A poor, elderly white woman living in a tenement in a black ghetto is befriended by a neighborhood boy, and the two of them form a mutually beneficial relationship: he provides her ... See full summary »
A lawyer whose wife has had an affair sets out to leave her by flying to LA. He becomes ever more involved in the lives of a few fellow travelers on a journey that ends up showing him as much about himself as about the others.
In 1926, famous evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson disappeared for six weeks. When she surfaced, she claimed that she had been kidnapped and held prisoner in Mexico. Others claimed that she ... See full summary »
A poor, elderly white woman living in a tenement in a black ghetto is befriended by a neighborhood boy, and the two of them form a mutually beneficial relationship: he provides her companionship and protection, and she becomes the mother he never had. Written by
This movie would really qualify as one of Bette Davis's last good roles. In "White Mama", she plays down-on-her-luck widow Adele Malone, who takes in a teenage foster child to help cover her expenses. This boy happens to be a sixteen year old, street-wise African-American boy called B.T. Surprisingly, he is played convincingly by 28 year-old Ernest Harden Jr, in a striking performance which should have garnered more attention.
The script avoids becoming predictable, and the relationship between Davis and Harden actually develops believably and logically, although any attempts to address racial issues seem to play a minor role in the film. And director Jackie Cooper manages to present a harrowing image of life on the street in New York City, with loud-mouthed thugs and destitute bag ladies populating the screen.
Bette Davis does nicely with the material, evoking sympathy by not appearing weepy or maudlin, which might be the case with a lesser actress. She remained a magnetic presence on the screen, and it's great fun to watch her interact with the talented young Harden, who matched her at every turn. But when she raises her voice, Davis tends to be a bit shrill, although it may very well be appropriate to her character. And there's one very amusing scene in which Mrs. Malone attempts to teach her young ward how to read, and soon becomes scandalized by his taste in "literature."
Certainly there are some nagging questions left unanswered. Like as to why Mrs. Malone remains estranged from her daughter, and not even certain of her whereabouts? Her explanation that her daughter "married an Army man," rings hollow, and really offers no valid reason. This surely implies some sort of dysfunctional relationship, especially considering that Mrs. Malone couldn't even contact her daughter to inform her of Mr. Malone's death.
We witness a great extended segment midway through in which Mrs. Malone is given a lesson in life-on-the-street from Eileen Heckart's Three Bag Lady. Unflinching and unsympathetic, these scenes remain compelling and very relevant today. And then there's Virginia Capers rounding out the cast as racially-insensitively-named (but sweet) street person, "Gorilla Sydney." There is also a nice turn by veteran actor Lurene Tuttle as a flustered neighbor of Davis, and a nasty little cameo from Anne Ramsay as the unpredictable and explosive bag lady "Heavy Charm."
I gave this little movie ten stars simply because I enjoyed the performances that much, and would recommend it highly to fans of either Davis or 80's flicks. For those who are not ardent Bette Davis admirers, the proceedings here might become a tad tiresome.
All that said, "White Mama," although it's burdened with an awkward title, still delivers some hard-hitting and relevant drama featuring the great Bette Davis in a role worthy of her talents.
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