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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Film Review: THE MUTHERS (1976)

"Why the Hell isn't This on DVD yet?" -- Number 31

THE MUTHERS (1976 Dimension Pictures) Starring Jeanne Bell, Rosanne Katon, Trina Parks, Jayne Kennedy, Tony Carreon, John Montgomery. Directed by Cirio H. Santiago.

Bell and Katon are The Muthers, female pirates based in the Phillipines who rob rich people on their yachts and pawn the stolen booty onshore. Business is interrupted by news that Bell's sister has turned up missing. As it turns out, she is being held for slave labor on a coffee plantation run by evil Carreon. Under pressure from the law after a fight onshore and seeking to save Bell's sister, the two arrive at the island prison camp where they meet Parks, an informative prisoner who's been double-crossed, and Kennedy, who is Carreon's unwilling mistress. The Muthers are too late to rescue Bell's sister, who is killed by Carreon, but they plot with Parks and Kennedy to turn the tables on their captors.

After producing several of Jack Hill's WIP classics set in the Phillipines (THE BIG DOLL HOUSE, THE BIG BIRD CAGE, WOMEN IN CAGES), Cirio H. Santiago began directing his own entries in the genre, starting with EBONY, IVORY AND JADE (which starred Katon) and continuing with this film, which reunited him with his T.N.T. JACKSON star, Bell.

Santiago was always a solid producer. He was never lacking for fetching heroines in his cast, made good use of his Phillipines locations, and got the most out of his low budgets. But as a director....not so much. The usual problems with the films Santiago directed himself are in evidence throughout THE MUTHERS; choppy editing, sloppy pacing, unconvincing action scenes and abrupt shifts in tone and character motivation.

Of course, no one watches a film like THE MUTHERS expecting technical brilliance; the big problem is that the film is much tamer than the Hill films regarding to the exploitation elements. There's little nudity, and nary a lesbian guard to be found (though Carreon is subtly revealed to be bisexual). Action-wise there's nothing even close to Bell's karate fight in T.N.T. JACKSON and in fact Bell is the only actress to go topless here, which is surprising because both Katon and Kennedy have done so elsewhere. Bell is at her most alluring going braless in a tight, long sleeve turtleneck sweater and bell bottoms.

Kennedy, soon to be the best known of the four thanks to her long-running NFL TODAY gig, was actually promoted as the star on the VHS boxcover, but really has a supporting role.  The best performance is from Parks, who gets the campiest lines (her funniest follows a snake bite in the jungle). Parks had previously handled absurd comedy with aplomb in DARKTOWN STRUTTERS and could have been the Regina Hall of her day if she'd been given more opportunities.

THE MUTHERS is a mess structurally: roughly 15 minutes on the pirate angle, shift to the prison for over half of the film, and finally the abrupt cut to the jungle for the final quarter. Ultimately it is way too tame to be an exploitation classic, but it is a lot of fun and is never boring. Despite all its faults THE MUTHERS offers the opportunity to see four lovely women of color in the leading roles, all given guns to tote and multiple martial arts scenes.

So...why isn't this on DVD yet?

Like most of Santiago's films, it really isn't very good....and the four leads have all been out of the public eye for a couple of decades now. The VHS release I have must be from the mid-1980's: Jayne Kennedy is presented as the film's star and the "jungle rescue" is touted in a "must for RAMBO fans"!

Very tame in comparison to the Pam Grier/Jack Hill WIP films..and even the video version of NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY for that matter. CHAINED HEAT, it ain't.

Why it should be on DVD:

Quentin Tarantino and other fans of sexy ass-kicking females practicing martial arts will want to give this a look. Hell, this is probably the only film in its particular genre: the female pirates in prison movie!

While the four ladies have been away from the big screen for quite a while, they are reason enough to give this film a look. Jeanne Bell (October 1969) and Rosanne Katon (September 1978) were both Playboy Playmates of the Month; Jayne Kennedy was ubiquitous on televison throughout the late 1970's and early 1980's (NFL Today, Speak Up America!) before retiring from public life; and Trina Parks' appearance will be of interest to the James Bond cult as well (she was Thumper in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER).


Marty McKee said...

OK, you know I saw this on the big screen tonight with Rosanne Katon in attendance, right? This isn't a coincidence?

THE MUTHERS isn't very good, but Jeanne Bell in that turtleneck is incredible. I'd love to see a remake of this. With Halle Berry as Jeanne Bell, of course.

Hal said...

Pure coincidence: I received this on VHS in December and just got around to watching it a second time to do the review late last week.

Great that you got to see Ms. Katon-Weldon in person...she was on a HBO Special on autism last year and is still a beautiful woman for sure.

My dream cast for a remake would be Gabrielle Union in Katon's role, Sanaa Lathan in Kennedy's, and of course Regina Hall in Parks'. Add Halle and it is the remake of the year for sure! Perhaps with Jon Avnet directing, for that old Santiago feel? :)

Temple of Schlock said...

This started out life as a Jack Hill/Cirio Santiago collaboration titled ZAMBOANGA. A female pirate adventure that was to be filmed in September of 1974 in Madagascar -- strange, since Zamboanga is in the Philippines -- once Hill dropped out, the script was rewritten and made by Santiago as THE MUTHERS.

odienator said...

I mentioned this over at Black History Mumf a few weeks ago, when I discussed the Blaxploitation Guide I read. Santiago makes for an interesting interview in that book.

I saw The Muthers in 1982 at the State Theater in Jersey City on a double bill with Fighting Mad, the Black samurai revenge movie. That's a lot less tame than The Muthers, since it has decapitations! If I remember correctly, Jayne's hubby, Leon Isaac Kennedy, gets split in half in that movie.

There hasn't been another female pirates in prison movie or a Black Samurai revenge picture either! Coincidence?

GrooveFarmer said...

Anyone got a trailer for this movie? I'm looking for one and can't find any