Bloody Mama: Corman’s Exploitation Gangster, Starring Oscar Winner Shelley Winters as Ma Barker and De Niro

Shelley Winters portrays the real-life Ma Barker in Bloody Mama, a low budget exploitation film, directed by Roger Corman, made in the wake of the success of Bonnie and Clyde.

The outlaw gang of the matriarch is composed of her sons (among them the very young and talented Robert De Niro). Whether intentionally or not, Ma gets (too) close to her sons, to the point where some critics saw incestuous overtones.

The younger Ma Kate Barker is played by Lisa Jill as an abused woman by her father and older brothers.

Cut to three decades later, when the middle-aged Kate ‘Ma’ Barker brutalizes innocent citizens and robs banks with her four sons. They are the pragmatic Arthur (Clint Kimbrough), the sadistic Herman (Don Stroud), the bisexual Fred (Robert Walden), and the loyal but drug-addicted Lloyd (Robert De Niro).

The tale per se begins in the late 1920s when Ma leaves her husband, George, and her Arkansas home and embarks with her four sons on a robbery-murder spree, keeping her brood under tight leash.

When Herman and Fred are arrested and imprisoned for petty thefts, Ma leads Arthur and Lloyd on a bank robbery spree in order get release her sons from jail. The gang is joined by Kevin (Bruce Dern), a gunman who was Fred’s cellmate in jail (perhaps even his lover). Also joining is the prostitute Mona Gibson, whom Herman met before prison.

While hiding out at a cabin in Kentucky, Lloyd sexually assaults a young woman, and the Barkers hold her captive (later she is killed by Mama).

Arriving in Tennessee where they abduct the wealthy businessman Sam Pendlebury (Pat Hingle), holding him for a $300,000 ransom. Herman bonds with their captive, seen as a surrogate father. Herman and Mona are chased by FBI agents and barely escape. When they realize the ransom is only half of what they had demanded, Ma orders her sons to kill Sam, but none of them can do it and so they set him free, lying to Mama.

The gang hides out in Florida Everglades where Lloyd dies from overdose, and the pregnant Mona leaves Herman and the gang. Their hiding place is revealed by the caretaker Moses (Scatman Crothers), who informs the police. At the bloody climax, FBI agents and local police arrive at the Barkers’ farmhouse hideout and a bloody shootout takes place between them and the gang’s surviving members.

Kevin, Fred, and Arthur are killed, Herman commits suicide, and Ma dies too.

Cast

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