DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
BIG BAD MAMA (director: Steve Carver; screenwriters: William W. Norton/Frances Doel; cinematographer: Bruce Logan; editor: Tina Hirsch; music: David Grisman; cast: Angie Dickinson (Wilma McClatchie), William Shatner (William J. Baxter), Tom Skerritt (Fred Diller), Susan Sennett (Billy Jean), Robbie Lee (Polly), Noble Willingham (Uncle Barney), Dick Miller (Bonney), Joan Prather (Jane Kingston), Royal Dano (Reverend Johnson), Sally Kirkland (Barney's woman), Tom Signorelli (Dodds), Dick Miller (Bonney); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Roger Corman; Buena Vista Home Entertainment; 1974)

 
"Not bad enough to be either bad or good."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

A slapstick follow-up to the 1970 Roger Corman directed and produced B-film moneymaker Bloody Mama. Steve Carver ("The Arena"/"Capone"/"Drum") directs this lighthearted cartoonish 'fugitives from justice' tale, that veers on being an exploitation flick. It has a feisty Angie Dickinson baring all to play a hard-bitten Ma Barker type of character in this Depression-era caper. Writers William W. Norton and Frances Doel keep the plotline slight and try to follow in the tracks of Bonnie and Clyde but can never give it an arty edge.

In rural East Texas of 1932, Wilma McClatchie (Angie Dickinson) stops her nitwit teenage daughter Polly (Robbie Lee) at the altar from marrying a poor goofy redneck boy and flees the church with Polly and her other pretty and smarter  teenage daughter Billy Jean (Susan Sennett) in tow. They escape the attacking rednecks in the car of Uncle Barney (Noble Willingham), the Lecherous old bootlegger who is Wilma's lover. Chased by two bumbling but relentless FBI agents (Dick Miller & Tom Signorelli), Wilma forces them over the side of the road but one of the agents kills Barney. The destitute Mama takes over Barney's bootlegging business, vowing to her girls they are never to be poor again. But when she sees how difficult that will be in East Texas (after paying off a sheriff to stay in business), she flees with her daughters to California and aims to take advantage of capitalism like Ford, Rockefeller and Capone.

This leads the girl trio to a roller coast ride of criminal activities that includes robbing at gunpoint a veteran's club that hired Mama's daughters to be exotic dancers, robbing a charlatan evangelist preacher (Royal Dano), robbing a bank, a daring armed heist of a racetrack, a jewel theft, and kidnapping for ransom the bratty rich daughter (Joan Prather) of a company head. During the bank robbery, Mama hooks up with bank robber Fred Diller (Tom Skerritt). Then while Diller's still around, she hooks up with the slimy southern con man Baxter (William Shatner). This leads to a messy love triangle, whereas both daughters have affairs with Diller.

The film is not bad enough to be either bad or good. It tries to win you over with much nudity, fast moving action sequences, plenty of violence and a simplistic caricature of the 'woman on the run' crime genre. It works in fits and starts, and overall has some low-level entertainment value.

REVIEWED ON 3/14/2010       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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