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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|
|Distributed by||American International Pictures|
|Box office||$1,542,000 (US/ Canada rentals)|
152,310 admissions (France)
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. The film features an early appearance by a young Robert De Niro as Lloyd Barker.
Corman says the film is one of his favorites.
Young Kate Barker is brutalized by her father and older brothers, who rape her. Thirty-five years later, the middle-aged Kate 'Ma' Barker, now brutalizes innocent people herself, while indulging her monstrous sexual appetites. She lives by robbing banks with her four sons; the pragmatic Arthur, the sadistic Herman, the bisexual Fred, and the loyal, drug-addicted Lloyd. 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, Kevin Dirkman, who was Fred's cellmate during his incarceration (and his strongly implied lover). The group is also joined by a local prostitute, 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, Sam Pendlebury. 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 morphine 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 fear for the safety of her unborn child, which Herman fathered. Her fears are justified when Herman and Kevin give away their hiding place a little later. A local handyman and caretaker, Moses, witnesses them shooting an alligator out on a lake with a Tommy gun and calls the police to report 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.
The gunman named Kevin is patterned after the historical gunman Alvin Karpis. The wealthy businessman character of Sam Pendlebury is a combination of historical kidnap victims William Hamm and Edward Bremer whom the Barker gang kidnapped in 1933 and 1934 respectively.
Prior to playing Ma Barker in this film, Winters played "Ma Parker", a villain inspired by Barker, in the 1960s Batman TV series.
Howard Thompson of The New York Times wrote that "Miss Winters is plain wonderful" in the film, which although similar to Bonnie and Clyde in subject matter, "happens to be more honest and less pretentious, with no grudging admiration for criminal 'rebels.' What hoists the picture into real substance toward the home stretch is an eerie and fascinating by [sic] credible sequence with the Barker clan holding as captive a blindfolded millionaire, strongly played by Pat Hingle." Arthur D. Murphy of Variety wrote, "Corman's production has the naturalistic look sought, but the occasionally poor looping and uneven color and textural qualities add up to a liability. His direction is passive, unpretentious, unambitious and therefore nearly nonexistent." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film 1 star out of 4 and called it "92 minutes of sado-masochism, incest, satyrism and voyeurism woven into a disgraceful screenplay ... In fact, the whole treatment might be called embarrassed 'Bonnie and Clyde.'" Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times stated, "It is such a close if mocking tribute to a celebrated movie of a couple of years ago that it could be subtitled 'Mommie and Clyde.' It is a sleek, vile exercise ... Indeed, 'Bloody Mama' is a piece of pop art from which you emerge feeling depressed, degraded and diminished." Kenneth Turan of The Washington Post wrote, "Its lyrical pastel shades—even the blood blends deftly into the color scheme—show that infinite pains have been taken with the film's visual aspect, a Corman trademark. Unfortunately, another Corman trademark—atrocious acting—is well-represented here, making it hard to recommend the film to people who can hear as well as see."
The film was AIP's highest-grossing film of the year.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
The film was initially banned in the UK, France, and New Zealand, although these bans were subsequently lifted. Screenwriter Robert Thom's novelization of the film was also banned by New Zealand's Indecent Publications Tribunal in 1971, but 40 years later (in 2012) the ban was overturned by the Tribunal's successor, the Office of Film and Literature Classification.
- List of American films of 1970
- Ma Barker's Killer Brood (1960), an earlier highly-fictionalized account of the Barker-Karpis gang
- Big Bad Mama (1974), a later film by Roger Corman about a mother-turned-gangster
- Big Bad Mama II (1987), the sequel to the previous film, also by Corman
- "Big Rental Films of 1970". Variety. 6 January 1971. p. 11.
- Box office information for Roger Corman films in France at Box Office Story
- Gary A. Smith, The American International Pictures Video Guide, McFarland 2009 p 30-31
- 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.
- "Bloody Mama". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
- Thompson, Howard (May 7, 1970). "'Bloody Mama,' Gangster Film, Begins Its Run". The New York Times. 61.
- "Film Reviews: Bloody Mama". Variety. March 18, 1970. p. 18.
- Siskel, Gene (April 27, 1970). "Bloody Mama". Chicago Tribune. Section 1A, p. 15.
- Champlin, Charles (April 17, 1970). "Crime Saga of Ma Barker". Los Angeles Times. Part IV, p. 17.
- Turan, Kenneth (May 19, 1970). "Bloody Mama". The Washington Post. B8.
- "AFI's 10 Top 10 Nominees" (PDF). Archived from the original on 2011-07-16. Retrieved 2016-08-19.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
- "Bloody Mama". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. American Film Institute. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
- Torrie, Bronwyn (24 November 2011). "Banned book seized from Wellington shop". Stuff.co.nz.
- Stewart, Matt (17 February 2012). "Banned Bloody Mama book reclassified". Stuff.co.nz.