The Amazon Prime Dungeon sure has a large collection of Roger Corman Drive-in Classics. It’s a testament to Roger that so many of these movies are entertaining and watchable. Roger started phoning it in from the mid-1980s on, but this movie is safely in the Still-Giving-a-Damn 1970s. It’s well-made, energetic, violent and exploitative and features two of TV’s bad-ass cops Angie Dickinson and William Shatner playing criminals. We need to check that out, right?
Big, Bad Mama (1974)
Angie Dickinson plays Wilma McClatchie, the titular Big, Bad Mama, who with her two horny daughters shoot and sex their way from Texas to Hollywood in this amusing prohibition era Bonnie and Clyde knock-off. Everywhere they go they create havoc and broken hearts and sort of stumble into a crime spree. Along the way they pick up Tom Skerritt, a bank robber who Angie Dickinson sexes up. Then they add William Shatner as a con-man with a thoroughly unconvincing Southern accent. So Angie quickly gets to knocking boots with the suave and Shatnerian upgrade in a scene where he very nearly shows us his Li’l Cap’n Kirk. Then Skerritt has to settle for a threesome with Angie’s ready for anything daughters.
After 20 years of co-starring in Westerns films and TV, Roger Corman gave Angie Dickinson a chance to be sexy, foul-mouthed and tough, and to carry her own movie. She’s great, of course. It’s also a joy to see two of the biggest character actor horn-dogs, Skerritt and Shatner, fighting over her. In an unusual Corman move, they actually spent some money on this movie. There are dozens of period costumes, quite a few locations, quite a few dangerous looking stunts, and they wreck a bunch of Ford Model A’s, which wasn’t cheap. I guess it was a calculated risk: considering all the boobs and blood in the movie, Roger figured he could still turn a profit.
There isn’t much to the movie. Angie and her daughters pursue the American dream while robbing banks and putting on and taking off period frocks. Just to show where the movie’s mind is at, there’s an extended scene where Angie’s daughters sneak away to perform a strip tease, badly for $5 for a Veteran’s club. See, the girls are patriotic, too. Then Angie shows up waving guns around to whisk her delinquent daughters away like the tornado of righteousness she is.
This movie takes its inspiration from Bonnie and Clyde and The Sting, which were monster box office hits. So just like with Bonnie and Clyde, there’s plenty of bluegrass music during the “played for laughs” car chases. And the movie ends with a hail of bullets gunfight where everybody gets what’s coming to them. Along the way, they are pursued by bumbling FBI agents headed by Roger Corman stalwart Dick Miller. Susan Sennett and Robbie Lee are both perky and playful as the avaricious daughters. Sadly, neither of them had much of a career after this.
There’s a fun scene where Skerritt and the girls are chased out of their love-making in an orange grove and Skerritt Tommy-guns the crap out of an orange tree. Director Robert Carver had the attention to detail to explode every single orange in the tree. Then Skerritt makes a pretty good throw and nails the “Stay out of the grove” sign with an orange. I wonder how many takes it took to hit the sign? It’s the small things like that amuse me.
THE BOTTOM LINE
This is a fun and sexy 1930s Crime Spree movie. There are dirty preachers, dirty cops, and dirty politicians. There are several amusing gunfights. Shatner is enjoyably oily and Skerritt can’t help but be scuzzy as the nation’s third or fourth best bank robber. Maybe fifth best. This movie is an enjoyable romp with a big, bloody shoot-out at the end. Angie Dickinson is terrific even in obvious Drive-in Movie material. The definitive scene has a completely naked Angie Dickinson taking her time getting her clothes on before the big shoot-out. She’s a bad-ass in control of every situation. If you’re a fan of Tommy guns, boobs, William Shatner, and bluegrass music, then this movie hits all of those points.