Judge Gordon Sullivan and Judge Gordon Sullivan II both enjoyed this double feature.
Men, Money And Moonshine: When It Comes To Vice, Mama Knows Best.
Every time I see one of these Roger Corman Cult Classics, I have to laugh. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, when the big Hollywood studios were foundering, figuring out how to go from the factory style production of the Golden Age to what became the blockbuster period post-Jaws, Corman was pumping out a film every couple of months. That in itself isn't particularly impressive, but the films he made were, in their own low-budget kind of way. And the man knew talent. The list of names he worked with is impressive, including the likes of directors Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola along with actors Jack Nicholson and Tom Skerritt. So going in, I'm usually willing to give a Roger Corman flick a bit of leeway. I know to expect a bit of action, a bit of nudity, and enough plot to tie everything together without getting in the way. In that regard, Big Bad Mama and Big Bad Mama II deliver the goods, in more ways than one, providing a nice little drive-in style evening's entertainment as Roger Corman Double Feature: Big Bad Mama Plus Big Bad Mama II.
Facts of the Case
In the throes of Prohibition, Wilma McClatchie has to fend for her two teenage daughters. When one of their weddings goes awry, Wilma finds herself on the run with her daughters, and the trio take up a bootlegging business to get enough money to run away to California. Along the way they meet the loveable Fred Diller (Tom Skerritt, Alien) and the smooth-talking William Baxter (William Shatner, Star Trek: The Original Series).
Big Bad Mama II finds Wilma run out again, this time by a vicious land baron. A spree of bank robberies and the kidnapping of the landlord's heir is her response.
As much as I admire Roger Corman's business acumen and eye for talent, the vast majority of his films are nostalgia trips, through and through. They're a peek into a time when the world was a different place and movies played in more widely in public venues (including strata from the grindhouse/drive-in to the many art houses that still dot large cities, but without the faceless multiplexes in between). Back then it seemed that theatrical films could cater to more than the audiences of the chick-flick, the blockbuster, and the Oscar drama. Big Bad Mama clearly shows that films could combine a bunch of genres and get away with pleasing a whole bunch of people. Both Big Bad Mama flicks are action films, romance films, exploitation films, female-empowerment films, and even comedy films. That blend gives them a nostalgia-tinged charm that many recent films can't hope to match.
How, though, does it stack up as an example of those genres? It's a case of jack-of-all-trades, master of none. The action scenes tend to be pretty well done for a lower-budget film, but it's mostly down to a couple of car chases and gun fights per film. Not exactly edge of your seat territory. As a romance, the first film fares okay, assuming you can get over the exploitation film vibe of sisters sharing a guy and believe that Tom Skerritt and William Shatner make credible romantic leads. As far as exploitation films go, Big Bad Mama gets some cred for the sister-sharing, while Big Bad Mama II features a Playboy Playmate. The female empowerment angle is actually surprisingly strong, with Wilma acting as a solid female figure willing to go to great lengths to prove she's capable of protecting what's hers. As for the comedy, the films do a decent job playing with yokel stereotypes, but most of the laughs are probably at the films more than with them.
As a DVD package, this double feature stacks up for an exploitation pairing. The films can be watched individually, or in a "Grindhouse Experience" mode that runs them together with vintage trailers before the films and during an intermission. Despite the fact that both films are on a single disc along with three commentaries and a number of special features, the films don't show any serious compression or authoring problems that I saw. The transfers overall don't have much to work with—prints that are slightly damaged, occasionally soft, and generally a bit rough—but considering the age of the film's they look pretty decent. The audio for both films keeps the dialogue clearly audible, and the films' use of banjo and other down-home instruments sounding good.
Extras are ported over from other (separate) releases of these films. They start with a commentary on Big Bad Mama by Roger Corman and Angie Dickinson that takes a fun look back at the film, while another commentary by director Steve Carve and cinematographer Bruce Logan gives more info about the nuts and bolts of the film's production. Big Bad Mama II gets a commentary by its director Jim Wynorski. Both films also feature an interview of Corman by Leonard Maltin, the films' theatrical trailers, and photo galleries. There's also brief retrospective on the first film, and an interview with Bruce Glover.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Big Bad Mama and Big Bad Mama II are not stellar examples of cinema. They both have fairly slow plots, acting that ranges all over the place, and exploitation elements are a little too infrequent to be totally satisfying. Even as low-budget drive-in fare they're so-so, not quite extreme enough in any way to really be worth remembering.
I'm also pretty sure that there's nothing new in the special features department with this release. Both these films have seen release on DVD before, and it looks like all these features are recycled. So, there's no compelling reason to double dip either of these films for owners of the previous discs.
For Corman and exploitation fans, this double feature is worth at least a rental. Both films feature a decent mixture of action, nudity, and humor, but they don't stick out enough to warrant a general recommendation. This release isn't worth a double dip, but there's a strong set of extras for those who enjoy the films and/or Corman.
Big Bad Mama and Big Bad Mama II might be on the run, but they're not guilty.
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