork crime gang. After ruining her daughter's wedding and running afoul of two FBI agents, Wilma McClatchie is well on her way to becoming Public Enemy #1. From bank robberies to oil field heists and one ill-devised kidnapping, Mama and her girls (along with a pair of warring beaus, as played by Tom Skerritt and William Shatner!) roam the Texas and Arizona plains with guns a'blazin' and natural assets on full display.
B-level escapist fodder all the way, but there's still a rustic style, off-kilter humor, and fluid pacing to Big Bad Mama that keeps the flick entirely watchable more than 20 years after it sauntered into the drive-ins. Don't go in expecting much more than high-camp histrionics, a few kinetic chases & escapes, and just enough high-end jiggle-factor to keep the red-blooded males entertained, and you'll probably have a pretty good time.
The patron saint of film critics, Pauline Kael, once said, "The movies are so rarely great art, that if we can't appreciate great trash, there is little reason for us to go." And, for all its familiar concepts and leering tendencies, Big Bad Mama is some pretty great trash.
Video: The movie is presented in a Full Frame presentation. You'll notice a fair amount of source-print glitches and visual fuzz-bombs, but considering what this movie usually looks like on The Late Late Show, the DVD transfer is pretty darn impressive. Still, the flick was originally exhibited in widescreen, so it's really a shame that the proper aspect ratio was not replicated for this DVD release.
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, with optional subtitles in English. The audio balance is solid enough, but watch out for those tommy-gun bursts, because they're set on extra loud!
Extras: Producer Roger Corman, director Steve Carver, screenwriters Frances Doel & William Norton, and actors Angie Dickinson & William Shatner share their thoughts and recollections on Big Bad Mama in Mama Knows Best: A Retrospective, and this 15-minute featurette is something the schlock fans will absolutely enjoy.
Also included is a feature-length audio commentary with Mr. Corman and Ms. Dickinson, which is quite the hoot and a half. The old friends settle in for to enjoy their cheesy old movie, and the actress only seems a bit unsettled during her full-frontal sequence. (Not that she has anything to be embarrassed about!) Rounding out the disc is the original Big Bad Mama theatrical trailer.
When I heard that Disney had purchased the rights to Roger Corman's back catalog, my first reaction was, I believe, a fairly logical one: "Roger Corman and Disney? Huuuhhhhh???" But after seeing how The Mouse House has re-packaged Big Bad Mama, Death Race 2000, and Rock 'n' Roll High School into some fairly impressive DVD editions, my skepticism has turned to bemused admiration. Here's hoping batch #2 of the Roger Corman banner includes Galaxy of Terror, Piranha, and Humanoids from the Deep!