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Buy your copy from Big Bad Mama (1974) Starring: Angie Dickinson, William Shatner, Tom Skerritt
Director: Steve Carver
Rating: R
Category: Drama

It's a Roger Corman film, and it's from the '70s. Even before watching "Big Bad Mama," these facts alone should tell you that you'll want to prepare for a flick that was A) a huge success on the drive-in circuit, and B) not nominated for an Academy Award. As far as Corman's oeuvre goes, however, this is easily one of the most fun, and it's that way right out of the starting gate, before the credits even kick in, as this dialogue from the opening moments indicates:

Mama (exiting the house, followed by her two daughters): I don't like it a damned bit, and if you had the brains God gave a titmouse, you wouldn't be doing it!

Polly: But, Mama, I love him and he loves me!

Mama: Hell, you try paying the rent and buying groceries on love�!

Polly: But we can live with his folks, Mama, until he gets a job!

Mama: (trying to crank-start the jalopy) You'll spend your whole damn life on relief!

Billie Jean: Shit fire! One more time, Mama! (The car starts) You better haul ass, Mama, or we're gonna be late!

Mama: (smacks her with hat) Now, stop using that kind of language! I try to teach you girls manners, and look at ya! You sitting there with your underpants showing, and you holding a damned doll, and dumb enough to run and marry Charlie Johnson with a stiff on and not ten cents in his ragged pockets

Billie Jean: I'm gonna marry a rich man, Mama, and hope he dies and then I'll get all his money!

Mama: Put your legs together, Billie Jean, and shut up; I'll tell you when to get married.

And then the fiddle music kicks in, and it's revealed that we're in Paradise, Texas, in 1932. Angie Dickinson is Mama � real name Wilma McClatchie � and, yes, she truly is big and bad. She doesn't start out that way; originally, she's just a headstrong woman trying to provide a good life for her two daughters�but through a series of circumstances, she ends up as a bank robber, working alongside a young Tom Skerritt (who looked the same then as he does now), and con artist William Shatner, whose performance as a Southern gentleman must be experienced personally to be properly appreciated. As far as the girls who play the daughters, their acting careers didn't amount to a great deal after this film; Robbie Lee's (Polly) next film � "Linda Lovelace for President" � effectively ended her motion picture career, so she ended up doing voices for the "Rainbow Brite" animated series, and Susan Sennett (Billie Jean), never did another film�but she did end up marrying Graham Nash, which really ought to count for something.

There's lots of gratuitous nudity interspersed throughout the film � including Skerritt scoring a threesome with Lee and Sennett (nice one, Tom) � but, with the exception of Shatner taking it over the top as per usual, the acting is surprisingly solid throughout, the dialogue is full of snappy patter, and the soundtrack by David Grisman (best known for his work with Jerry Garcia) is great. The similarity to "Bonnie and Clyde" is undeniable, given the time frame and plot matter, but having a single mother play the part of the bank robber is a unique twist that pays off in spades. It's not entirely what you'd call a classic (not outside of the grade-B genre, anyway), but "Big Bad Mama" definitely deserves the fine reissue treatment it's received.

DVD Review:
The commentary by Corman and Dickinson is extremely enjoyable; the two clearly have tremendous respect for each other, and listening to them reminisce is consistently entertaining�particularly during Dickinson's first nude scene, when she admits, "Roger, this isn't easy for me to sit here and watch myself on screen like that," and Corman says, "Really? It's pretty easy for me!" (Later in the commentary, when she's onscreen receiving sexual gratification from Shatner, she groans and says, "Roger, I'm going to leave the room.") Unlike a lot of commentaries, extended silence is kept to a bare minimum; the two are talking throughout and rarely slip into simply watching and enjoying the movie. There's also a well done documentary, "Mama Knows Best: A Retrospective," which has new interviews with Corman, Dickinson, director Steve Carver, and writer Francis Doel, and, for your amusement, the original theatrical trailer is here as well.

~Will Harris

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