Black Mama, White Mama is the last of my staple of Women in Prison films. After previously watching and reviewing Women In Cages, The Big Bird Cage and Big Doll House, all starring Pam Grier. This is also her last prison-oriented film. The movie opens with the standard scene of a bus full of fresh inmates arriving. One of them is Pam, she’s frowning. I guess she felt she was sentenced to this kind of film forever. Well luckily for her a parole hearing came up really soon after this flick and Pam would go on to star in Coffy. The rest is history. But for now she still has the shackles on…
One of the quotes this movie has on the poster is “Chicks in chains” which is a term used by me in earlier reviews and is widely used for these kind of films. But for once this term actually makes sense. Normally the chains are very rarely used. So if there’s a mother of chicks-in-chains-films this one must definitely be it.
This movie is not a real women-in-prison-movie actually. Normally those movies consist of 70 minutes in jail, 15 minutes of escaping. In this movie, Lee Daniels (Pam Grier) and Karen Brent (Margaret Markov) are imprisoned for about 20 minutes before they run off in the jungle during an escape attempt. But they are wearing chains!
Actually that’s the whole gimmick of this film; Pam and Margaret (I’ll call her Marge from now on) are attached to each other and they don’t like one another the least. They even want to go a different direction. So you see this is a movie about two girls needing to overcome their differences. That is mostly done by catfights.
Before the escape the movie plays according to the women-in-prosen-rulebook. 4 minutes into the movie we get a showering scene lasting almost 3 minutes. In this scene we see several prisoners fooling around with each other and a female guard spying on them and getting off. That brings us to another rule: The lesbian guard or warden. Well she’s here! There’s a sweatbox on the perimeter. Of course there’s your basic food fight and the standard cat fight was already mentioned.
Apparently the script writers realised this too and put all this stuff in the first 20 minutes before springing the girls from prison.
Ok, so the girls escape from prison and start on their own personal quest together. Pam wants to reach the shore so she can sail away with a friend and $40.000,- she stole from a drug dealer (the gay guard from The Big Bird Cage). Marge wants to join her revolutionists friends because she must lead them to some guns or something like that. So these girls start somewhat of a roadtrip, on foot.
These girls go cross country by foot, bus, boat, truck and occasionally in disguise (as nuns!). In mean time they have to be smarter than the noses of tracking dogs and fight of men who hunting them for a bounty.
I had a bit of mixed feelings. Springing the girls so soon from prison definitely made the movie feel fresh and slightly original, but once out of prison all the elements you expect from a movie like this disappears expect for the violence, which consists of a lood of bright red, almost pink blood. The gratuitous nudity is (almost) gone, the sadistic guards and wardens are nowhere in sight. That’s kind of a shame really. For once I actually liked the warden.
Teaming up with Pam once more is Sid Haig. Still wearing his moustache from The Big Bird Cage. His role is less funny this time, but he once again is the strongest actor in the crowd. At least he knows what kind of material he’s dealing with.
Haig is the centerpiece of the more hilarious scenes in the movie. One a scene where two police officials have to undergo a dick-measuring-contest and a shoot-out. In this film the shootout play like scenes from the A-Team, only wioth blood and people actually die. It’s just that they die from a grenade that we see exploding metres away and then the guy decides to flip over or just stretch his arms when he’s already on the ground. I kept waiting for B.A. to turn up in his black van.
At the end of the movie Pam gets away with the money on a boat. Marge is dead trying to make sure she gets on that boat. So if you want the learn a lifelesson from this movie it is that it’s ok to steal money from a druglord, it’s not ok to become a revolutionist. That kind of life will get you killed. Now you remember that next time you’re on an intersection of your life and have to make a decision: steal the money.
Of course this movie isn’t very good. But it was never intended to be and compared to other entries in the genre it’s better, not a whole much, but it’s better. There are tons of comments that can be made about the quality of the movie, like the overacting of Pam or the strange editing which made it feel like in some cases there were frames missing so the movie skipped a bit in hundreds of seconds. Very weird. It’s actually fun to watch and has quite a uptempo pacing even if the shower scene in the beginning lasts too long. I sentence Balck Mama, White Mama to two and a half star for being guilty of being a bad movie but a better one in it’s genre.