Thursday, August 18, 2016
Big Bad Mama
The TCM Summer Under the Stars Blogathon is a month-long event corresponding with the Turner Classic Movies annual presentation, in which each day in August is devoted to the films of a different classic film star. The blogathon is hosted by Journeys in Classic Film. For a complete list of participating blogs, visit the host site.
Big Bad Mama
I was way too young to know who Angie Dickinson was during her heyday - the 60s and 70s. All I knew for a long time was, she was a sexy siren in a vein similar to Raquel Welch, Pam Grier and Brigitte Bardot.
Looking over Dickinson's IMDB page, I didn't realize how far back her career goes - all the way to 1954! She did a whole lot of early television, appearing in a variety of anthologies and Westerns - sometimes credited, sometimes not - as well as films. Then, in 1959-60, her career took off when she starred in two big hits: Howard Hawks' Western Rio Bravo, with John Wayne, and the Rat Pack extravaganza Ocean's 11.
Dickinson would alternate between the big (Point Blank, Pretty Maids All In a Row, Dressed to Kill) and small (Dr. Kildare, Cassie and Co., Wild Palms) screens throughout her career. The one TV show she's remembered most for, though, is the 70s cop thriller Police Woman. It was the first primetime, hour-long drama with a female lead. It came during the rise of the women's lib movement, and it led to more ladies choosing to become cops.
Dickinson, however, never saw her career as groundbreaking. In a 2011 interview with AARP, she said, "I never felt the need for feminism... I never felt competition with men, which I really believe started the movement.... When I was up for a role, I didn't compete with a man; it was for a role as a woman."
And yet some of Dickinson's parts do reflect the slowly-changing beliefs in what a woman could do in a movie at the time. In her 1974 film Big Bad Mama, a Roger Corman-produced Bonnie and Clyde knock-off, she is put front and center in a unique role: leader of a bank-robbing gang in the 30s.
Yes, she gets totally naked and has hot sex with William Shatner and Tom Skeritt, but she's also busting caps in suckas with a tommy gun! The added presence of her character's two daughters (who also get naked) and a clearly defined goal to chase - escape from poverty - gives this film a pre-Thelma and Louise female empowerment vibe, in a time when that concept was beginning to take root in the public consciousness. Mama doesn't tread any new ground but it's entertaining to watch.