For our third cult classic "Mama" film (and vintage review from 2007), we've got Jonathan Demme's CRAZY MAMA (1975). An all-star cast brings this BONNIE & CLYDE wannabe to life, sort of. It's PG rating is a foreshadowing of what we are in for.
The backstory is that in the early 1930s, a family farm in Arkansas is taken over by law enforcement, killing the farmer, leaving his wife Sheba (Ann Sothern) and daughter Melba (Cloris Leachman) fleeing the state. They wind up years later running a beauty salon in California. They still not have recovered from losing the farm and Papa.
Soon "Mr. Howell" (Jim Backus) shows up and repossesses all of their belongings. They've out of luck, out of money and Melba's teenage daughter Cheryl (Linda Purl) is knocked up by "Ralph Malph" (Don Most). What else can go possibly go wrong? Well, then they decide to head back to Arkansas and reclaim the farmland that should be theirs! Wonder if they'll ever get there?
So they steal Mr. Howell's car, rob a gas station and head to Arkansas via Las Vegas!. While in Vegas, Sheba picks up a new friend named Bertha, and Cheryl picks up a second boyfriend, a biker named Snake. Not to be left out, Melba wins the heart of married Texas sheriff Jim Bob (Stuart Whitman). This is starting to feel like BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS all over again. Except without the whores.
Despite being married to Ella Mae (Sally Kirkland), Jim Bob also marries Melba while Snake and Ralph Malph rob the chapel. Somehow Cheryl's two boyfriends have become friends and partners-in-crime. Why all three even share a bed! But there's NOTHING dirty going on. What follows is a silly crime spree with stunts like Sheba pretending to faint in a grocery store, in order to grab the cash. More heists, car chases and scams ensue.
The big money-making scheme involves "kidnapping" Jim Bob and holding him hostage, for a ransom that they will all split. Of course things don't go as smoothly as planned and somebody ends up dead. Somewhere during all these shenanigans, Cloris (Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe Award winner) wears a see-thru top without a bra. It feels highly disturbing to see Phyllis Lindstrom's nipple. Betty White would never show us her nipple, would she? Hey, I thought this was rated PG! I guess Cloris has a family-friendly nipple.
This film wasn't BAD enough to be BAD, And it wasn't GOOD enough to be GOOD. It wasn't funny enough to be a comedy and it wasn't serious enough to be a crime drama. While the acting was good and the cinematography superb, I was expecting the film to overall be much more FUN - instead it turned out to be a big, crazy bore. Maybe if it was rated R, there would be more sex, more realistic violence and a more spicy script. Instead, we have basically an episode of BEVERLY HILLBILLIES with a nipple.
For those of you who watch those PBS "1950's oldtime rock n roll reunion pledge break specials", the soundtrack might be appealing to you. I found it wretched. I give the film 4 out of 10, because my only "Huh?" had to do with the previously mentioned nipple. Let's hope BLOODY MAMA with Shelley Winters is better - or at least has less nipple!