Thursday, August 25, 2011

Big Bad Mama (1974)

Directed by Steve Carver
Starring Angie Dickinson, Robbie Lee, William Shatner 
Rated R

“Never trust a girl giving away her donuts for free.”

It's the old-timey days. Which ones? The 30’s. The Depression. Angie Dickinson is Wilma, mother of two teenage daughters, conniving Billie Jean (Susan Sennett) and infantile Polly (Robbie Lee). With so little money to go around and no daddy and/or husband around, what’s a mom supposed to do? She’s gotta feed her family, and there’s really only two options: sex or crime. Wilma chooses both. 

First, though, she’s got to deal with dopey Polly’s latest crisis. When the film opens, Polly is about to get hitched to local yokel Charlie. Mama is not happy, and the wedding quickly turns into a melee. Wilma interrupts the proceedings halfway through, and a church-wide fist-fight ensues. Polly's boob falls out and Wilma steals the church's collection plate. They all take off in their pal Barney's car. Where? “Anywhere but East Texas,” says Wilma.

They hit the road, getting out of town before the angry townspeople get 'em, but they're soon pursued by the feds (Dick Miller!). They elude the cops – Robbie lets her boobs dangle out the window -but not before the law gets one good shot in, killing Barney.

Now the girls are on their own! Can they manage without a man?

Sure. They decide to run Barney's moonshine business without him. It's not an easy gig, though. On her first delivery, Wilma goes to to the wrong house and wrestle a fat old lady.

Also, Polly gets way too friendly with the customers.

Turns out the guy she as cavorting with was the sheriff's son, so to get out of going to jail, Wilma tries to convince the sheriff that Polly's retarded. When that doesn't work, she has to pay him all their bootleggin' dough. Flat broke, they have to start from scratch.

Wilma gets a job a diner while the girls try out for a gig as low-rent strippers.

It goes pretty good until Wilma shows up to rob everybody.

Flush will ill-begotten cash, they hit the road once again, with the law hot on their trail. Unfortunately, their car breaks down soon after. Luckily, it breaks down right where an evangelical preacher is tending to his flock. Mama and the girl quietly slip into the congregation and jump onto their bus, headed for salvation or California, whichever comes first.

Actually, they don't wait around to find out. They rob the preacher, taking his car and his dough.

Then they hole up in a hotel for the night. The girls are so excited, they chase each other around the room. Polly's topless at this point, and also, Robbie Lee takes a real-life spill during their antics, but they keep it in the shot anyway.

The next day, they decide to rob a bank, but halfway through, Fred (Tom Skerrit ) shows up to rob it himself, and a bloodbath ensues!

In all the chaos, Wilma snatches the money and they take off, with machine gun wielding Fred right behind them. After his car gets smashed up, he ends up in Wilma's back seat. In more ways than one, if you know what I mean.

Mama's new boyfriend makes Billie Jean jealous, she she tries to gussy up to seduce him.

However, all this fornicating distracts them, and a filthy cat burglar busts in and almost gets away with all their dough Luckily Wilma shoots him and gets her money back.

And then they all dress up and go to the horse races, where she meets up with slick-willie type Baxter (William Shatner), who offers Wilma a tip on the horses. Sadly, he cannot afford to bet on them himself.
He knows how to pick them, though, and they end up making a bundle.

Said bundle increases dramatically when they rob the box office while picking up their winnings.

So then the gang heads home and Wilma has graphic R-rated sex with Baxter while Fred peeps at them through a hole in the door.

Feeling jilted, he has sex with Billie Jean, who finally gets naked. So then she's naked for the next ten minutes to make up for the first half of the movie.

And then she has a three-way with Fred and her sister. The 1930's were crazy, man!

The gang finally makes it to California, and everybody schemes about what their next big score is gonna be. While Wilma works out the details, Polly gives Billie Jean some shocking news: she's pregnant! Ah well, the show must go on. Wilma pretends to run a lunch wagon and they rob an oil refinery.

It goes pretty good except that Polly gets shot in the arm.

They fix her up and then hang out at the beach, where Wilma yells at Fred about the whole impregnating-her-daughter thing. As you do.

Wilma decides it's time the girls join high society, so they rob some rich folks for their fancy clothes and crash a high-falutin' party. Of course, they're not really there to hob-nob, they're actually there to rob everybody. Wilma suddenly pulls out a machine gun (where was she hiding it?) and they take everybody's jewelry and cash. Wilma even shoots up the cars and garden statues on the way out.

PS look close and you'll find frequent Corman collaborator Paul Bartel at the party!

And yet, that's still not enough for Wilma. She tells Fred she wants one more score: a million bucks. So they sneak onto a tennis court and kidnap Jane (Joan Prather) a snotty rich girl. She finds the whole thing pretty indignant, especially when Fred shows up later and paws at her.

Wilma sets up the ransom details. However, they're all over the newspapers at this point, and Baxter thinks this whole thing is getting out of hand.

While Wilma sets things up, Jane seduces Fred so she can escape. Unfortunately, Fred cannot help banging every chick he sees, so it works. As soon as she gets her shirt off, he drops his guard. She kicks him in the nuts and splits. Baxter, hoping to end all this craziness, lets her go and splits. Good thing Wilma shows up to fetch her.

Sadly, Baxter gets picked up by the feds. Hopefully, he won't rat Wilma and the girl out before their big score.

The big day comes. Wilma bangs Fred in the barn one last time (look close, you'll see some dark Dickinson bush!) and then makes the trade, gets the million bucks, and moves her family to Paris, where they live happily ever after.

No, that's not what happens. Baxter sells them out and bloody mayhem commences.  

It still seems odd that Angie Dickinson and William Shatner – who were both well-known and established actors at this point – would make Big Bad Mama at all, never mind appearing as naked as you possibly can in an R-rated 70’s flick. Even without their star power, Mama would have been a winner, but the sight of a fully-nude Shat slobbering over an equally unadorned  Angie should be on every B-movie fans must-see list. Throw in a spectacularly whiny appearance from Switchblade Sisters star and elusive exploitation icon Robbie Lee, plenty of red paint-splattering mayhem, gratuitous Tom Skerritt, the sight of the same five old timey cars crashing over and over, crisp photography, a lean, mean script that never stops moving, a refreshing lack of moral conviction, and the simple pleasures of soaking in Angie Dickinson’s mature beauty, and you’ve got the perfect drive-in flick.

Thanks to the 30’s era setting, the film hasn’t aged much in the past 40-something years, and Shatner’s current status us a camp icon makes his appearance here even more amusing now then it was in the 70’s. Plus, every woman in the movie gets naked. You can’t really ask for more than that, nor should you. All killer and no filler, Big Bad Mama is one of the primary  reasons why Roger Corman remains the King of the B’s.

- Ken McIntyre

PS: Hear the MAG crew discuss Big Bad Mama on Episode 119 of the Movies About Girls show


  1. It's weird how there was such a retro thirties thing going on in the seventies with stuff like this, and Boxcar Bertha and the Sting and so forth. Depression chic, I guess it's called. Anyway, that does look like some hot hot Shat sex.

  2. Hi, I just found your site for the first time and I'm loving your reviews! But I must ask, how ... HOW can you write about BIG BAD MAMA and not give some love the super-cute-and-sexy Susan Sennett!? I mean, she was one of OZZIE'S GIRLS on TV and here she is naked and horny in a Corman film!


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