BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA (1973)
‘CHICKS IN CHAINS…WHERE THEY COME FROM, THIS IS FUN!’
Where I come from, this is…not.
BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA is another of the Blaxploitation Women in Prison movies set in Filipino locations, as used to dismal effect by Jack Hill in 1971’s THE BIG BIRD CAGE. Here, the difference is that two of the ladies, a feuding inter-racial pair (Pam Grier and Margaret Markov) escape, chained together like Poitier and Curtis in THE DEFIANT ONES.
The drastic bid for freedom is understandable as the Women’s Rehabilitation Centre they were newly-incarcerated in features a butch female guard, Densmore (Lynn Borden) who from the opening establishes herself as in favour of intimate relations as part of prisoner ‘socialisation’. (She enjoys herself peeping on the showering newbies through a secret glory-hole). She’s also psychotic, slapping Grier with a black leather glove when her advances are rejected.
Lee and Karen (Grier and Makov) are a strikingly different pair physically and temperamentally and initially fight, causing them to be imprisoned for punishment standing up close together in an unbearably hot outside chamber called the Oven. We’ve already established their disparate backgrounds beforehand, helpfully exposited by being told: “A terrorist and a hooker. You two should have a lot to talk about”. Its side-effect is to allow the audience more gratuitous boob shots. (Hey, this is an AIP studio release after all).
The two troublemakers are scheduled for transfer to a maximum security prison, but are freed in a shootout by revolutionary comrades of Karen led by a low-rent Che Guavara, Ernesto (Zaldy Zschornak). They make a break for it cross-country, at one point briefly posing unconvincingly as nuns.
It turns out Lee had hidden away $40,000 belonging to her former pimp and dealer Vic Cheng (Vic Diaz), who is also a rival of the cops, and with the aid of genre regular Sid Haig as the Stetsoned Ruben, it seems everyone wants a piece of the ladies. Haig at least has the benefit of some pleasure at the hands of the two daughters of one of his associates, and manages to humiliate the pursuing cops by threatening to shoot off their ‘old chaps’ before he is blown away in gunplay with the revolutionaries. In the ensuing blood-bath Karen dies as Lee flees, leaving only the cops to ruminate on the insanity of a career in crime-fighting.
Roger Corman’s AIP gave many film-makers a start in the business. Film director Jonathan Demme co-wrote the story for this trashy, haphazard grindhouse filler and the director Eddie Romero had made many films within the genre in the Philippines such as THE MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND.
If you want a women’s prison drama with characters and quality, go to Netflix’s series ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK.
Watch BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA and you’ll soon be asking for yours…