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Buena Vista Home Video presents
"Keep your legs together and shut up, Billy Jean."
DVD ReviewProduced under the low-budget eye of the prolific master Roger Corman, this Depression-era crime story, Big Bad Mama, earned a cult status in 1974 more for the full frontal nudity of star Angie Dickinson than it did as overall B-movie entertainment.
All that tongue-waggling about an over-40 female actress frolicking buck naked became the film's seedy badge of honor over the years, and while that's all well and good, what tends to get overlooked is that Big Bad Mama is a refreshingly frank and demented little story about a mother trying to do right for her randy teenage daughters. The film is littered with lots of bouncy nudity and sex, wacky car chases, frequent machine gunfire, not to mention William Shatner. Like a jar of vitamins, it fulfills a number of genre requirements in near overdose capacity.
Directed by Steve Carver (Lone Wolf McQuade), Big Bad Mama has proud but poor Wilma McClatchie (Dickinson) inadvertently dragging her teenage daughters Billy Jean (Susan Sennett) and Polly (Robbie Lee) into a life of crime across 1932 Texas. Wilma's freewheeling ways eventually has her teaming up with frustrated bank robber Fred Diller (Tom Skerritt), who ends up sharing a bed each of the three McLatchie girls (and sometimes with more than one at a time). Their crimes get bolder, the machinegun battles louder and the banjo-accompanied jalopy chases exponentially longer as things build to a gloriously violent shootout where the bodies drop quicker than Dickinson's clothes.
It's interesting to see how casually the budding sexuality of Wilma's daughters gets bandied about so openly here, but as Mama isn't too shy, it's easy to see the apple hasn't fallen too far from the tree. Sennett and Lee have an "aw shucks" innocence that makes their more adult moves (like the aforementioned threesome) seem both natural and disturbing. And that's one of the longlasting leftfield charms of Big Bad Mama—it doesn't skimp on the edgy stuff that a lot of mainstream films might have just hinted at. What's stranger is that for a B-movie, there just isn't that blatant sense of an exploitative feel to all the sex and nudity. It's just there.
This is one of Corman's most durable and enjoyable productions, a cheaply made guns-and-boobs period piece that revels in all of the campy B-movie clichés, while somehow projecting its own unique, left-of-center family values. Amazingly good stuff, with Dickinson in what is probably one of her bravest and most memorable roles.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: The full-frame print here doesn't appear to have gone through any major restoration process, and there are frequent tiny specks and assorted nicks. None of these physical imperfections are severe, and are understandably age-related for a drive-in title like this. Colors seem soft, and black levels are murky in spots, but overall the film looks good, but not great.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Audio is presented in 2.0 mono, and it's clean and fairly hiss-free. Not much to praise or condemn either way. It is a little tinny, especially for all that knee-slappin' banjo music and gunfire.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Flightplan, Casanova
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Roger Corman, Angie Dickinson
Extras Review: This new special edition carries a recommended commentary track from Roger Corman and Angie Dickinson, and it was nice to hear them treat Big Bad Mama like the classic that it is. Corman is always a treat, and he can make even his shoddiest products sound like Bergman, and Dickinson in particular seems to have great fondness for this film and the role, with all of its frequent nudity and nekkid romps.
Also included is the short but info-crammed Mama Knows Best: A Retrospective (14m:38s), with Corman, Dickinson, Shatner, director Steve Carver and writers Bill Norton and Frances Doel recalling this classic piece of drive-in goodness. Corman chats about the 20-day shooting schedule, Doel goes into the writing process, Dickinson talks glowingly of everyone but the sheriff, and Carver reveals low-budget secrets like painting the old cars one color on one side and a different color on the other in order to double the number of background vehicles. This really should have been longer.
There's a trailer for the feature, as well as for Flightplan and Casanova. The disc is cut into 14 chapters, with optional English subtitles.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsHere's one of the true greats in the expansive Roger Corman-produced catalog; it's a sexy, violent romp full of decadence, crime, and twisted family values. One look at this and there could never, ever be a way to look at Angie Dickinson as anyone but bold and brazen Wilma McClatchie.
This special edition is long overdue, but it's here now, so enjoy. Highly recommended.
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