Release Date(s)1973 (March 22, 2016)
Studio(s)American International Pictures/Orion Pictures/MGM (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C+
Black Mama, White Mama is one of the many movies released by American International Pictures during the 1970’s that was shot on location in the Philippines. Released in 1973, the movie was co-written by a young Jonathan Demme and was directed by Eddie Romero, who also made Savage Sisters and Beast of the Yellow Night. The story itself is fairly straightforward: a group of women are brought to a hellish prison on an unnamed “island.” There, they are at the mercy of their captors, whom are all mostly women with grudges, as well as hidden desires. After not getting along initially, two of the captive women (Pam Grier and Margaret Markov) are transferred to another prison. Once they fall under heavy gunfire during the transfer, they escape, shackled to one another and on the run for their lives. Hot on their tales are two opposing rebel forces, as well as a local gang lead by a sleazy man for hire (Sid Haig).
Chances are pretty good that if you’ve seen at least one of Roger Corman’s Filipino movies, then you know exactly what you’re in for with Black Mama, White Mama: plenty of sleaze, excessive nudity, horrible male characters, paper-thin plots, questionable performances, and lots of cheesy dialogue. However, what makes this movie a little more distinct from something like The Big Doll House is that it’s actually inspired by something mainstream, chiefly The Defiant Ones. Roger Corman is notorious for aping certain movies formulas for his productions, mostly in the sci-fi and horror realms, but this movie tends to outshine its counterparts in certain areas. Outside of the exploitative elements, it feels like it has a couple of set pieces and not just random events happening. There are even some shots that stand out, showing that director Eddie Romero sometimes had a genuine knack for composition. It’s also refreshing to see two women being strong in one of these movies, being able to handle themselves when they need to, but still feeling like characters with more to them than what’s on the surface.
Pam Grier and Margaret Markov were already familiar with working in the Philippines, as they had previously made the Women in Cages movies, as well as The Hot Box. Black Mama, White Mama was also right on the cusp of Pam Grier’s stardom as a badass leading lady of the blaxploitation genre. According to Sid Haig, she wasn’t much more than a receptionist when he originally met her. Grier and Haig would, of course, go on to make several Roger Corman movies together, and reunite many years later in Jackie Brown. Interestingly, Black Mama, White Mama was championed by people like Quentin Tarantino, going so far as to sample pieces of the movie’s score by jazz musician Harry Betts for Kill Bill Volume 1.
With lines like “a terrorist and a hooker... you two should have lots to talk about”, exploitation fans are bound to enjoy Black Mama, White Mama. The movie doesn’t need much of an excuse to get women naked and do some pretty exploitative things to them, including shower scenes, torture scenes, and even mud wrestling, all of it completely (and unsurprisingly) gratuitous. Such is the nature of the exploitation beast. However, the movie has a little more to it than that.
Arrow Video’s Blu-ray Region A/B release of the movie features a transfer from a new 35mm interpositive element (as well as an original 35mm mono DME print master magazine for the audio). The result is a very clean, organic-looking presentation with an even grain structure from scene to scene. There’s a strong level of detail on display, with many of the outdoor scenes faring the best. The color palette features a lot of strong reds, blues, and greens, as well as some excellent skin tones. Black levels are also quite good, although they appear a tad too deep at times. Brightness and contrast levels are very pleasing and there’s been no attempt to digitally augment or enhance the footage. There’s also next to no major film artifacts on display. For the audio, you get a single English mono LPCM track. While it can obviously be a very narrow presentation that shows its age at times, it definitely suits the presentation. Dialogue is very clear and discernable, while sound effects have some nice heft to them. Score is also pretty decent, although a bit laid back in the mix at times. There’s some very light distortion on occasion, as well as some minor hiss. It’s a solid track when all is said and done. Note that there are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
For the extras, there’s an audio commentary with filmmaker Andrew Leavold; White Mama Unchained, an interview with Margaret Markov; Sid Haig’s Filipino Adventures, an interview with the actor; The Mad Director of Blood Island, a vintage interview with director Eddie Romero; the original theatrical trailer; a still gallery; a DVD copy of the movie; and a 20-page insert booklet with an essay on the film by Chris Poggiali and a reproduction of the original press book.
Black Mama, White Mama makes its Blu-ray debut via Arrow Video with an excellent transfer and some decent supplemental materials. It’s not one of the absolute best that the era has to offer, but there’s plenty of entertainment to be found within. Fans of Roger Corman’s output will definitely want to check it out.
- Tim Salmons