In his autobiography Up Till Now—well, one of his many autobiographies, that is—the incomparable William Shatner derides this Roger Corman-produced action flick as Big Bad Movie, which isn’t fair. Sure, Big Bad Mama is yet another Corman rip-off of Bonnie and Clyde (1967), but it’s a hoot. Campy, funny, sexy, and violent, the picture has just about everything you might want from a silly drive-in flick. Set in the Depression era, the story follows tough Texan Wilma McClatchie (Angie Dickinson), who’s having trouble paying the bills with her small-scale bootlegging operation. When she meets a charismatic bank robber, Fred Diller (Tom Skerritt), she embarks on a new career as a machine-gun-toting thief, abetted not only by Fred but also by her two sexy daughters and, eventually, by dandy-ish con man William J. Baxter (Shatner).
The plot meanders because too many characters are involved, and it’s odd that Wilma’s the lead character but not actually the leader of her gang, but this sort of picture is all about creating a badass vibe and presenting exciting events. Wilma gets to spout power-to-the-people propaganda while she’s robbing wealthy people—yes, this is one of those soft-edged crime pictures in which the heroine just wants to make enough money to care for her family—and the movie offers a steady stream of sex scenes and shootouts.
Regarding those sex scenes, one of the reasons Big Bad Mama has enjoyed a long life on home video is that Dickinson appears in the altogether during a pair of scenes, including a yowza full-frontal reveal. Since Big Bad Mama was released the same year Dickinson’s TV series Police Woman debuted, the movie captures her beauty at just the moment she enjoyed her greatest notoriety. Corman has speculated that Dickinson did the risqué scenes because she had reached her early 40s and wanted to prove she was still sexy, a classic Corman justification for exploiting an actress if ever there was one.
As to why Shatner considers the movie a stinker, one can only speculate that he didn’t like getting upstaged by Dickinson’s body or that he didn’t like playing a ridiculous coward of a character. In any event, Corman and his cheerful accomplices, including reliable B-movie helmer Steve Carver, deliver the goods in Big Bad Mama, but not gracefully—the story sputters through awkward rhythms even as the screen fills with vivid vignettes. FYI, Dickinson reprised her Wilma McLatchie role in the poorly received sequel Big Bad Mama II (1987), also produced by Corman but helmed by sleaze-cinema hack Jim Wynorski instead of original director Carver.
Big Bad Mama: FUNKY