The Action Mutant…
shudders if there’s a sexual education film of the same title.
review by Joe Burrows
I don’t usually shill a movie on here & definitely don’t do so before its premiere but the exception is this case. Simply put…go see The Wrestler. I was jazzed when I first heard about the project, being the grapple aficionado that I am. Hearing that Nicholas Cage was supposed to be the lead caused a few lumps in the throat, as I could only imagine the manic promos (interviews) he would have conjured up while in character (“HI-FUCKING-YA to YOU, Mr. Fuji!”). When Cage dropped out & Mickey Rourke took over, my heart grew three sizes immediately. In reading about the storyline for the film & the cementing of Rourke’s involvement, I could just feel this was going to be something special. Out of all of the past Hollywood tough guys out there, which one conveys “beaten down, husk of a former giant” better than Mickey Rourke? As the release draws near (goes wide January 16th), I’m smiling on the inside at the fact that I will see a film that actually takes the subject of pro wrestling seriously for a change. Because lets face it, for every Beyond the Mat there are five of Ready to Rumble or No Holds Barred. Also, WWE head Vince McMahon got a special screening of the film recently and (shockingly) hated what he saw. Considering what’s happened the past few years, I’d be thankful someone wasn’t making a movie about Chris Benoit right about now if I was “Vinnie Mac”. Anyway, go out and see this on the 16th & check out this TAM friend if you’re a Mickey Rourke fan (or about to become one after you see…THE WRESTLER!).
The Plot, as it was:
Shelley Winters (The Poseidon Adventure) stars as “Ma” Barker, the verbose mother of a gang of bank robbing sons during the Depression era. Ma’s oedipal hold has produced an eclectic menagerie of sons, including gun happy Herman (Don Stroud), quiet Arthur (Clint Kimbrough), drugged out Lloyd (Robert DeNiro) and masochistic homosexual Fred (Robert Walden). The matriarch is content with the family robbing banks to carve out a living (as well as conveniently timed sing-a-longs) but they all end up on the run after a few innocents are murdered under Ma’s orders. As authorities close in, Ma’s “boys” begin to realize that their mother doesn’t really know best (Ed note: I know it’s supposed to be “Father Knows Best”. Just go with me, here!).
Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Those expecting a low budget gorefest in the grand Grindhouse tradition may be somewhat disappointed with the results of Bloody Mama (based on the true story of the Barker clan, to which the movie is mostly faithful to the source). Directed & produced by B movie impresario Roger Corman, BM shoots to be a bit more ambitious than the base instincts of the genre. The main focus of the film is how the sons progress from one crazy, (usually) murderous situation to the next, usually at the prompting of Ma & their slow descent into certain doom. There’s nothing wrong with this sort of build & the cast representing Barker’s brood displays their characters well (with an indication of the future to come in DeNiro’s oddball portrayal). Of course, these subtler, character based elements conflict with the movie’s flow & the result is something that is rarely seen in a Corman flick: it slows up! It actually seems longer than its 90 minute run time & there are actually times where the viewer looks for something to happen, only to be greeted by one of Ma Barker’s domineering song sessions. The exploitive nature that’s usually a given in Corman productions is curbed somewhat here & when it does show up, it only make things more uneven. However, it’s easy to get distracted by all of this whenever Winters’ Ma Barker is on screen. “Barker” ends up to be a very appropriate character name as Shelley literally barks, snarls, spits and eschews scenery with every motion. It takes immeasurable bravado to overshadow both yeomen’s work by Pat Hingle (as a businessman the Barkers kidnap) and Bruce Dern’s usual eccentric self (as Fred’s menacing boyfriend) but Winters does it. Her freaking out in the final moments is the perfect capper & carries the movie out on a high note. Without it, Bloody Mama is only intermittently interesting & alternates between audacity and waiting.
Body Count/Violence: 16. Despite its title, Bloody Mama doesn’t live up to the former half of its moniker until the last ten minutes of the film. Here, the Barkers & the police shoot it out with each other with grand abandon (and a live audience!), resulting in several bloody bullet hits (including Tommy gun fire to someone’s face & the brief, yet nasty aftermath). Before that, there is more shooting, fighting, a car chase that results in an explosion, drowning, drug use & an old woman being thrown from a moving car!
Sexuality/Nudity: Diane Varsi (as Herman’s girl Mona) shows her breasts in a bedroom scene & a woman shows her curvy backside while running from the Barkers after a backwoods tryst. Pamela Dunlap is shown in a suggestively cut up swimsuit & three old broads are left in the woods in their bloomers and topless (stop vomiting; they have arms over them the whole time). I’m sure Corman had to be chuckling at that one a little.
Language/Dialogue: Mild for the most part, with Ma having an affinity to calling cops “sons of bitches”.
How bad was it?:
Though the reviews were mixed (and expectedly so), opinions skewed more wildly than most Corman efforts. Some critics deemed it as straight exploitation while others praised it for its attempt at looking at the Barkers in a psychological manner. There was even some citing back to the film it’s obviously compared to (Bonnie & Clyde), saying that the violence & lifestyle wasn’t as glamorized as it was in B&C. And when you think glamorous, you think Shelley Winters (c-mon, did you really think I’d get through the whole review without even the slightest of shots at ol’ Shelley Win? I kid, I kid.).
Did it make the studio’s day?:
Being an American International release & produced by the “King of the Bs”, it would be fair to presume that Bloody Mama was a financial success, even without the budget or box office gross figures to back it up. It was released in America on 3/24/70.
Entertainment value: ***/*****
Copyright 2009 The Action Mutant.