Big Bad Mama

Bigbadmama“Men, money and moonshine: When it comes to vice, Mama knows best.”

Produced by Roger Corman, the reigning king of schlock, Big Bad Mama knows what it is: absolute trash. A model movie-cum-tagline that stays true to its pie-faced aim, and to the generic expectations of its audience, the film is a tootin’ hoot: fast, fleshly, and violent.

“The family that slays together, stays together.”

Wilma McClatchie (Angie Dickenson) is some kind of Ma Barker with nympho-nymphet daughters who play with dolls and suck their thumbs. To keep her clan happy, she hightails it across the Midwest, robbing, screwing, and selling bootleg whiskey in a gratuity of guns and fun. When Fred the robber (Tom Skerritt) and Will the gambler (William Shatner) heel behind Mama, sex triangles form, one between Wilma and the men, another between Fred and the girls. (Rails Billy Jean: “Damn you, Polly! I share [Fred] with you and you get knocked up!”) But only in death can this trampy trail end.

For sure, an imitation Bonnie And Clyde (1967), but the shoestring Big Bad Mama does that film proud. Made more “authentic” by grainy location work and a fine banjo score, and less inane by deadpan theatrics, BBM is skintillating, poker-faced pulp. Alhough it can be seen to tilt toward exploitation, a double edge exists in that, ultimately, the McClatchie foxes use sex as a means to self-empowerment. Perhaps Corman is merely trying to stoke the women’s-lib demographic — but all Wilma wants is to be free, and if exploiting her ‘goods’ is a shortcut, then so be it.

Having apprenticed under Sam Arkoff at American-International Pictures, Roger Corman nailed early on his economic “go in, shoot it and get out” approach to manufacturing movies. His elegant Poe adaptations reveal the artist behind the genre craftsman, and his titles (e.g., Caged Heat, Teenage Caveman, and Candy-Striped Nurses) convey a vivid pop sense.

Big Bad Mama is quintessential Corman, and a really good time.

About Jack Cormack

Email Jack at