BIG BAD MAMA (1974, Santa Cruz Productions, Inc., USA, 87 mins, Colour, 1.85:1, Mono, Cert: 18, Crime Action Thriller) ∗∗∗∗∗
Starring: 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), Tom Signorelli (Dodds), Joan Prather (Jane Kingston), Royal Dandy (Reverend Johnson), William O’Connell (Crusade preacher), John Wheeler (Lawyer), Ralph James (Sheriff), Sally Kirkland (Barney’s woman), Wally Berns (Legionnaire).
Producer: Roger Corman; Director: Steve Carver; Writer: William Norton, Frances Doel; Director of Photography: Bruce Logan (Metrocolor); Music: David Grisman; Film Editor: Tina Hirsch; Art Director: Peter Jamison; Set Decorator: Coke Willis; Costume Designer: Jac McAnelly.
Angie Dickinson stars as Wilma McClatchie who along with her teenage daughters targets 1932 small town Texas with her criminal schemes and daring robberies. Along the way she is aided by a couple of misfits in Skerritt and Shatner and remains one step ahead of the law until the film’s conclusion.
Carver doers conjure a nice sense of period and Dickinson, as ever, is capable in the lead role. The film was shot quickly (in 20 days) and the rushed nature of the production is evident on screen. But where the film mainly falls down is in its shifting tone between comedy and drama. These troubles stem from Norton and Doel’s script, which lacks focus and is episodic, merely shuffling from one set-piece to the next mixing violence and slapstick without enriching the characters or giving us anyone to root for. Alongside the problems of plot and characterisation, Dickinson’s exploitation of her seemingly young daughters (Sennett and Lee) feels a little ill-judged by today’s standards. Corman also exploits the virtues of Dickinson, Sennett and Lee as they seduce their various male accomplices in order to manipulate their involvement in their criminal activities.
Whilst the film has attracted a somewhat dubious cult status, this is primarily due to the exploitative content rather than artistic merit. A sequel, BIG BAD MAMA II, followed in 1987.