Our Daily Trailer: MEAN MOTHER (1974)

Black History Month at BAD continues, as we learn that Blaxploitation films aren't always born; sometimes they're the result of adding hastily shot additional footage to European war movies.

When it comes to the output of drive-in trash factory Independent International Pictures, in-house director Al Adamson gets all the attention. There have been books, documentaries, even an E! True Hollywood story. Adamson's work on no-budget lunacy such as Satan's Sadists, Dracula Vs. Frankenstein, and the Devin Faraci favorite Carnival Magic is widely celebrated/derided by a loyal cult following, and Al's legendary status was cemented - literally - in 1995 when he was murdered by a contractor working in his house.

But producer Sam Sherman was the salesman half of Independent International Pictures, and he was the real mover and shaker behind the company. Al was a folksy, soft-spoken dude, in marked contrast to Sam's William Castle-esque, bigger than life personality - always hustling, always selling, always retitling Al's movies and releasing them to the same drive-ins over and over. You see, Sam wouldn't allow a film's box office potential to be limited by genre. He'd take a movie and sell it as an action crime thriller called The Murder Gang to middle America, retitle it Girls' Hotel and peddle it to the drive-ins as a sex romp, then release the same movie a third time as Black Heat to the urban market.

As commonplace as this recycling was, Sam wasn't lazy about it. Always eager to exploit anything containing what he termed "production value" (e.g., the same car explosion was in roughly a half dozen of Independent-International's movies), Sam and Al would shoot new scenes, often with an always-game John Carradine, to give an existing title the semblance of a new product. It was in this fashion that Psycho A Go Go begat Man With the Electronic Brain, which begat Blood Of Ghastly Horror, etc. IIP would get seven or more years of theatrical bookings out of one original film.

Sam (for whom I briefly worked years ago) was also a distributor, acquiring foreign films to release stateside. His office shelves were literally spilling over with one-sheets and promo materials for everything from Sergio Sollima's Revolver (called Blood in the Streets in the US) to a 3D Paul Naschy werewolf movie (released in the States as Frankenstein's Bloody Terror, naturally) to one or two of the popular Spanish Blind Dead movies. And one of Sam's most audacious examples of re-purposing was when he and Adamson took a 1971 Spanish/Italian war film called  El Hombre Que Vino Del Odio and grafted onto it a man vs. the mob crime plot starring R&B singer turned country songwriter Dobie Gray (aka Clifton Brown), releasing it in the States as Mean Mother.

Far from a deft blend of new footage and existing material, even IIP's official synopsis can't hide the seams:

Mean Mother follows a pair U.S. soldiers as they attempt to avoid serving in Vietnam. Beauregard (Clifton Brown) and Joe (Dennis Safren) part ways once they get to Europe, only to be reunited in Rome after being pursued by local mobsters. Eventually they head off to Canada, but their lives still seem to be in only slightly less danger than they would have been had going AWOL not been an option.

The resulting film is true grindhouse nonsense, scene after dull scene of dot-connecting, near-gymnastic plot exposition, punctuated by occasional moments of gunplay, war, and explosions, stitched together and sold as Blaxploitation by some of the whitest men I've ever known. But as Sam would exclaim, "It's got production value! There's war footage, and Luciana Paluzzi was a very famous Bond girl!" (In fairness to Sam, she's definitely a top 5 Bond girl for me.)

I loved Sam's more-Corman-than-Corman attitude regarding cinematic showmanship. It didn't matter if you were sitting in the drive-in and suddenly noticed you were watching two very different looking films patched together, or realized that you saw the same movie under a different title last year. Sam already had your money; this was before audiences demanded (or sued for) refunds when the movie turned out to be schlock; and what were you doing actually watching the movie at the drive-in anyway, you nerd?

The trailer doesn't feature much of the original film; lucky for you the entire movie's on Youtube, courtesy of IIP. Sharp viewers might notice some of the shots in the trailer were used in the opening of Black Dynamite, which is a nice little nod to Independent-International's patchwork legacy. Assuming Sam was paid for it, I'm sure he approved.

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