9/10/10

The Eddie Romero Files: Case 1- Black Mama, White Mama (1973)

Case File: Eddie Romero-01
Reason for Inquiry: Subject has made a number of cult films that have gone unrecognized for many years.


Background: The subject of this investigation is well respected Filipino director Eddie Romero (a.k.a The Other Romero). Born in 1924 in the Philippines, the subject began selling short stories to local papers at age 12 and graduated to film scripts by the time he was twenty three years old. Romero won award for his writing and eventually his direction for a number of films in his native country, but in 1957, he embarked on a different path. Romero began to make war films with the express desire to export them to the West. While he never broke through, a number of the films reached an American audience, including Day of the Trumpet. It got the attention of actor Burgess Meredith (a.k.a The Riddler a.k.a Mick) who then conspired with the subject on a film entitled The Kidnappers in 1958.

Furthering his desire to break into the American market, he made a number of low budget horror films, and it should be no surprise that a thrifty director making movies for less than nothing would get the attention of Roger Corman. During these years, Romero turned out genre and cult fare on par with any of his contemporaries and worked with shady characters such as John Saxon, Pam Grier, Jack Hill, Sid Haig, and Cherrie Caffaro.l. Then in 1975, Romero moved back to the Philippines once again taking on the mantle of Award winning film maker. While the subject might have perfected a perfect cover, this report is set to blow the lid off Romero’s little remembered genre entries. All that's left is to collect the research from our man in the field, T.L. Bugg.

Agent’s Report: When I first got asked to go into the field by the CIA (Cinema Intelligence Agency), I didn’t go because I knew such a thing didn’t exist, but when a couple of hardened agents showed up on my doorstep and threatened to make me watch Merchant Ivory flicks while strapped to a chair all “Kubrick style”. I don’t usually cave under pressure, but I could have changed my named to Carlsbad J. Caverns at they moment. So I took the file they wanted me to look at, and I realized why I was chosen for the job, I had already seen one of Romeo’s films. This past association with the subject was going to go a long way, but as I dug deeper into his dossier I found a film that I’d heard of many times but never seen. It turned out that the film in question, Black Mama, White Mama, was to be my first assignment.

Made in 1973 right during the middle of the blaxploitation boom, Romero’s film, produced under the prodigious banner of American International Pictures, starred one of the icons of the genre, Pam Grier, as well as cult cinema legend Sid Haig. The script by H. R. Christian, based on a story by Angels As Hard as They Come author Joe Viola and future director Jonathan Demme, combined a flash of blaxploitation with a healthy dose of Jack Hill inspired “women in prison“ drama. With all of these factors coming together, it is no wonder that Black Mama, White Mama is easily Romero’s most recognized film in the United States.

The film kicks off with a sleazy introduction that could serve as a perfect primer to Romero’s work. Lee (Pam Grier), on the run from a drug kingpin whose fortune she stole, and Karen (Margaret Markov), the girlfriend of the local revolutionary leader, get thrown in to a Filipino women‘s prison. They are stripped and put in the shower, and as they folic and play, squirting each other with water as if being in a jail shower was the same as going to a water park, a female guard spies from a hole in the nest stall over and masturbates. So, yeah, if you don’t like a hefty dollop of sleaze in your ‘70’s cinema, his work with AIP and others around that time will not be for you. Now, if you’re like me, and you enjoy flicks where chicks kick a lot of ass while sporadically showing skin, shooting guns, or having catfights, Eddie Romero is your man.

While Black Mama, White Mama is often billed as a “women in prison” film, Lee and Karen spend the majority of the film on the run from their captors, the drug runners, and even unknowingly Karen’s Guevara-esque boyfriend. They do spend most of that time chained to each other, and this leads to a requisite knock down drag out fight between the two as well as giant plot holes such as how the pair both manage to don nun’s habits while handcuffed. Not that picking apart a film like Black Mama, White Mama does it any kind of service. The girls naturally put aside their differences in the end, and Romero keeps the film well paced right up to the climax, a massive gun battle on a pier.

Grier gives a midrange performance that doesn’t rank near her best work, but it’s Pam so I forgive her. Markov, who also appeared with Grier in Joe D’Amato’s 1974 film The Arena, I was unsure of at first. She seemed too annoying for words, but as the film went on and her revolutionary stance proved to be more than bluster I warmed up to her. Other than the two female leads, there are really only two standout actors in the film, Eddie Garcia and Sid Haig. Garcia was a frequent collaborator with Romero from the 1950’s right through the 70’s, and while I had seen him in a sleazier role before, he impressed equally as the police captain. Sid Haig is a name that should be familiar to most genre fans. Sid really chews up the screen Rufus, a bounty hunter with an affinity for fringed western shirts. I don’t think I can mention his character without saying that he executes one poor chap just because he is pitifully endowed. How did the film ever get to such a point? Well, that is the beauty of an Eddie Romero film.

As is usual with Eddie Romero’s films, they were obviously made on the cheap, but he was out to make the most of every last penny he had to spend. While it doesn’t reach the heights of Jack Hill’s films like The Big Bird Cage, it is definitely an interesting offering that will please both fans the chicks in chains genre as well as those who just like to bask in the majesty that is Pam Grier. When it comes down to brass tacks, it’s a middle of the road offering made a tad more interesting by Romero’s hometown locals and willingness to really amp up the sleaze factor at all costs. Thus ends my first report on Eddie Romero. Next week I will diver deeper into the film to find out how Mr. Romero met The Saxon!


Bugg Rating


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