Okay, it was Pam Grier‘s birthday last week and I only know this because I overheard some OG’s doing some paper bag stoop drinking talking about the lady today while I was out shopping. They were trying to recall the names of two movies she was in back before she became a bigger name star and you better believe yours truly stepped in to inform them HIT MAN and Black Mama, White Mama were the movies they were looking for.
I don’t think I’d seen a more grateful group of old guys since Prohibition ended and even better, when I told them both movies had been restored and can be bought online AND they both pop up on TCM on occasion, I ended up getting a free beer for that information. Yes, it was still sealed – I don’t do that passing around stuff with former total strangers. Unless it’s some Thunderbird or Night Train. That stuff can kill germs from 50 paces and tastes like someone put a heaping spoonful of sugar into a pint of paint thinner (yum!).
Anyway, I got back home, tossed the groceries I’d bought aside like Frank Cannon used to do on that old CBS show (much to the surprise of the groceries) and got to this review of Arrow Video’s chock full of fun Blu-Ray released a little while back. Black Mama, White Mama is an excellent exploitation flick with Grier and the still stunning Margaret Markov that takes the plot of The Defiant Ones, adds a dash of Caged!, and sets the whole shebang in the (literally and figuratively) steamy Philippines (doubling for a never-named Latin dictatorship of some sort). The results are a sexy, sassy potboiler/revenge flick complete with copious female nudity, sudden (but expected) violence, and the always entertaining Sid Haig in a colorful role as a really bad man.
Director Eddie Romero keeps things percolating from the outset as new inmates to the all-female jungle prison are processed (cue the obligatory shower scene and pervy warden getting her jollies via peephole), get a bit percolated (there’s a lot of weed in that women’s prison!), punchy (Catfight? Why, don’t mind if you do!) and probably a few other P-words. Anyway, Markov’s Karen Brent is a sort of revolutionary rebel chick with friends who want to bust her out of the joint and Grier’s always ticked off Lee Daniels is a hooker without a heart of gold who just so happens to end up chained to her when the big jailbreak happens. Freed by rebel pals of Brent, the two ladies do their best to not kill each other as way too many people who want them captured or dead descend on them from a few different angles.
There’s a fair amount of humor sprinkled throughout the film that lightens the mood considerably, such as the dynamic duo dressing up as nuns to avoid detection and a few scenes where prisoners at play briefly making one forget they’re supposed to be paying back their debt to society and not having what amounts to titillating tickle fights to kill time between dramatic moments. That said, the film does get a bit grim when it needs to get its point across that this isn’t sexy Gilligan’s Island or whatever else you might be thinking when the lady parts pop out. Nope, not at all. Between the men out to track and kill them and their own conflicts that escalate before subsiding into a sort of partnership, the level of tension between the two leads keeps the film bubbling until the very end. No spoilers here other than to say the finale is somewhat satisfying because it’s not a Hollywood ending, but one that makes a bit of sense (well, for a quickly made exploitation movie, that is).
As this is an Arrow Video release, you’re getting a nice set of special features that enhance that viewing experience. The archival interview with Eddie Romero is pretty interesting and amusing as the director discusses his career and brings up a few amusing tales about this and other movies he worked on. Sid Haig is here with yet another interview, this time on this film and others he made in the Philippines during the same period. He’s sort of Arrow’s go-to guy for a few of their Blu-Ray releases thanks to the actor appearing in so many “B” movies since the 60’s. There’s a fun commentary track by filmmaker Andrew Leavold (The Search for Weng Weng) that makes the film even more re-watchable, but the real star of this disc is Margaret Markov. She’s still a knockout and conveys her experiences in the business with relish, bringing up stories about shooting in the Filipino jungle, very large bugs (including one that bit her), and her happy marriage to Mark Damon, which got her out of film acting after 1974.
It’s too bad Grier isn’t represented here with an interview of some sort, as it’s a certainty that the best person to discuss her career would be the lady herself. One of these days I guess she’ll be nicely cornered to give up her extended take on an interesting life. In any event, the 2K restoration job is lovely here (as are the ladies), the extras are boss and overall, this one’s an excellent beginning to your Arrow library or a must-have addition if you’re already a fan and collector.