Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Roger Corman|
|Produced by||Roger Corman
Samuel Z. Arkoff (executive producer)
James H. Nicholson (executive producer)
|Written by||Don Peters
Robert De Niro
|Music by||Don Randi|
|Cinematography||John A. Alonzo|
|Edited by||Eve Newman|
|American International Pictures (AIP)|
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
|Running time||90 min.|
|Box office||$1,542,000 (US/ Canada rentals)|
Bloody Mama is a 1970 American low-budget drama film directed by Roger Corman and starring Shelley Winters in the title role. It was very loosely based on the real story of Ma Barker, who is depicted as a corrupt mother who encourages and organizes her children's criminality; in reality, Ma Barker's involvement in criminality was fairly limited. The film features an early appearance by a young Robert De Niro as Lloyd Barker.
The film starts as young Kate Barker (Lisa Jill) is brutalized by her father and older brothers, who rape her. Skipping forward 35 years, the middle-aged Kate 'Ma' Barker (Shelley Winters) now brutalizes innocent people herself, while indulging her monstrous sexual appetites. She lives by robbing banks with her four sons; the pragmatic Arthur (Clint Kimbrough), the sadistic Herman (Don Stroud), the bisexual Fred (Robert Walden), and the loyal, drug-addicted Lloyd (Robert De Niro). It all begins in the late 1920s when Ma leaves her husband, George, and her Arkansas home and embarks on her own with her four sons on a robbery-murder spree to make her own fortune, while keeping them under a tight leash.
When Herman and Fred are arrested and imprisoned for petty theft charges, Ma takes over the group and leads Arthur and Lloyd on a bank robbery spree to gain enough money to get her sons out of jail. The gang is joined by a gunman named Kevin (patterned after gunman Alvin Karpis, played by Bruce Dern) who was Fred's cellmate during his incarceration and, it is strongly implied, his lover. The group is also joined by a local prostitute named Mona Gibson, whom Herman frequented before his imprisonment. The gang resorts to more violent action and robberies.
While hiding out at a cabin in Kentucky, Lloyd comes across a young woman swimming at a nearby lake whom he sexually assaults. Not wanting the woman to report them to the police, the Barkers hold her captive and Ma eventually kills her by drowning her, despite the protests of her sons.
Some time later, the gang arrives in Tennessee where they abduct a wealthy businessman named Sam Pendlebury (Pat Hingle) (based on kidnap victims William Hamm and Edward Bremer whom the Barker gang kidnapped in 1933 and 1934). Holding him for a $300,000 ransom, the sons, particularly Herman, bond with their captive whom they see as the sympathetic father figure they never had. When Herman and Mona go to collect the ransom, they are chased by a pair of FBI agents and barely escape. When they find that the ransom is only half of what they originally demanded, Ma orders her sons to kill Sam rather than let him go. But none of them can bring themselves to do it and they set him free, lying to Ma about killing him.
Next, the gang hides out in Florida Everglades where Lloyd soon dies from a heroin overdose and Mona leaves Herman and the gang after she reveals that she's pregnant and does not want to be around them anymore out of the safety for hers and Herman's unborn child. Her fears are justified when Herman and Kevin give away their hiding place a little later: a local handyman and caretaker named Moses (Scatman Crothers) witnesses them shooting an alligator out on a lake with a Tommy gun. Moses then calls the police and reports his suspicions.
At the climax, several FBI agents and local police arrive at the Barkers' farmhouse hideout and a huge shootout ensues between the authorities and the surviving members of the gang. Kevin, Fred, and Arthur are all killed. Herman commits suicide to prevent himself from being sent to prison again. Ma is the last one to fall.
- Shelley Winters as Kate "Ma" Barker
- Lisa Jill as Young Kate
- Bruce Dern as Kevin
- Don Stroud as Herman Barker
- Robert Walden as Fred Barker
- Alex Nicol as George Barker, (Kate's Husband)
- Robert De Niro as Lloyd Barker
- Pat Hingle as Sam Pendlebury
- Clint Kimbrough as Arthur Barker
- Diane Varsi as Mona Gibson
- Pamela Dunlap as Rembrandt
- Michael Fox as Dr. Roth
- Scatman Crothers as Moses
- Stacy Harris as Agent McClellan
- Lisa Linsky as Young Kate
- Steve Mitchell as Sheriff
- Roy Idom as Ferryboat Passenger
- Frank Snell as Federal Agent (uncredited)
AIP announced Don Peters was writing a script as early as 1967.
- "Big Rental Films of 1970", Variety, 6 January 1971 p 11
- Gary A. Smith, The American International Pictures Video Guide, McFarland 2009 p 30-31
- AFI's 10 Top 10 Ballot
- Roger Corman & Jim Jerome, How I Made a Hundred Movies in Hollywood and Never lost a Dime, Muller, 1990 p 162
- 'Continue' Role for Perkins Martin, Betty. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 11 Aug 1967: d18.