Written by: Carroll Jenkins on April 11th, 2011
Theatrical Release Dates: USA, 1975 (Crazy Mama), USA, 1979 (The Lady In Red)
Directors: Jonathan Demme (Crazy Mama), Lewis Teague (The Lady In Red)
Writers: Frances Doel, Robert Thom (Crazy Mama), John Sayles (The Lady In Red)
Cast: Cloris Leachman, Stuart Whitman, Ann Sothern, Jim Backus, Don Most, Sally Kirkland (Crazy Mama), Pamela Sue Martin, Robert Conrad, Louise Fletcher, Robert Hogan, Laurie Heineman, Glenn Withrow, Rod Gist, Peter Hobbs, Christopher Lloyd (The Lady In Red)
DVD released: December 7th, 2010
Approximate running times: 81 minutes (Crazy Mama), 93 minutes (The Lady In Red)
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen (Both Films)
Rating: PG (Crazy Mama), R (The Lady In Red)
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono English (Both Films)
DVD Release: Shout! Factory
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.93
Crazy Mama is the is the headliner on the disc, but is an absolute waste of considerable talent and warrants no further attention. Skip it. Lady In Red (aka Guns, Sin, and Bathtub Gin) is another story altogether.
Synopsis: Farm girl Polly surrenders her virginity to a fast talking city slickster but finds herself out in the cold. She makes her way to Chicago where she finds a daily struggle to survive. Her exploits eventually include a romance with John Dillinger, and is present for the event of his death.
All great movies begin with great stories, and this one is from writer John Sayles (Piranha). The expected nudity, violence, explosions and car crashes are present and accounted for, but this is the story of a woman, her experiences, friendships, hardships, desires, and ambitions. The end result, including fine direction by Lewis Teague, almost transcends it’s exploitation origins. Also excellent is the art direction which includes numerous 30’s period cars, sets, and clothing with a fervent eye for detail that mostly looks correct (but not that Life Savers box).
The cast is truly phenomenal, starting with Pamela Sue Martin, best known at the time as television’s Nancy Drew. Here she graduates to an adult role complete with nudity. She delivers a performance that runs the gamut of emotions, but certainly doesn’t have to carry the picture on her own. Robert Conrad’s (‘The Wild, Wild West’) portrayal of Dillinger can’t touch Warren Oates’ (Dillinger), but it’s really a rather minor aspect of this overall film. Louise Fletcher, who won an Oscar for her Nurse Ratched characterization in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, plays the actual ‘Lady In Red’ persona of brothel madam Anna.
The most memorable scenes are from the ‘fictional’ sections, including Nancy Parsons as Tiny Alice, the malicious matron of the women’s prison who makes Nurse Ratched look like a candy striper. But even she cannot steal the show from the real heel of the piece, the sadistic gangster Frognose played by a completely straight and totally reprehensible Christopher Lloyd (pre-‘Taxi’). Other great bits include a hit man named Turk (Robert Forester) and a Bonnie Parker styled bank robber (Mary Woronov).
This DVD easily trounces the prior cable TV, VHS, and open matte DVD incarnations but that’s not difficult. After all, it’s a newly minted transfer in widescreen anamorphic and looks quite fine. Dialog is clear, but subtitles are nada. The trailer (a little worn but also widescreen) is only one of several extras including two audio commentaries and a poster gallery. There are additional vintage trailers including The Great Dynamite Chase, Big Bad Mama, Caged Heat, The Big Bird Cage. Oh, and Smokey Bites The Dust is there too (if you care).
The Lady In Red is the finest of the many New World crime dramas, and belongs firmly in the top ten of the best New World productions overall. Essential viewing.