Dame Double Feature: Crazy Mama (1975) & The Lady In Red (1979)

I really never know what to expect when jumping into one of Shout Factory’s Roger Corman’s Cult Classics Double Features because, frankly, the man was fairly inconsistent when it comes to good and bad flicks. I do always know that the presentation will be prefect though because Shout absolutely kills it when it comes to putting these movies together. I especially like the “Grindhouse Experience” feature which shows one movie right after the other complete with trailers before each flick and even a clip reminding you how awesome popcorn is. My only complaint is that the menu is so CGIed, it would be cool if they could use actual photography for the menus, but that’s a small quibble. Both movies even have extra features like commentaries and interviews with the directors.

As it turned out I didn’t just like the first movie in the Double Feature, Crazy Mama, I kind of fell in love with it. I didn’t realize until just now that the movie was actually directed by Jonathan Demme of Silence Of The Lambs fame which makes a lot of sense because there’s a lot going on in this movie aside from the usual “women wreaking havoc” plot I’ve seen in movies like this on from the 70s. The film has a quirkiness and a heart to it that I wasn’t expecting and some really great performances by Cloris Leachman, Dick Miller, Donny Most and a lot of other folks whose names I don’t recognize (though Bill Paxton and Dennis Quaid make their film debuts in the flick in super-small roles).

Here’s the basic plot. Back in the day Sheba’s husband was killed when the banks tried to take their land. They had a daughter who would grow up to be Leachman’s Melba (Ann Sothern). After the murder they moved to California where Melba had a daughter of her own named Cheryl (Linda Purl) who just found out she’s knocked up by Shawn (Most). When the bank comes to repossess the beauty salon Sheba and Melba run, they grab Cheryl, a few things and make a break for it. They head to Vegas where they met the elderly Bertha who joins their little family. Shawn also catches up with the ladies, but Cheryl has already fallen for a greaser named Snake (played by Leachman’s son Bryan Englund). She’s not the only one though as Melba hooks up with Jim Bob. At some point the ladies get the idea to buy back their farmland, but they don’t have any money so they start running cons and holding up banks and other businesses.

There’s a lot of unconventionality on display in the film that really makes it soar for me. Not only do you have four generations of women working together to commit crimes, but they’re all pretty open when it comes to their sexuality. There’s even a bit where Snake and Bertha even talk about getting down (talk about unconventional). The most out-there aspect of the film socially speaking probably boils down to the Cheryl/Shawn/Snake relationship. Shawn starts off being pissed about Snake being in the picture, but Cheryl says she loves them both. He seems to eventually accept that and winds up sleeping in bed with the both of them. Let me tell you, seeing Ralph Malph wearing only his underwear in bed with a naked woman and a greaser is pretty damn surreal. You really start to believe that these people have formed an unconventional family unit that really cares for one another, especially after a few of their comrades fall and they shout them up to heaven. That’s where the heart lies in this movie. When folks start dying, I actually started feeling bad, not something I expected from a movie like this.

Another big mark in the plus column for this film is the realistic portrayal of the crime spree. This gang of theirs starts off small robbing a quickie marriage place in Vegas and slowly move their way up, but they are in no way criminal masterminds, especially after losing some of their gang and getting liquored up. The last bit it so sadly pointless, but that’s what would happen in this kind of situation. The very end also shows that even after all the survivors have been through, they maybe didn’t learn all the lessons they should have. It’s fantastic. I highly recommend Crazy Mama.

I didn’t like The Lady In Red nearly as much, though it’s not a bad flick, just kind of a slow and sometimes meandering one. The story is about Polly Franklin who lead a tough life which lead her to become first a seamstress in an American sweatshop (run by Dick Miller!), then a dancer, a prisoner and eventually a prostitute where she meets renowned mobster John Dillinger though she didn’t know it was him. Even though the movie clocks in under an hour and a half, it feels slow early on as Polly makes her way to becoming a prostitute. These moments are important because they show her character and build a supporting cast around her, but it still feels like a scene or two could have been cut out or down. There’s also a lengthy scene of Polly and Dillinger playing baseball and rowing a canoe that, while nice, wasn’t really necessary.

