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Big Bad Mama: Special Edition

"Keep your legs together Billy Jean, and shut up. I'll tell you when to get married." With those words of hillbilly wisdom to her teenage daughter (Susan Sennett), gorgeous, feisty widow Wilma McClatchie (Angie Dickinson) heads off to the wedding of her younger daughter, Polly (Robbie Lee). Angry and wanting more for her daughter than marriage to a dirt-poor yahoo, Wilma disrupts the proceedings and hits the road with her girls, headed for "anywhere but East Texas." After that extremely efficient opening five minutes, the Roger Corman-produced Big Bad Mama (1974) becomes a rollicking caper comedy when the moonshiner who helps them vamoose gets shot by federal agents and Wilma takes over his route. After a corrupt sheriff swipes all their earnings, Wilma and the girls head for California, trying to earn an honest buck as they go. But after Polly and Billy Jean sneak off to earn a little money stripping for a horny, drunken veterans group, Wilma pulls out a gun and robs the vets, kicking off a cross-country crime spree that involves a swindling preacher, a machine-gun-toting bank robber (Tom Skeritt), a dapper gambler (William Shatner, with a bad Southern accent and a Panama hat), and a complex rivalry between the two men, Mama, and the precocious Billie Jean. In classic Corman style, the movie is fast-paced, violent, and offers a wealth of car chases and nudity (including more of Bill Shatner than you ever wanted to see). It's also profane and just plain laugh-out-loud funny, in the way that R-rated movies could be way back in the Dark Ages of the 1970s — charged with keeping an eye on a comely kidnap victim, Skeritt cops a feel, explaining to the girl that "I just never felt the titties of a millionaire before." Dickinson is marvelous, and the film's loaded with familiar faces from movies and television, testament to just how many actors got their start working for Corman. Buena Vista's special edition DVD release of Big Bad Mama, part of the "Roger Corman: Early Films" collection, offers a color rich, sharp and bright full-screen transfer (1.33:1) that's mostly very clean, with a few scenes showing wear, dust, or scratches. Corman and Dickinson offer a commentary track, while "Mama Knows Best: A Retrospective" features Corman, Dickinson, and the writers discussing the making of the film (14 min.). Theatrical trailer, keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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