One of several dysfunctional-family-on-a-rampage flicks that producer Roger Corman cranked out in the wake of Bonnie and Clyde (1967), this amiably sloppy feature stars Cloris Leachman as Melba, a middle-aged widow circa the mid-’50s who gets kicked out of her home in Long Beach, California, after falling behind on bills. Together with her sexy teenaged daughter, Cheryl (Linda Purl), and her brassy mother, Sheba (Ann Sothern), Melba departs California for her hometown of Jerusalem, Arkansas. Almost by accident, the family becomes a criminal gang, beginning when they steal a car from their skinflint landlord (Jim Backus), and continuing with robberies at diners, gas stations, and so on. The gang soon expands to include Cheryl’s two boyfriends (one of whom is played by Happy Days redhead Don Most), plus Melba’s new lover, Jim Bob (Stuart Whitman), who just happens to be a (married) runaway sheriff. Like so many Corman pictures, Crazy Mama is a contrived jumble mixing together concepts from other movies, because the story is merely a loose framework for car chases, explosions, and the like. Therefore, notwithstanding Leachman’s participation—since her performance is an all-over-the-map mess—the sole reason Crazy Mama enjoys notoriety is that it’s an early work by director Jonathan Demme. Although Demme had not yet found his groove as a storyteller, his ability to get performers comfortable is plainly evident. Many scenes feel loose and unrehearsed, so even though the movie’s intentional jokes aren’t funny (“What’s the good of bein’ an outlaw if you look like an in-law?”), there’s an infectious party vibe from start to finish. Plus, by Corman standards, Crazy Mama is downright restrained: Purl manages to stay clothed except for a quick peekaboo shot, and Leachman, rocking a sexier body than you might imagine if you only know her from Mel Brooks comedies, reveals even less. So, if you want rednecks-on-the-run thrills without the usual corresponding seediness, Crazy Mama is the drive-in quickie for you.
Crazy Mama: FUNKY