Big Bad Mama/Big Bad Mama II
Studio: Shout! Factory
Years: 1974 (Big Bad Mama) 1987 (Big Bad Mama II)
Rated: R (both films)
Program Length: 82 minutes (Big Bad Mama) 84 minutes (Big Bad Mama II)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Languages: English Dolby Digital 2.0
Get your hand off my tit, Barney!
Most movie fans associate Roger Corman with low-budget sci-fi, horror and teen exploitation films. However, over the course of his long career as a producer and director he has added a number of well-known gangster and crime films to his resume. Among them are I Mobster, Machine Gun Kelly, The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Bloody Mama, and Boxcar Bertha. Corman decided to continue to explore the genre when, in 1974, he produced Big Bad Mama. While Big Bad Mama may be best remembered for star Angie Dickinson's nude scenes, it is a stylish, energetic and entertaining film which obviously was inspired in part by Bonnie and Clyde. The success of Big Bad Mama led to the making of Big Bad Mama II thirteen years later, and they have been released together on DVD as an entertaining double feature.
Wilma McClatchey (Angie Dickinson) is a dirt-poor woman living with her two beautiful daughters in Paradise Texas during the Great Depression in 1932. As Big Bad Mama begins, Wilma is taking her younger daughter, Polly (Robbie Lee), off to church to be married. Polly is an innocent, naive girl who is physically mature but emotionally more of a child (she still carries her doll with her). The older daughter, Billy Jean (Susan Sennett), is more experienced and is comfortable flaunting her sexuality, but she has no interesting in being tied down with a family. Wilma strongly disapproves of the wedding, and after the ceremony gets underway she explodes in anger and a brawl ensues. Wilma and her daughters flee from the wedding brawl with Uncle Barney (Noble Willingham), a bootlegger. An encounter with prohibition agents ends with Barney's death, and Wilma decides that the only prudent thing to do is to take over Barney's business. What starts out as a promising foray into bootlegging turns sour when Polly is arrested and Wilma has to use all of their profits to pay off a smarmy police chief. Wilma then sets her sights on a bigger prize - robbing a bank.
A chance encounter with an experienced bank robber, Fred Diller (Tom Skerritt), leads to Wilma and Fred joining forces, both professionally and romantically. However, that relationship becomes strained when Wilma meets a southern con man, William J. Baxter (William Shatner), and invites him to join their criminal road show. Wilma's plan is to conduct a series of robberies and then head west to settle in California. As Fred finds himself being pushed aside by Wilma, he allows himself to be seduced by Billy Jean and Polly. In the meantime there are holdups, gunplay and car chases as the gang is pursued across the country by the hapless Agent Bonney (played by longtime Corman regular Dick Miller).
As directed by Steve Carver, Big Bad Mama moves along a rapid pace, enhanced by evocative locations in the high deserts of California and a bouncy musical score by David Grisman (who persuaded Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead to play the guitar and banjo parts). One of the film's high points is an eye-popping striptease performance by Shannon Christie. The film was a major box office success, helped in no small part by the fact that Corman was able to persuade Dickinson to do several nude scenes. Trivia note: Susan Sennett, who plays Billy Jean, has been married to rock star Graham Nash since 1977.
Big Bad Mama II sounds like a sequel, but it actually has much in common with a 1975 Corman film, Crazy Mama. In fact, the opening scene of Big Bad Mama II is nearly a shot-for-shot remake of Crazy Mama. Angie Dickinson reprises her role as Wilma, only this time she is married with two gorgeous daughters. The McClatchy farm is being foreclosed upon by a Texas banker, Morgan Crawford (Bruce Glover), and the police have come to serve the papers. When Wilma's husband resists, a shootout ensues and he is killed. Wilma decides to extract her revenge by robbing Crawford's bank with the help of daughters Billy Jean (Danielle Brisebois) and Polly (former Playboy Playmate Julie McCullough).
