An entertaining, historical piece of cinema that is backed up by solid extras.
At points in the film the picture quality could have been cleaned up more.
Big Bad Mama tells the story of Wilma McClatchie (Angie Dickinson) and her two daughters, Billy Jean (Susan Sennett) and Polly (Robbie Lee), as they make their way West in search of a better life. Of course the story isn’t as syrupy as that, there’s gunplay, bootlegging and all manner of troublemaking as “Mama” teams up with Fred Diller (Tom Skerritt ) and William J. Baxter (William Shatner). Together they fight, scheme and sleep together on this cross country crusade to break the law and defy authority.
What really makes this film interesting is how it is at once an exploitation film (there is a fair share of nudity), but at the same time it’s also a fairly arty movie with an ending that should surprise a great many people. This is what I think makes the films that Roger Corman has produced so interesting. They are truly independent but not in an uneven sense. They have original stories, original themes and original ideas, yet they are also presented in a way that doesn’t leave the audience out in the cold.
With films like Big Bad Mama, Roger Corman has helped foster an alternative world of films where things might not always be that great in a production sense, but you at least can’t accuse his films of being boring.
Mama Knows Best and Audio Commentary
Mama Knows Best: A Retrospective is a look at how Big Bad Mama came to the big screen. People like Angie Dickinson and Director Steve Carver talk about how they got involved in the film, and also what it was like working with Roger Corman. Corman himself discusses the genesis of this movie’s story and while this “making of” isn’t the greatest thing I have ever seen, from a purely historical standpoint it is very enlightening to find out more about this movie’s story. The Audio Commentary gives us Roger Corman and Angie Dickinson, and while I have heard much more interesting and enlightening commentary tracks, these two are really having fun here. Corman talks about how he got the cars for the movie, while Dickinson focuses more her acting and how sometimes the key to a performance is “underacting.” I really love that Roger Corman, who is filled with stories, just lets the people on the commentaries with him talk. Also, I have always thought of Angie Dickinson in a regal, blue blood way but I am forced to rethink that after seeing her here.
Full Screen - 1.33:1. This movie is over 30 years old and sadly at times it looks it. Anybody who reads my reviews knows that I don’t really need to have the picture be that pretty. I just want to be able to watch the movie without incident. For the most part, Big Bad Mama does this. There were just some scenes, mostly shots that were outside and had a lot of things in the frame, that looked as if the picture was going to fall apart. I really liked the way that this movie looked, I just noticed some hairs on the film and honestly, of all the Roger Corman movies I have reviewed so far, I had never noticed those.
Dolby Digital - 2.0 Mono. The sound was pretty good. Like the picture, there were a few moments, mainly when there was a big transition from one scene to the next, where it seemed as if the sound was cut off in midstream. As I mentioned, we are dealing with film and audio assets that are very old, so I think you have to cut the movie some slack. Also, other than the “Digitally Mastered” slogan on the DVD, I don’t think they have really done anything as far as “bumping” up the picture or sound quality of this DVD. Still, I didn’t have a hard time following the story or making out what the characters were saying.
The cover has a red background with a pretty cool shot of a woman’s high heel, however the heel is the barrel of a gun. In the back is an almost silhouette-like picture of Dickinson in a bathtub wielding a gun and a glass of wine. The back features a comment by Roger Corman (I really like the way he succinctly sums up his films), a description of the movie, a Special Features/Technical Specs listing and a cast list. There are also a bunch of shots from the movie making sure the cast is all present and accounted for. I really appreciate the amount of work that has gone into making this packaging unique.
The women in this movie are beautiful. I had never really paid much attention to Angie Dickinson before, but she is a gorgeous woman. I had really only seen her in a cursory sense (when I was a younger) in Dressed to Kill, and I never even watched that movie all the way through. As a result, I really don’t have a point of reference for this person. She was really stunning back in the day and seeing her in the supplemental features she still looks really good. I don’t mean to harp on this so much, but she was always a woman that I never paid much attention to... until now.
Big Bad Mama is a classic example of a really interesting story, framed in a traditional filmic structure, while also not being afraid to divert itself at times and enter the more interesting.
Big Bad Mama was released September 19, 1974.