Bloody Mama: Corman’s Exploitation Gangster Movie. Starring Shelley Winters and De Niro (Gay Cinema–Bisexual)

Roger Corman directed Bloody Mama, a low-budget exploitation film, starring Shelley Winters in the title role.

It was very loosely based on the real story of Ma Barker, who is depicted as a corrupt mother who organizes her children’s criminality.

Young Kate Barker is brutalized by her father and older brothers, who rape her. Thirty-five years later, the middle-aged Kate ‘Ma’ Barker, brutalizes innocent people herself, while indulging her sexual appetites. She lives by robbing banks with her four sons: the pragmatic Arthur, the sadistic Herman, the bisexual Fred, and the drug-addicted Lloyd.

In the late 1920s, Ma leaves her husband, George, and her Arkansas home and embarks on her own with her four sons on a robbery-murder spree to make her own fortune, while keeping them under tight leash.

When Herman and Fred are imprisoned for petty theft charges, Ma takes over the group and leads Arthur and Lloyd on a bank robbery spree to gain enough money to get her sons out of jail. The gang is joined by a gunman, Kevin Dirkman, who was Fred’s cellmate (and his implied lover). The group is also joined by a local prostitute, Mona Gibson, whom Herman had met before his imprisonment. The gang resorts to more violent action and robberies.

While hiding out at a cabin in Kentucky, Lloyd comes across a young woman swimming at a nearby lake whom he sexually assaults. The Barkers hold her captive and Ma eventually kills her by drowning her, despite protests of her sons.

The gang arrives in Tennessee where they abduct a wealthy businessman, Sam Pendlebury. Holding him for a $300,000 ransom, the sons bond with their captive whom they see as the sympathetic father figure they never had. When Herman and Mona go to collect the ransom, they are chased by a pair of FBI agents and barely escape. When they find that the ransom is smaller, Ma orders her sons to kill Sam. but they set him free, lying to Ma about killing him.

The gang then hides out in Florida Everglades where Lloyd dies from a morphine overdose and Mona leaves Herman after she reveals that she’s pregnant. Her fears are justified when Herman and Kevin give away their hiding place a little later. A local handyman and caretaker, Moses, witnesses them shooting an alligator out on a lake and calls the police to report his suspicions.

At the climax, FBI agents and local police arrive at the Barkers’ farmhouse hideout and a shootout ensues between the authorities and the gang. Kevin, Fred, and Arthur are all killed, and Herman commits suicide to prevent himself from being sent to prison again. Ma is the last one to fall.

Bloody Mama, AIP’s highest-grossing film of the year, was initially banned in the UK, France, and New Zealand, although these bans were later lifted.


Shelley Winters as Kate “Ma” Barker
Lisa Jill as Young Kate
Bruce Dern as Kevin
Don Stroud as Herman Barker
Robert Walden as Fred Barker
Alex Nicol as George Barker, (Kate’s Husband)
Robert De Niro as Lloyd Barker
Pat Hingle as Sam Pendlebury
Clint Kimbrough as Arthur Barker
Diane Varsi as Mona Gibson
Pamela Dunlap as Rembrandt
Michael Fox as Dr. Roth
Scatman Crothers as Moses
Stacy Harris as Agent McClellan
Lisa Linsky as Young Kate
Steve Mitchell as Sheriff