Crawford is running for governor, and Wilma decides that she can punish him more by ruining his political ambitions and kidnapping his son. Along the way she joins forces with a sympathetic newspaper reporter, Daryl Pearson (Robert Culp). Big Bad Mama II lacks the freshness and energy of the original, and Angie Dickinson keeps her clothes on (a love scene with Robert Culp utilizes a body double). In fact, there is no reference at all to the events which occur in the original. Nevertheless, the production values are good and fans of Corman's movies will find enough to enjoy about it to warrant a tepid recommendation.
Visually, these presentations are a mixed bag. Both were previously released on DVD at 1.33:1. These anamorphic widescreen 1.78:1 transfers add information to the sides while cutting off some from the top and bottom and seem to approximate the way the films were projected in theaters. The framing of the older releases now appears to be tight on the sides, so the widescreen presentations are a distinct improvement. However, these transfers have not been remastered. The occasional reel scratches and specs which appear on the older transfers are still present. In addition, on Big Bad Mama there is brief but significant damage to the film elements between the 20-minute mark and the 21-minute mark. Elsewhere the image on Big Bad Mama is variable. Some scenes are very clean and sharp, while others are soft at times. Big Bad Mama II is more consistent and is generally pleasing.
The bottom line is that this double feature is a substantial improvement over the original DVDs because of the enhancement for widescreen, but both films would have benefited from some restoration work.
Big Bad Mama was recorded in mono and Big Bad Mama II was recorded in two-channel stereo. The audio on the DVD presentations is adequate, and nothing more. The dialogue is generally clear and understandable. Overall the audio is free of noise and distortion, but it is a bit harsh at times. The musical soundtrack on Big Bad Mama is particularly evocative, and it benefits greatly from Jerry Garcia's uncredited picking on guitar and banjo. There are no subtitles.
There are some worthwhile extras on this DVD double feature.
Big Bad Mama includes an interesting commentary track by director Stever Carver and director of photography Bruce Logan. They share many insights into both the production and the actors. Virtually all of the exteriors were shot on existing locations which were dressed up to appear to be of depression-era vintage. Even the interiors were largely shot on location. There was some friction on the set between Shatner and Skerritt, and of the three principal actors Shatner was the most uncomfortable about doing a nude scene.
There is an equally interesting commentary track by Angie Dickinson and Roger Corman, which must have been a late addition because there is no mention of it on the DVD packaging or in the press release.
An interview of Roger Corman by Leonard Maltin about both films was edited in order to appear to be two separate interviews. It originally appeared as an extra on the 1999 DVD.
"Mama Knows Best" is a 15-minute retrospective featurette which includes comments by Roger Corman, Steve Carver, Angie Dickinson, William Shatner, and screenwriters Frances Doel and William Norton. It originally appeared on the "special edition" DVD which was released in 2005 and is shown in 1.33:1.
Also included is the theatrical trailer and a couple of television spots. Finally there is a collection of still photos, production photos, lobby cards, etc.
The extras for Big Bad Mama II include a commentary track by directory Jim Wynorski and the other half of Leonard Maltin's interview with Roger Corman.
A recent interview with Bruce Glover runs for 9 1/2 minutes and was made for this DVD. It is shown in 1.33:1.
The original theatrical trailer is in pretty good shape and is shown in anamorphic widescreen. Finally, there is a gallery of still photos.
This DVD also includes theatrical trailers for Crazy Mama, Smokey Bites the Dust, Jackson County Jail, and The Lady in Red. The trailer for Crazy Mama is particularly amusing.
The single disc is stored in a standard DVD keep case.
The Final Analysis
Fans of Roger Corman are sure to enjoy this double feature DVD, reservations about the video quality notwithstanding. In fact, the DVD refers to itself as a "grindhouse" experience, so in that respect the occasionally spotty video is fitting. The anamorphic widescreen transfers and a worthwhile collection of extras make this a substantial upgrade over the prior DVD releases.
Equipment used for this review:
Toshiba HD-XA-2 DVD player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specifications by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: December 7, 2010