1973 // USA - Philippines // Eddie Romero // February 19, 2010 // DVD - MGM (2001)
The hallmarks of a sexy, scuzzy Women-in-Prison feature—including a gratuitous shower scene complete with frolicking, and hard-assed lesbian guards in ridiculously short shorts—are pretty much dispensed with in the first fifteen minutes of Black Mama, White Mama. What remains is an exploitation The Defiant Ones, as Pam Grier and Margaret Makov (the former a working girl, the latter a freedom fighter of some sort) scurry from one ludicrous set piece to another. This is a straight-up Z-movie guilty pleasure, just the sort thing one can imagine a teenage Quentin Tarantino devouring. It's a shame director Romero was so enamored with tedious gunfights, as it gives him less time to indulge in the loathsome weirdness that is the film's real appeal. The torch-bearer of BMWM's oddities is undoubtedly genre fixture Sig Haig, as a creepy, strangely high-spirited bounty hunter in a Jim Croce 'stache, whose choice of wardrobe and automobile are best described as "Roy Rogers on LSD." That's him above. Just take a moment to savor that shirt. Truth be told, I spent the better part of this film trying to puzzle out where the hell it's supposed to take place. The vague "island" setting seems, at different times, to be somewhere in Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, or Vietnam. Between the Spanish-speaking Asian gangsters and the stray police uniform patch, I eventually tumbled to the fact that we are, indeed, in the Philippines. Such is the way of cheap, sleazy films bound for grindhouses the world over.