In 1930s California, widow and mother of two Wilma McClatchie (Angie Dickinson) is going to attend the marriage of her youngest daughter Polly (Robbie Lee), but when she gets to the church, she decides she's not about to see her daughter be doomed to a life of drudgery and Wilma, Polly, her other daughter Billie Jean (Susan Sennett) and family friend Uncle Barney (Noble Willingham) make a run for it, jilting the groom at the altar. Unfortunately the escaping quartet get into trouble with the FBI, and Barney is shot dead, so Wilma takes over his bootlegging business...
In the wake of Bonnie and Clyde, a number of crime romps set in the 1930s, 40s and even 50s arrived to cash in. One of these was the Roger Corman-produced Bloody Mama, and it made enough money for Corman to return to the formula when Angie Dickinson starred in Big Bad Mama, scripted by William W. Norton and Frances Doel. The plot, such as it is, sees life in Depression-era U.S.A. centred around sex and money, and violence is one easy way of getting your hands on the dollars.
After the bootlegging gets the ladies a start in the world of illegality, they graduate to theft when Wilma breaks in on her daughters performing a striptease for a bunch of leering war veterans. As recompense for her disdain, Wilma helps herself to a sum of the veterans' money, and a life of stealing awaits. She meets up with bank robber Fred (Fred and Wilma? Was somebody a Flintstones fan?) and suddenly she has a gang, especially when bankrupt Southern gentleman Baxter (William Shatner) joins them to vie with Fred (Tom Skerritt) for her affections.
Sex and violence are the main attractions here, and despite Wilma and her daughters being strong willed, liberated women for their time, this is really an excuse for them to strip off and get into love scenes with the male cast members. In her forties at the time, Angie shows she has has nothing to be ashamed of, and her nude scenes were a cause for much of the film's publicity, but William Shatner also gets his kit off - I ask you, do we really want to see Captain Kirk naked?
In this world, everyone is out for themselves, and cops are corrupt, religious leaders are hypocrites and the upper classes are arrogant. It's no wonder Wilma and her gang are our heroines, because compared to the others they are loyal and resourceful, and have integrity, even though they rip people off for a living. They get away with it for the whole movie, but it's all good fun until someone loses an eye, as they say, and the men let the women down after a kidnap plot goes wrong, leading to a predictable punishment for Wilma at the end, which is sanctimonious in the light of the rest of the action. Music by David Grisman. Big Bad Mama II was more of a remake than a sequel.