Director: John Hough
Screenplay: Antonio Santean, Leigh Chapman
Based on a Novel by: Richard Unekis
Starring: Peter Fonda, Susan George, Adam Roarke, Vic Morrow
Producer: Norman T. Herman
Running Time: 93 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
I used to be quite into cars when I was a youngster. I wasn’t a full on petrol head interested in engines and things, but I used to collect models and enjoyed car racing of any variety and absolutely loved car chase movies. The Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run films were some of my favourites as a pre-teen and as I got more into film as I grew older I discovered and adored the classic chases from Bullitt and The French Connection. Over the years my interest in cars and racing has withered away though. You’ve only got to look at the various models I’ve owned over the years to realise I’m not bothered about flash motors any more. I haven’t lost my love for car chase movies though.
It’s not an obsession I talk about much in my reviews, like I do my martial arts and action love. This is largely because they don’t really make car chase movies any more. A few action films over the last decade or so have featured some great chases, although other than The Raid 2, I can’t remember any particularly notable ones since Matt Damon’s stint in the Bourne films. These aren’t even true car chase movies though. The Bourne films are close because they are one long chase sequence in a way. I’m talking about purely road set movies which live or die by their driving sequences though. These became popular in the 70’s with counter culture films like the original Vanishing Point, the stripped down Gone in 60 Seconds and my all time favourite The Driver, before being turned into goofier fare with the two Burt Reynolds series I mentioned earlier.
In 1974, while the genre was in its prime, 20th Century Fox decided to capitalise on it by taking one of the most iconic road movie stars (Peter Fonda) and stick him in the odd couple car chase caper, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. The film has a bit of a cult status, but it’s largely been forgotten over the years. Luckily for chase hungry folk like myself, Odyssey DVD decided to include it in the opening lineup of their re-emergence in the UK and I got hold of a screener to give my thoughts.
Larry (Peter Fonda) and his friend/mechanic Deke (Adam Rourke) pull off a supermarket robbery to fund their dream of entering the NASCAR championships. It’s all going to plan until Larry jumps into his getaway car and finds last night’s one night stand, Mary (Susan George), sat in the passenger’s seat. Refusing to budge, the fugitives are forced to add her to their criminal lineup and the three of them race out of town to evade the police. Meanwhile, Sheriff Everett Franklin (Vic Morrow) is put in charge of chasing them down and he’s determined to do so after his superior seems keen on them failing so they can use the incident as an excuse to buy new police cars.
There’s not a lot else to the story of Dirty Mary Crazy Larry and that’s just how I like it. In fact, the few moments when the film flounders are when they try to inject too much of a backstory to its characters. This only really happens quite late on in the film too, when it feels too far down the line to be important anymore. A bleak ending which pops out of nowhere, added presumably to give some Easy Rider/Vanishing Point message/mystique, also feels out of place and unnecessary.
But we’re not here to talk about the film’s narrative or depth though are we. Like me, I imagine you’re interested in this film for the car chases. There aren’t a huge number of actual ‘chase’ scenes and these don’t feature until about 40 minutes in, which is a shame. However, spread throughout the film are some brief but wild stunts involving a number of close (and too close) shaves as well as a nice jump thrown in for good measure. When the chases do kick in during the second half, they’re great too. The climax involving a helicopter tailing the trio’s car is particularly impressive and must go down as one of the most daring and exciting stunt scenes I’ve seen in an American movie. The film is full of cool and inventive camera angles too, which is one of the things I love about car chases in the movies. It’s easier these days with GoPro’s and the like, but I’m always amazed by how they pulled off half the things they did back in the 70’s.
As for the film’s ‘mismatched duo’ aspects, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. Fonda is great, oozing cool and delivering some wonderfully insulting comments. A particular favourite is “try another stunt like that and I’m going to braid your tits”. I wasn’t always a huge fan of Susan George though. She’s quite annoying, especially in the first half. I realise she’s supposed to be, but I found her delivery a bit stilted and I didn’t find her as funny as I think she was supposed to be. The banter between the two of them is entertaining enough though and keeps the film moving along when the motors aren’t firing up.
So although it did satisfy my lust for burning rubber for the most part and features a few great set-pieces, it’s not quite as action packed as I’d hoped and other aspects of the film prevent it from being one of the best entries in the car chase genre. It’s worth checking out though if you’re a fan of 70’s road movies and makes for a fun hour and a half.
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry is out on DVD in the UK on 15th September, released by Odyssey DVD. The screener I was sent didn’t even have a menu so I can’t comment on features and things, but the picture and sound quality were decent.