Last week I complained that the new release of an old Pam Grier exploitation film, Sheba, Baby forgot to actually exploit anybody. Well, this week’s release of Black Mama, White Mama remedies all that. And how! Within the first five minutes half the cast has stripped down naked for an extended, soapy shower scene while the prison guard peeps through a small hole Porky’s style and pleasures herself. From there we get scantily clad cat fights, attempted rapes, machine-gun battles, nun attacks, loads of naked breasts and more dick jokes than any one man can handle.
Now that’s how you do exploitation!
That’s also how you make a film that's very difficult for the modern film reviewer to properly critique. I consider myself something of a progressive - I’m for feminism, against racism, homophobia, etc., and so on. When that part of my brain watches something so exploitative - so full of sexism, racism, and gratuitous nudity and violence - then I’m offended. When your plot makes as little sense as Black Mama, White Mama does and when your script, direction, and general acting is as sub par as it is here, then I want to rip of my critical hat and scream.
That’s probably a good idea, actually, ripping off my critical hat I mean. This is not a film designed to appeal to critics. Or the modern, progressive man for that matter. That’s the thing though, when I stopped thinking about all the offensive things going on in the film, and just let it wash over me, I had a whole lot of fun. This film is utterly ridiculous, and distasteful in just about every conceivable way, and I loved every minute of it.
Our story finds Pam Grier playing a tough prostitute who has been stealing from her drug-dealing pimp, which lands her in prison. Margaret Markov plays Karen Brent, the beautiful revolutionary (because there’s always a beautiful revolutionary in this type of thing) who is also in prison. The two immediately start fighting due to the attentions of the lesbian guard (because there is always a lesbian guard in this type of thing).
The warden throws them in the hot-box where they get in some good sweaty naked time before chaining them together and putting them on the bus to the city jail. Karen’s revolutionary pals attack the bus but are pushed back by police before they can rescue Karen. Instead, our two jailbirds go on the run chained together like some cheap knock-off version of The Defiant Ones, albeit with a lot more naked breasts.
The girls, wearing standard-issued yellow miniskirts (because the girls always wear the tiniest of clothing in this sort of thing) wrestle for awhile before deciding maybe it's best they take off before getting caught again. The rest of the movie finds our gals running from the police, from the pimp who wants his money back, and from the bounty hunters the cops hire to help out - led by Sid Haig (because Sid Haig is always in this sort of thing). They beat up some nuns, stab a would-be rapist in the gut, set fire to a house, and put their panties around a mutt’s neck to throw off the hounds (because they always put their panties around a - no wait, that one's new).
The girls learn to work together and eventually become friends. They meet-up with Karen’s revolutionary pals and make their way to freedom before the final explosive, and bloody, battle between everybody. It's all pretty standard stuff for this type of thing, but it delivers exactly what you want from a women in prison flick circa 1972.
Pam Grier is as sassy, tough, and dynamite as you want her to be while Margaret Markov holds her own. Sid Haig, is well he’s Sid Haig, same as he ever was, which is to say: awesome. The pace is fast, the nudity is rampant, the jokes are funny, and the action is explosive. What more could a guy want from his exploitation flick?
Arrow Video, as usual, does a bang-up job with this new release. The MPEG-HD 1080p 1.85:1 widescreen transfer looks brilliant. The colors are crisp and bright with a nice bit of depth coming out in the lengthy jungle scenes. Contrast is good and I didn’t see any glaring scratches or print damage, though there is the usual amount of grain. The split mono audio sounds good as well. There isn’t a lot of depth coming from the action sequences, but on this film’s budget, it wasn’t recorded to give that either. Overall, I’d say this film looks and sounds as good as it did when it first hit theaters.
Extras include a surprisingly lively audio commentary from Andrew Leavold, who makes up for his lack of production insight with passionate affection for the genre and film. There are a couple of new interviews with Markov and Haig where they discuss their careers and an old one with director Eddie Romero. Rounding things out are the film’s trailer and a number of posters.
If you are a modern critic who cringes every time he hears the word “exploitation,” then this film is not for you, but if you dig this sort of thing then Black Mama, White Mama has everything you’ll want.