Saturday, September 17, 2022

#2,817. Black Mama White Mama (1973) - The Films of Eddie Romero


The first 20 minutes of Eddie Romero’s Black Mama White Mama play like your average women in prison flick. There are catfights, an extended shower scene, and a lesbian guard (Lynn Borden) who gets her jollies peering at the girls through a peephole.

Then, without warning, the story veers off in an exciting new direction.

Two of the prison’s most recent arrivals, prostitute Lee Daniels (Pam Grier) and revolutionary Karen Brent (Margaret Markov), are being transferred to a facility in Manila, where they’re to be questioned by government officials. Lee’ pimp, Vic (Vic Diaz), is a ruthless prick, and the authorities want to put him away for good; whereas Karen might hold the key to crushing the rebellion once and for all.

Handcuffed together, Lee and Karen are loaded onto a bus and sent on their way. But once on the road, Karen’s compatriots, led by Ernesto (Zaldy Zshornack), launch a surprise attack to free her, and in the confusion she and Lee slip away, spending the next several days hiding in the jungle.

Ordered by his superiors to recapture the duo as soon as possible, Captain Cruz (Eddie Garcia) of the Manila police force hires bounty hunter Ruben (the great Sid Haig) and his thugs to track down the escaped prisoners.

Lee and Karen, still shackled to one another, stay on the move, narrowly avoiding the law, the bounty hunters, the revolutionaries, and Vic’s cronies (who want to retrieve a briefcase full of cash that Lee swiped) every step of the way.

That’s a lot of story to cram into an 86 minute film, yet director Romero and his writer H.R. Christian (whose screenplay was based on a story by Joe Viola and Jonathan Demme) somehow make it work, keeping things flowing at a solid pace while at the same time giving weight to each and every character. Grier and Markov are strong as the escapees who have no choice but to team up, a la Sidney Poitier and Tony Curtis in 1958’s The Defiant Ones (which also featured escaped prisoners handcuffed together). But unlike that earlier movie (and despite this film's title), race is never an issue between the two. They start out as adversaries (while in prison, they get into a fight and are thrown in “the oven” as punishment), yet Lee and Karen are never really enemies. They just have different goals: Karen wants to return to her friends in the revolution, while Lee’s intention is to get off the island as quickly as possible with the money she stole from Vic. The camaraderie between the two builds over time, and comes across as 100% genuine.

Also good is Sid Haig as the cowboy vigilante. His character is a hard-ass, but he’s also responsible for most of the film’s laughs (like when he’s cavorting with a subordinate’s two daughters as the poor guy sits in the next room, listening to everything that’s going on behind the closed door). In addition, Black Mama White Mama is both an impressive action film - with a handful of intense gunfights - and a solid thriller.

So while it may have started off as a run-of-the-mill prison flick, Black Mama White Mama ultimately proved, in true Eddie Romero fashion, it was a lot more than that.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10

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