Monday, December 20, 2010

BIG BAD MAMA / BIG BAD MAMA II

Angie Dickinson is Wilma McClatchie, a Depression-era widow with two teenage daughters, who wants a better life for them than early marriage and poverty, and is willing to break all kinds of laws to make it happen. Her story is told in two "Roger Corman Cult Classics" re-released as a double feature disc by Shout! Factory a couple weeks back: BIG BAD MAMA (1974) / BIG BAD MAMA II (1987).

Directed by Steve Carver (LONE WOLF MCQUADE, EYE FOR AN EYE, JOCKS), BIG BAD MAMA chronicles the four-state crime spree of a fortysomething (but hot blooded and sexy as hell) Texas widow (Dickinson, of course) and her two lusty teenaged daughters (Susan Sennett of THE CANDY SNATCHERS and Robbie Lee, SWITCHBLADE SISTERS). Along the way, they add to their "gang" a Dillinger-like bank robber and a Kentucky con man (Tom Skerritt and William Shatner, a year or so before their co-starring roles in THE DEVIL'S RAIN).

For sheer entertainment, BIG BAD MAMA can't be beat. There's a simple but interesting story, plenty of action, sexual melodrama, and great character acting by the entire cast. Despite the low budget, director Carver successfully creates and maintains a convincing Thirties' atmosphere. Dickinson, who was also on the boob tube at the time in her hit television series POLICE WOMAN, smolders with mature sexuality and appears nude in several scenes. Skerritt, a then-rising star in films like MASH, seems to be having a great time surrounded by beautiful – and frequently naked – women. And the Shatner delivers a delightful, hammy performance as the Southern grifter and gets to have a passionate sex scene with Dickinson.

Simply put, B-movies don't get much better than this.

Corman persuaded Dickinson to return to the role in 1987 for the direct-to-video sequel BIG BAD MAMA II (actually, it's more of "reimagining"), directed by Jim Wynorski (NOT OF THIS EARTH, CHOPPING MALL). In this version, Wilma (a still smoldering Dickinson) and her two daughters (now portrayed by Danielle Brisebois, ARCHIE BUNKER'S PLACE, and Julie McCullough, THE BLOB) are forced into their life of crime when her husband is killed and their farm stolen by a greedy land baron named Crawford (Bruce Glover, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER), in an opening scene lifted from Corman's CRAZY MAMA - itself an imitation of the first BBM....  Anyway, Wilma and the girls set out on a cross-country crime spree, accompanied by Crawford's kidnapped son (Jeff Yagher, from the original V) and a big city reporter named Pearson (Robert Culp, I SPY, HICKEY & BOGGS).

Not nearly as slick or entertaining as the original, BBM2 has its own charms. Unfortunately, it also has some truly laughable moments, like a sex scene between Dickinson and Culp's characters where their much-younger body doubles are all too obvious, some truly cringe-worthy dialogue, sloppy filmmaking, and a goofy, "happy ending" epilogue.

Both movies have been previously released on DVD but Shout! Factory has brought BBM and BBM2 to this disc with much-improved, anamorphic widescreen (matted) transfers at the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. In both cases, ALL of the extras from the previous editions have been ported over. Supplemental features on BIG BAD MAMA include an audio commentary by director Steve Carver and Director of Photography Bruce Logan, a Leonard Maltin interview with Roger Corman, a fantastic retrospective documentary, the theatrical trailer and TV spots. BIG BAD MAMA II is accompanied by an entertaining commentary track by director Wynorski, another Maltin/Corman talk, a new interview with actor Bruce Glover, and a trailer.

BIG BAD MAMA is one of my favorite B-crime flicks, and this new Shout! Factory disc is the best home video presentation to date. The sequel makes a decent bonus film, and the extras are great. Highly recommended.

BUYBig Bad Mama / Big Bad Mama II (Roger Corman's Cult Classics)