Shelley Winters enjoys her most iconic movie role in Bloody Mama, Roger Corman's no holds barred biopic of `Ma' Barker, leader of the infamous Depression-era outlaw clan, and also the inspiration for the character of `Ma' Jarrett in Raoul Walsh's classic White Heat. Produced by Corman's usual studio, American International Pictures, in 1969, this film was made quite quickly and was obviously designed to cash in on the success of Bonnie and Clyde, which had been a runaway hit a short time before.
The film's rushed shooting schedule and low budget are visible on screen, but the film moves at quite a pace, and contains several striking performances that to help paper over the cracks in its production. Featuring as members of the Barker gang are Bruce Dern, Don Stroud (best known for playing villains in the likes of Coogan's Bluff and the James Bond movie Licence to Kill), and a very young Robert DeNiro, whilst western veteran Pat Hingle features as an unfortunate kidnap victim. Given the era in which it was made, the story it tells, and the fact that it is an exploitation movie through and through, it is no surprise that Bloody Mama is a somewhat salacious and distasteful film, and one that paints a much less romantic and attractive (but more realistic) portrait of the gang in question than was found in White Heat.
Far from being a classic, Bloody Mama will nonetheless appeal to those who enjoy bloody exploitation movies, and also to Robert DeNiro fans who want to catch him in one of his earliest roles. For those who may be seeking a far more polished and appealing film telling a similar story, AIP's 1973 version of Dillinger, starring Warren Oates, is infinitely superior.