Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Film Appreciation - Take It to the Max

Film Appreciation is drivin' hard this week as Cody Hamman writes about the 1974 car chase classic Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry.

Larry and Deke have come to a nice little town with a plan in mind. They're gearheads who were once in the NASCAR circuit, but both had to leave for their own troubles - Larry was a driver whose car "went kaflooey", Deke was a mechanic with a drinking problem. They want to get back into the racing business, but to do so they need to build a fast enough car. That costs money, and they can't seem to raise enough through legitimate channels. So they plan to take it.

After an armored truck drops off money for the cash drawers at the town's grocery store, Deke breaks in to the home of the store's manager and holds his wife and young daughter hostage, calling the manager at work and threatening to harm his family if he doesn't open the safe for his partner. Larry walks into the store, the manager opens the safe. Score.

There is a very dark and unnerving aspect to their heist. Although Deke tries to be as comforting as possible with his captives and keeps things running smoothly without getting too physical, first impressions could be that we're following a couple of really bad dudes. They'll become more clearly likeable over the course of the film, Deke especially. Larry can be a jerk, Deke isn't a bad guy at all

Immediately after their successful heist, the first problem presents itself: When Deke picked Larry up that morning, Larry walked out on his one night stand Mary without saying goodbye or even attempting to wake her. Mary doesn't like that, she's a good girl who doesn't appreciate being treated like a whore. She follows Larry into town to confront him, but seeing that he's preoccupied she just climbs into his car and makes herself an unexpected fifth wheel in Larry and Deke's getaway. Whenever they threaten to throw her out, she threatens to give the police details on their escape route. Why does she want to stick around? "I don't have anything else to do."

From about the 15 minute point on, Larry, Deke and Mary are on the run and the film is all about them trying to make their escape while Larry and Mary bicker endlessly. They're pursued by state troopers at every turn and an overzealous young officer is sent out in a souped-up interceptor with an "unlimited" top end. At the head of the authorities' efforts is Captain Everett Franklin, an unorthodox officer who refuses to cut his hair and won't wear a gun or badge but firmly believes in law and order. Riding in a helicopter borrowed from Fish & Game, Franklin is the trio's biggest threat.

The cast is really good across the board. In the title roles are the always awesome Peter Fonda and the uniquely appealing Susan George, a British actress who does a perfect American accent. Adam Roarke provides a wonderful performance as Deke. It's too bad that Roarke isn't more well known, although he does have more than 40 acting credits to his name. Roarke was a reformed gang member who went into acting and starred in a bunch of biker flicks, eventually pulling back from movies and becoming an acting teacher before dying in his sleep at just 58. The great Vic Morrow plays Franklin, and it's unfortunate that situations in this film inevitably bring to mind his tragic death.

In supporting roles there's an uncredited Roddy McDowall as the grocery store manager, as well as the extremely prolific Kenneth Tobey (over 200 acting credits), who previously in his career had gone up against such foes as the Thing from Another World, the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, and the "It" that Came from Beneath the Sea. Elizabeth James plays a police dispatcher, cult film fans may recognize her from her only other film role as the female lead in The Born Losers, the first Billy Jack movie (which she also wrote).

George and McDowall had previously worked with director John Hough who, despite being British himself, was able to make a film that feels like pure Americana.

This tale of likeable robbers evading the coppers in Detroit muscle was based on a 1963 novel by Richard Unekis called The Chase and later re-titled Pursuit. The basic idea behind the novel's story - that young criminals with new V-8 engines would be able to outrun police in their six-cylinder vehicles - was lost by the time the movie was made in the mid-'70s, but it sounds like it could still make for a cool '60s period film today.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is considered a cult movie these days, but this was a big hit when it was first released and remains popular as one of the best car chase films of the '70s. Most viewers at the time saw it at drive-ins, which must've been an awesome experience.

I first saw this movie on cable when I was young and really enjoyed it. When the famous ending came along, my mind was blown. The stunts throughout are spectacular, a perfect example of one of my favorite things: '70s vehicular mayhem.


One of my favorite moments in the movie doesn't even involve crashes, though. It's just a brief moment of Susan George having fun, listening to the radio and dancing in her seat. I am definitely going to feature an homage to this moment in a movie of my own someday.

I bought this movie on DVD when it was put out by Anchor Bay, a release that has since gone out of print. Called the "Supercharger Edition", it featured a commentary by director Hough and a 30 minute featurette, among others extras. As I mentioned in the Race with the Devil Appreciation article, this film and Race were re-released by Shout Factory this year in a double feature set. At the time that I wrote about Race, I wasn't sure if the special features from the Anchor Bay DVDs would make it to the Shout release. I've since read that all of the extras are on there, so I would highly recommend that everyone pick up that double feature, sit back and bask in the joyful wonders of '70s vehicle action.


  1. Love this double feature!

  2. Nice write-up! Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is a classic.

  3. I enjoyed your review of a great car chase (particularly for the MoPar connoisseur) movie with an honest and fair dialogue. Without dissecting the faux pas or being critical of storyline or acting. It is what it is, a good ol' car chase movie with (in my opinion) reasonably good actors during a much simpler era, and without computer graphics.
    I first saw it (a couple of times) at the drive-in when it was released and later on a badly bootlegged VCR tape because for a long time it was out of print before it eventually came to DVD.
    This "car-chase" movie along with others such as Halicki's Gone in Sixty Seconds, Bullit, Vanishing Point and the like, hold strong the genre that will be hard to exceed. At least in the raw sense.

    1. Thanks for reading! I imagine watching this movie (and the others you mentioned) at a drive-in would be an awesome experience.

      - Cody