Karen Brent (Margaret Markov) is a revolutionary on a Pacific island state, but has been captured and sent to a prison. As she is taken on the bus to the penitentiary, she exchanges glances with Lee Daniels (Pam Grier), a prostitute who has stolen a great amount of money from her pimp (Eddie Garcia), who just happens to be a drugs baron as well. The first thing the women do when they arrive is take a shower, which they do unaware they are being spied on by one of the lesbian guards, Densmore (Lynn Borden), but it's not prison Lee and Karen will soon be worrying about, as they're about to be thrown together by fate...
Now there's a title you'd only get away with in the seventies. One of many exploitation movies made in the Philippines by the team of director/producer Eddie Romero and producer/actor John Ashley (who doesn't appear in this one), Black Mama, White Mama was also one of the many women in prison movies made there, althought the actual prison section of this one doesn't last too long. It was written by H.R. Christian from a story by Joe Viola and future director Jonathan Demme, and was basically a female version of The Defiant Ones.
Markov as Tony Curtis might not boggle your mind, but the feisty Grier as Sidney Poitier is an interesting bit of casting, if not too surprising for a film with this background. For the first act, they are both prisoners who have little to do with each other, Karen being proudly political and Lee being, well, proudly non-political and only looking after number one. Lee is called to Densmore's office late one night because the guard is looking for a sexual partner who will do everything she says, but Lee is not interested and resists, taking the intervention of the warden (Laurie Burton) to break it up. Strangely, Densmore is a pretty pathetic character.
But there's no time to worry about that because after a few days of cutting grass and chopping at a big log, the ladies are on the bus back to the prison when they are stopped by a group of Karen's fellow revolutionaries keen to free her. It all ends with a big gun battle where Densmore and the warden are shot dead and Lee and Karen make good their escape - chained together for maximum inconvenience. So begins their flight across the island, with Karen wanting to get back to her freedom fighters and Lee wanting to get to the harbour so she can leave the island with her money.
This involves dressing up as nuns and constantly being foiled whenever they get a chance to break their chain, but the film has a habit of cutting away from their story to the people who are chasing after them. The most entertaining of these is played by Sid Haig, a bounty hunter who wears a cowboy hat, a selection of loud shirts and drives a louder car. His antics lift the action above the seedy, by-the-numbers plotting that takes up most of the film, whether employing trick shots to win at pool or being distracted by a threesome. Black Mama, White Mama may not be original, or particularly exciting, and the political consciousness-raising is disposable but Grier and Haig are worth watching - such a pity they share no scenes together. Music by Harry Betts.