Shatnerthon #5: Big Bad Mama (1974)

big bad mama posterBig Bad Mama (1974) is an unabashed Bonnie and Clyde rip-off, stealing plot points and iconic moments from the 1967 film with abandon. It is also base exploitation; as in many Russ Meyer films, female character are strong and powerful, but they use sex as a vehicle to get what they need, which inevitably leads to a lot of female nudity that is less celebration than it is exploitation.

That’s not to say there isn’t male nudity in BBM, too. In fact, this is very likely the nudiest nude you will ever see William Shatner. And it’s very nude. No dangly bits are shown, but there was a moment there where I was sure we were going to see full tackle.

The plot, such as it is, involves Wilma and her two teen daughters — played by women in their early 20s, by the way, so don’t freak out — living in Paradise, Texas in 1932 and heading to the youngest daughter’s wedding. The girl is so young she’s still carrying dolls around, and the boy she is marrying truly is a boy. During the ceremony, Wilma stops the marriage and says it’s no life to have to live dirt poor with no other options. After a comedic banjo-themed scuffle in the church (the IMDb says Jerry Garcia played banjo for the film) she and her daughters go on the lam with a slick bootlegger known as Uncle Barney.

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Unfortunately, Uncle Barney is wanted by the cops, and is shot during their drive. Wilma gets the family away from the cops, goes back to Barney’s bootlegging business, and takes over deliveries. They make good bank, too, until one of her daughters is caught naked and in possession of delicious bootleg gin with the sheriff’s son. A large bribe later and the daughter is free. They’re poor again but Wilma has a plan, a plan that involves Uncle Barney’s gun.

Lest one forget this movie has its fair share of sexist exploitation, Wilma’s two weapons of choice are gun and purse. Yes, she swings her purse around and conks guys on the head with it a lot. It’s pretty irritating.

Wilma works as a waitress to make a little money but finds no one bothers to leave tips. Meanwhile, her daughters sneak off to make money stripping at the local VFW stag night. Interestingly, Travis Mackenzie Hoover at Film Freak Central believes that Wilma thinks her daughters are good girls, that they truly were coerced into stripping by vets at the men’s smoker. I have to disagree, mainly because Wilma is right there watching when her daughters act “bad” most of the time. She does not, however, think bank robbing and sex necessarily make her girls bad, and I think that’s the distinction here.

While Wilma is trying to cash a fake check, bank robber Fred Diller (Tom Skerritt) and his gang bust in and rob the place. While the cops and robbers shoot it out, Wilma takes some of the cash and leaves, but Fred escapes and hops in the car with the women. Wilma and Fred team up as lovers and partners in crime, making her daughter Billy Jean jealous.

big bad mama

Soon, at a racetrack, Wilma meets up with suave scam artist Bill Baxter (William Shatner, who doesn’t even show up until 45 minutes into the film). He’s cultured and obviously accustomed to a good life, but has no money of his own, earning it through racing and gambling scams. Wilma, who didn’t want just money but a way into society, is immediately attracted. She latches on to Bill while Fred stands by, jealous and aghast. They all share a house, so Fred is even less amused when Wilma and Bill sleep together almost immediately after meeting.

Billy Jean (Susan Sennett) makes her move and grabs Fred for herself, which he initially seems reluctant to do, but he’s an idiot who humps anything, so he was never that reluctant. A few days later they invite the youngest sister Polly (Robbie Lee) into their bedroom escapades because “she’s lonely.” After Polly gets shot in the arm during a heist of an oil company, everyone finds out she’s pregnant with Fred’s child.

