Thursday, 2 January 2014

Black Mama White Mama (1973)

This is the first of two 'women in prison' films that Pam Grier and Margaret Markov did together. Grier plays a gangster's moll, sent down for possession, who needs to escape before her boyfriend realises she stole $40,000 from him (it was 1973; that probably seemed like a lot of money). Markov is a political prisoner; a revolutionary who needs to escape in order to finalise a weapons deal for her guerrilla group. The two take an instant dislike to one another, and thus inevitably end up chained together when they finally get their shot at freedom. If that sounds suspiciously like the premise of 1958's The Defiant Ones, well, that's only because it is. This is a 'women in prison' film, after all. Nudity and catfights are more important than originality. (Markov and Grier's other such team-up, The Arena, rips off the first half of Spartacus)

Original in its premise or not, this is a pretty decent little film. It's certainly not shy about what it is, with lashings of bare breasts (especially at the beginning), the inevitable lesbian warden, and multiple catfights between the leads. But once Grier and Markov actually escape, about twenty minutes in, there's a pretty solid story being told. The script puts no less than four separate groups on the women's trail, each with their own agenda and motivation, and also throws plenty of obstacles in their way. Not to mention the whole not liking each other and having different destinations in mind for their respective escape attempts. The two women prove pretty resourceful, though. Sure, the film frequently has them rely on their looks to get ahead, but they also come up with some clever plans, especially when some tracker dogs are on their trail.

At the end of the day, you're either going to be the sort of person who is interested in this sort of 70s exploitation film, or you're not. If you are, though, this is definitely one of the best.

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