Bloody Mama (1970) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • A psychologically-disturbed matriarch presides over her damaged family of bank-robbing misfits.

  • A psychological gangster film based on fact. Machine gun totin' Ma Barker lead her family gang (her sons) on a crime spree in the Depression era. Her loyal brood have every perversion imaginable. The sadistic Herman sleeps with his Ma. When Fred Barker is released from prison, he brings home his cellmate and lover Kevin Dirkman, who also sleeps with Ma, much to Fred's chagrin. Lloyd Barker is a spaced-out drug addict who sniffs glue if nothing better is around. Ma kidnaps happy-go-lucky millionaire Sam Adams Pendlebury and holds him for ransom. Arthur Barker, Ma's wallflower son, and Herman's hooker lady friend Mona Gibson also figure in the story. The bloody finale is virtually choreographed, and a visual stunner. Filmed in the Ozarks.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The film starts as young Kate Barker (Lisa Jill) is brutalized by others, including her father and older brothers.

    Skipping forward 35 years, the middle-aged Kate 'Ma' Barker (Shelly Winters) brutalizes innocent people and robs banks with her four sons; the pragmatic Arthur (Clint Kimbrough), the sadistic Herman (Don Stroud), the bisexual Fred (Robert Walden), and the drug-addicted Lloyd (Robert DeNiro). It all begins in the late 1920s when 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 a tight leash.

    When Herman and Fred are arrested and 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 named Kevin (Bruce Dern) (patterned after gunman Alvin Karpis) whom was Fred's cellmate during his incarceration and his (strongly implied) lover. The group is also joined by a local prositute named Mona Gibson (Diane Varsi), whom Herman frequented 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. Not wanting the woman to report them to the police, the Barkers hold her captive and Ma eventually kills her by drowning her despite the protests of her sons.

    Another time later, the gang arrives in Tennessee where they abduct a wealthy businessman named Sam Pendlebury (Pat Hingle) (patterned after brewerymaker William Hamm whom the Barker gang kidnapped in 1933). Holding him for a $300,000 ransom, the sons, particularly Herman, bond with their captive whom they see as the sympathic father figure they never had. When Herman and Mona go to collect the ransom, they are chased by a pair of FBI agents and bearly escape. When they find that the ransom is only half of what they orginally demanded, Ma orders her sons to kill Sam rather then let him go. But none of them cannot bring themselves to do it and they set him free, and lying to Ma about killing him.

    Next, the gang hides out in the Florida Everglades where Lloyd soon dies from a heroin overdose and Mona leaves Herman and the gang after she reveals that she's pregnant and does not want to be around them anymore out of the safety for hers and Herman's unborn child. But Herman and Kevin give away their hiding place one day when a local handyman and caretaker, named Moses (Scatman Crothers), witnesses them shooting an aligator out on a lake with a Tommy gun. Moses then calls the police and reports his suspicions.

    At the climax, several FBI agents and local police arrive at the Barkers farmhouse hideout and a huge shootout begins between the authorties and the surviving members of the gang. Kevin, Fred, Arthur, and Herman are all killed; Kevin is killed by Ma after he attempts to surrender to the police; Fred is killed after he runs out into the open and throws a molotov cocktail at a police car setting it on fire where he is fataly hit; Arthur is killed with a shot to the head by a police sharpshooter while arguing with Ma; and Herman commits suicide to prevent himself from being captured and sent to prison again. Ma is the last one to fall.

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