Some performers just were born for action movies; what adds to the fun is how unexpected some of these performers are. Few would have anticipated the mild-mannered Liam Neeson becoming a potential action here, but he’s had great success at getting his Charles Bronson on. Someone you’d never expect to see taking on cops and crims alike with manic abandon is Cloris Leachman, the eternally popular comedienne who played Phyllis Lindstorm in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and went on to her own spin-off, Phyllis. Are you ready to see Cloris Leachman kicking ass and taking names a la John Wick? Rest assured, 1975’s Crazy Mama is ready to show you exactly what it might look like…
Back in the 70’s exploitation movies were fast, often funny, and a disreputable side-show to the main attractions provided by studios; Roger Corman has a substantial hit with Angie Dickinson in 1970’s Bloody Mama, and obviously fancied more of the same with a similar Bonnie and Clyde vibe. So Corman hired up-and-comer Jonathan Demme at short notice for Crazy Mama, and brought in Leachman as talent; she’d just won an Oscar for The Last Picture Show, but was clearly up for changing the public view of who she was. Long beaech beauty-salon owner Melba Stokes (Leachman) falls foul of the corrupt lawmakers in California circa 1958, and takes off with her mother (Ann Sothern) and pregnant daughter (Linda Purl) for a crime-spree that takes no prisoners…
Demme was following up on his women-busting-out-of-prison schlocker Caged Heat in 1974, but seems to have been allowed some lee-way to reduce the requisite T and A content and add in the kind of corn-poke humour and surprising social satire that made many of Corman’s films strikingly on-the-money. There’s also a wild supporting cast to savour, with cameos from John Milius and Dick Miller, of course, but also early appearances from icons Dennis Quaid and Bill Paxton.
‘I think I’m gonna start smokin’ a cigar, you know, change my image. What’s so good about being an outlaw when you look like an in-law?’ is just one of a number of quotable lines here; Crazy Mama is a crazy film alright, but it’s also rare in that is presents women as active protagonists, wronged by men and getting their own back, decades before Thelma and Louise were ever thought of. Freed from the yoke of servicing the male gaze, Demme crafts a swift, fleet of foot action melodrama with a strong female lead. Out for the first time on blu-ray in the UK, Crazy Mama is a neglected classic of the exploitation genre, and one to treasure for cinephiles and Cloris Leachman action fans globally.
- Commentary with director Jonathan Demme and Roger Corman
- Interview with Jonathan Demme and Roger Corman
- Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots
Crazy Mama is out now on blu-ray in the UK. Thanks to 101 Films for access.