Fred is a pretty dim guy, kind of reckless, never thinking things through, and I found him entirely unlikeable. While Wilma obviously enjoyed being with Bill, I think we’re supposed to believe Fred is her real passion while Bill is a man she can make more money with. Bill, however, doesn’t like the violent route their crime spree takes them on. He’s more of an urbane con man than a bank robber and he urges Wilma to stick with him for safer ways to make money. With a pregnant daughter who just got shot, you’d think Wilma would take him up on the offer, but inexplicably she does not.

big bad mama

Her attraction is to the strength of the men, and while Fred is a big damn waste of time who screws everything up, he’s stronger than Bill. And she doesn’t respect Bill, either, never calling him by his first name and never showing him affection. I just can’t with Fred, really, he’s a complete tool and, while Bill is not an optimal partner, Fred is so hopeless that I can’t see why Wilma would stick with him. Especially after the confrontation on the beach after finding out Polly is pregnant. Wilma justifiably slaps the hell out of Fred after he shrugs about getting Polly pregnant and insults Bill out of petty jealousy.

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Bill sits by, drunk and ineffectual, and while that attitude is supposed to be the reason Wilma doesn’t like him, it also seemed like Bill was the victim of an unconscious bait and switch. He’s sold on the idea of working with Wilma for scams but is immediately thrown into armed robbery instead, and then finds himself in a gang where a violent and jealous Fred pulls a gun on him for almost no reason. Leaving would be dangerous, plus he genuinely cares for Wilma. The character barely works as it is because he’s essentially victimized by the anti-hero leads, so he’s not seen as pathetic but as sympathetic because of his circumstances, which I don’t think the filmmakers intended. If Shatner hadn’t played Bill Baxter with some comedic pathos, it just would not have worked at all.

When Polly gets pregnant, everything breaks down: Fred gets flustered, Bill starts drinking, and Wilma gets the insane idea of crashing a high society party and kidnapping the rich spoiled daughter of an oil tycoon.

big bad mama
When I screencapped this, I realized that the party goer on the right was Paul Bartel. “Holy shit, that’s Paul Bartel,” I said to myself. Actual quote.

So the rich girl gets kidnapped. While Wilma and the girls are out at a pay phone making the ransom call, Fred and Bill get into a fight. The tense situation is diffused, but Bill refuses to help with this kidnapping scheme, so Fred goes to check on the rich girl. She seduces Fred (which takes like no effort, of course) and escapes by kicking him in the nuts. Bill had been watching and could have stopped her but he doesn’t, so when she takes off, he does as well. They re-capture the girl but Bill doesn’t return… until later, during the exciting conclusion that I will not spoil for you.

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Big Bad Mama is available on a special edition DVD which, if reviews are any indication, has the same color problems as the TCM copy I saw, and which is in fullscreen instead of widescreen. Lots of scenes are cut off because of this, and since the DVD is out of print and selling for $17+ on Le Interhole, I’m uncertain that it’s worth it. Which isn’t to say I didn’t like the movie because I did, I honestly enjoyed it, but I am only capable of loving movies that are 100% Tom Skerritt free.

** Note: Today is the last day for submissions! I will be posting the Shatnerthonians list later this evening so you have a few hours left.

big bad mama lobby card

14 Comments

  1. Fresca says:

    Your wonderful reviews inspire me to arrange a Shatner film fest (probably just for myself, as I doubt I can rope anyone I know into watching them).

    “Big Bad” I will start watching this 45 minutes in, when Bill appears.

  2. When I screencapped this, I realized that the party goer on the right was Paul Bartel. “Holy shit, that’s Paul Bartel,” I said to myself. Actual quote.

    I said precisely the same thing when I saw your screen cap…well, except for the “holy shit” part. And it was actually more like “That guy looks like Paul Bartel…”

    I had planned to record this off TCM but I think it was on during my lovely hospital stay so I missed out on the opportunity. I see where it will reappear on the Underground in the future, so I must make an effort to capture it in all its Angie/Shat glory.

  3. Stacia says:

    Fresca, I share your pain in trying to get people to watch movies with me. Everyone’s eyes glaze over if I say I’m watching a movie that’s more than 2-3 years old. Film fests for yourself are the best kind, though, because it means the popcorn and jujubees are all yours.