With all the different vignettes you wind up getting a lot of different kinds of movies all rolled into one. First off, it’s a period piece. Then you get the downtrodden worker segment in Miller’s sweatshop. The prostitute movie’s there too. There’s also a few prison scenes (Nurse Balbricker from Porky’s plays the awful warden who meets a very satisfying end after doing something shocking even for her) which includes a vast nude scene. There’s the monster stuff as Dilinger gets murdered and then the revenge plot afterwards because everyone’s gunning for Polly thinking she set Dillinger up (she didn’t).

The only thing I knew about John Dillinger going into this movie was that he was a mobster who was sold out by his girlfriend in front of a movie theater. I learned that from High Fidelity. So it was interesting to see this story told around that idea. I did a little reading on Wiki and it seems like the filmmakers followed the actual story at least somewhat well, which is interesting. I doubt you could show this film in an American history class, but it might get some folks interested in old timey mobsters (if Boardwalk Empire hasn’t done that enough already).

I wasn’t familiar with Pamela Sue Martin, but I thought she handled herself really well and really acted well in this thing that could have been silly. The rest of the cast is pretty damn solid too and even features Christopher Lloyd as a creepy mobster called Frognose (not a nice dude). I like seeing him being a not-too-over-the-top bad guy. That’s one of the beauties of watching these old Corman-produced movies, is that you get to see some pretty big deal stars in either the early or later days when they’re not as concerned with fitting into what people expect of them. I’m excited to keep checking these out, but I’ll always be a little leery as to whether the films will tickle my fancy or not.

What We’re Watching: Monday & Tuesday

I find myself with a strange feeling this TV season: a lack of interest. Sure, I’ve got favorite shows I like tuning in to, but it feels like I’ve got a lot less of them to look forward to, possibly because Lost is gone. There wasn’t another show in the history of my television watching career that engrossed me as much as that one and got me so excited about an hour of TV. Maybe it’s because most of the new shows aren’t so good. Here’s the break down for the first section of the week as far as regular viewings go.

For all the years I’ve been in New York, I’ve been looking around for a good syndicated block of reruns between 6 and 8 that would stay consistent and, for the most part, I’ve been unsuccessful. That is until recently. VH1 scored Saturday Night Live reruns from the 90s which have been a lot of fun to watch, even when I’m reminded that that was an era when skits tended to run WAY too long. It’s still fun to see a lot of today’s big stars and musical acts on the show both in the cast and as hosts. It’s even more fun to see long forgotten folks like Finese Mitchel and Sysqo perform. That takes care of the 6 to 7 block and then we bounce over to a local station called My9 which runs How I Met Your Mother. The only problem I foresee is that, with only a few season under its belt, I’ll be rewatching these episodes over and over again.

MONDAY

8:00pm – HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER (CBS)
I’ve already gone on record with the potential problems I see with HIMYM, but I still enjoy this show better than most of the others I watch on a weekly basis. I’ve grown to really enjoy these characters, but I still think there needs to start being some resolution to the overhanging “mysteries” or else this one could start feeling a little tedious. Like I said though, great cast and still one of my favorite, most looked-forward-to shows.

8:30pm – RULES OF ENGAGEMENT (CBS)
Rules of Engagement is a show we only started watching because it was on right after HIMYM and nothing else was on, but I’ve actually come to enjoy it. Sure, it’s a jokier type of sitcom with lots of jokes being tossed around that aren’t hilarious, but funny enough to get a laugh. I like seeing Patrick Warburton and David Spade doing their things, plus I find the dumb neighbor/friend guy oddly charming. I’m in it with this series, though if something more interesting came on I think we’d jump ship in favor of that. 

9:00pm – THE EVENT (NBC)
AS regular readers might remember, I wasn’t really all that into The Event when it premiered. I’m even less so now and barely still pay attention while the missus watches. I think she’s getting pretty sick of it too. I spent way too many episodes wanting to slap Jason Ritter for saying “My girlfriend!” so much that I don’t think we can ever be okay again (at least not on this show). I appreciate that they’re trying to move things along at a faster clip, but I just do not care about any of these people or what’s going on. I have the vaguest interest in what’s happening with these supposed aliens (though my money’s on dimensional or time travelers), but I could really just look it up in Wiki at some future date and feel satisfied. Probably moreso because I wouldn’t be wasting my time watching a lackluster Lost wannabe. 

