Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Review #621: 'Black Mama, White Mama' (1973)

Going by the title alone, you would be forgiven if you mistook this passable exploitation flick as an entry into the blaxploitation genre. But Black Mama, White Mama combines two sub-genres from the grindhouse circuit - Women in Prison (WiP) and the Filipino action flick. No stranger to the ripe-for-exploiting and dirt-cheap Filipino wilderness, director Eddie Romero employs genre legend Pam Grier (although in 1973 she was only on the cusp of her 70's fame) as the titular black mama, Lee, and pretty, willowy blonde Margaret Markov (who would star with Grier the following year in The Arena) as the white mama, Karen.

The two have just landed in a women's prison in the Philippines. Lee has been locked up for working as a harem girl, and finds herself in debt to gangster Vic Cheng (Vic Diaz). Karen is a revolutionary, working for Che Guevara-lookalike Ernesto (Zaldy Zshornack), helping to overthrow the corrupt Filippino government. After some early problems with a sadistic lesbian warden and being locked naked (obviously) in a hot box, Lee and Karen manage to escape after their transportation is attacked by Karen's revolutionary friends. But army reinforcements headed by the desperate Captain Cruz (Eddie Garcia) intervene and Lee and Karen find themselves on foot shackled at the wrist. Cruz is forced to turn to notorious cowboy criminal Ruben (Sid Haig) for assistance in locating the convicts, but Cheng's men are never far behind.

If it sounds like there's a lot of going on here, that's because there kinda is. About half-way through, the film shifts focus to these three quarrelling groups and away from the sexy action of Grier and Markov. So it becomes a hail of paint-red blood and crappy explosions, rather than the mildly entertaining lesbian and shower scenes of the opening portion, and it's only when Sid Haig shows up that the film is given any character to get on board with (even though he's a bastard). Grier is always good value however, and although she was never the greatest actress - despite her impressive turn in Jackie Brown (1997) - she has a real charisma that led to her become the queen of blaxploitation with films such as Coffy (later the same year) and Foxy Brown (1974). Pretty dull stuff overall, but exploitation fans should certainly give it a go, if not for the opening 20 minutes alone. 

Directed by: Eddie Romero
Country: USA/Philippines

Rating: **

Tom Gillespie

Black Mama, White Mama (1973) on IMDb

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