    Ivan, I think you’ll like BBM, so I definitely recommend trying to catch it on Underground. I just realized that the DVD release has an interview/commentary with Dickenson, Shatner, and Corman (maybe others) so that might be worth checking out.

  4. dfordoom says:

    I can’t get anyone to watch these sorts of movies with me either. It’s very depressing. I can’t find anyone in real life who likes any of the movies I like.

    Big Bad Moma sounds like a must-see. William Shatner and Angie Dickinson!

  5. Stacia says:

    William Shatner and Angie Dickenson having HOT NAKED SEX. There is nothing about that sentence I do not like.

  6. Judy says:

    What’s with all the Flintstones references in this film? I spotted Fred, Wilma and Barney in your review, but no Betty! Enjoyed your review a lot.

  7. Stacia says:

    Gasp! I never caught that! You’re right, and I have no idea what that is about.

  8. dfordoom says:

    “William Shatner and Angie Dickenson having HOT NAKED SEX.”

    OK, call me shallow, but I’m buying this one right now!

  9. Stacia says:

    It’s not shallow. Dickinson is beautiful and is really great in this, sex scenes and all.

  10. Kris says:

    I thought this was one of the worse movies I’ve sat through for Shatner, though better than The Devil’s Rain–by which I mean “more enjoyable.” And that is only because of the strange, probably unintentional sympathy he wrests from the part, something we don’t see him do often. His wordless, hapless expressions during the beach confrontation are pretty much the best thing about it.

  11. Stacia says:

    I think a lot of people dislike “Big Bad Mama” if online reviews and ratings are any indication, so you’re not alone. B movies may be an acquired taste or, at least, an esoteric hobby, and this movie does have flaws. The big one is that it just plain steals from other movies instead of taking the same things and doing its own take with them.

  12. Eric Knight says:

    Sorry, I can NOT RECOMMEND this movie. There are explicit sex scenes with the UNDERAGE DAUGHTERS in a threesome. Unless they edit it out, it is borderline, if not a breach of the border, child pornography.

  13. Stacia says:

    Eric, your reply here is essentially spam since you’re trying to promote your “sex offender” business. But I’m going to keep your comment here because I think it’s helpful to have this available where search engines will find it, because it’s super interesting that a guy would go around the ‘net lying about child porn in an effort to drum up business.

    And yes, I said lying because it is flat-out lying to say Big Bad Mama is child porn. The actresses who play the daughters are 22 and 20 years old. The characters are shown at the very beginning as being well within the legal marrying age — they are not in any way underage, and they are not children.

    Go peddle your bullshit elsewhere.

  14. Stacia says:

    In doing a little investigating, I found out that Eric Knight’s “SOSEN” organization apparently outwardly pretends to try to “educate” people about sex offenders, but their main goal is to get rid of the sex offender registry. Here are some interesting links:

    http://evil-unveiled.com/SOSEN

    http://waspohio.blogspot.com/2008/03/what-is-sosen.html

    Our little Eric Knight here spends a lot of time complaining about how horrible the sex offender registry is:

    http://tucsoncitizen.com/wildcatreport/2011/10/21/streaker-at-arizona-wildcats-game-faces-a-maximum-of-1-12-years-in-jail/

    Here’s Eric telling a woman who was upset a sex offender moved into her neighborhood that she’s just paranoid because society is misguided:

    http://www.unplannedcooking.com/2010/04/a-sex-offender-moves-in-and-i-make-bread/

    And here he is stating a 17 year old recipient of sexts wasn’t really a victim at all:

    http://blogs.babble.com/babble-voices/home-work/2011/06/15/my-totally-unsolicited-advice-for-huma-abedin/

    So why is he here saying Big Bad Mama is child porn? Because he wants attention. Because he has spent over a year going around the web posting ridiculous things as though he were some kind of expert and SOSEN was some sort of legit organization. He’s not, it isn’t, and he’s a toad.

    I won’t delete his comment because, like I said, I think this behavior needs to be easily available via a net search. But any more comments from Eric or that SOSEN group will not be approved on this blog.

Comments are closed.