10:00pm – CASTLE (ABC)
I almost feel bad for not liking Castle more. I really like the cast and the dynamics of the characters, but it just feels so hacky lately. From the wacky set-ups for crimes this season (steampunk AND time travel in one episode?!) to the increasingly formulaic plot, I’m getting worn down. How many times can they run across a suspect who lies so well that they completely buy his story and move on only to come back to him or her later in the episode to realize he or she is really the killer? It’s boring and, personally, I expect more from a show with Nathan Fillion on it. Hopefully this one will pick up because the missus still LOVES it, while I just keep thinking about how much better Bones is and wishing Netflix would send the first disc of last season already so we can start the long road to catching up.

TUESDAY

8:00pm – GLEE (Fox)
This one’s completely because the missus likes the show. She’s a big fan of musicals and show tunes and whatnot, so this is right up her alley, which is unfortunate, because I find it to be one of the most wildly inconsistent, sloppy and increasingly gross shows around. Anyone else see the Rocky Horror episode tonight where the teacher actually considered and planned on dressing up in gold shorts and performing a sexually charged number with one of his students? Sure he practiced with the hot red head teacher, but he was actually planning on jumping in and doing that. He’s just one of the many headache-inducing characters on a show filled with them. I’ve heard the argument made that you’re not supposed to expect anything from Glee but high school drama and musical numbers, but I call bullshit on that. The very basis of ongoing fiction of any kind is based in consistent characterization and this show lacks it for the most part. However, I do love Brittany’s throwaway lines. Those are just solid and sound like they’re being written by someone from 30 Rock.

9:00pm – RAISING HOPE (Fox)
I can’t remember the last time I watched this much Fox programming on a single night, but I find myself really liking Raising Hope. It’s clear the show was created by the brains behind My Name Is Earl as both showcase small town folks without much money doing what they can to get by. Hope revolves around a guy discovering his one night stand turned out to not only be a serial killer on death row, but also pregnant with his child. Now he’s raising the kid with his parents who had him at a really young age (his dad looks about the same age as him at times) and his mom’s grandma played by Cloris Leachman. Hope can be a little too weird and a little too jokey at times, but I think it’s starting to hit its stride. Plus, the Halloween episode featured homemade Batman and Robin costumes, so bonus points for that.

9:3opm – RUNNING WILDE (Fox)
Running Wilde, on the other hand, is not a show I’m enjoying much and I’m starting to get the feeling I’m not the only one as Fox decided to run two episodes of Raising Hope tonight instead of one of each, like usual. I am a huge Arrested Development fan, so I should like this show with its use of Will Arnett, David Cross and that fact that it was co-created by Mitchell Hurwitz, but Wilde suffers from two afflictions. First off, it’s not very easy to jump into. We missed the first episode and had trouble figuring out what the relationship between Arnett and the still-hot Keri Russell was. That’s not a good thing for a new show and something that AD suffered from (I still have trouble describing it to friends who missed out the first time around). The other problem is that it just feels like a rehash of old material. Arnett’s playing GOB from AD, Russell feels like Felicity though I never watched that show, plus the premise is a more exaggerated version of Dharma & Greg without the love. I’ll be curious to see what Fox replaces this show with if it does get the axe.

10:00pm – PARENTHOOD (NBC)
Parenthood continues to be one of the best written, most solid shows on television. I’d honestly put it up there with Mad Men. There’s a lot more in Mad Men considering it’s a period piece, but like that show, the Parenthood creators do an amazing job of juggling a small army of fast talking characters, giving each their moments to shine and great lines. Great writing mixed with a great cast makes for great TV, but for some reason I don’t find myself looking forward to this show on a regular basis. I’m happy when it’s on, but never excited for it. I wonder if that’s because it’s a drama and not an action show. I’ll have to think about that. I’ll be back on Thursday with more shows I’m watching. What are you viewing on Monday and Tuesday?