Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)
Director: John Hough
Writers: Leigh Chapman, Antonio Santean, Richard Unekis (novel “The Chase”)
Starring: Peter Fonda, Susan George, Vic Morrow and Adam Roarke

The Plot: Larry (Peter Fonda) and Deke (Adam Roarke) are in town for a short period of time and they only have one thing on their mind, robbing the local grocery store. They’ve kept tabs on the manger, the location of the safe and have everything down to a science. The only thing they didn’t count on, was Mary (Susan George). A local girl that Larry picked up the night before the robbery, Mary follows Larry into town and watches as he robs the grocery store by having Deke hold the manager’s wife hostage at their home. With Mary knowing as much as she does, they have no choice but to bring her along for the ride, at least for the time being. As they make tracks across the county, a local sheriff (Vic Morrow), who is at odds with his chief, decides that he’ll stop at nothing to put Larry, Mary and Deke behind bars. Will he succeed or will our leads make their way south into freedom?

The Review
Cinema truly is the universal outlet for adventure. It’s our way of doing and experiencing things that we would never have done even if we lived a dozen lifetimes. For those of us who abhor violence, it provides us an outlet to experience the paranoia and fear that a killer might have to live with in the wake of his actions. For those of us with a fear of heights, we can watch daring men and women scale to the very top of the steepest of mountains. For those of us who drive like seventy year old women whenever we’re behind the wheel, we too can experience the excitement of a high speed pursuit! If you don’t get the subtle hint, that last example is a very apt comparison when it comes to my own driving versus the experience that I just had while watching Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. Although many of my friends are genuine gear-heads and speed-junkies, I have always played on the safe side when it comes to my driving habits. I always buckle up, I always check my rear view mirror and I rarely pass any vehicles while on the road. Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry epitomizes the polar opposite form of highway etiquette, and while keeping the action in full view without so much as cutting away from the danger, it provides the audience genuine excitement that actually shows us just how daring these stunts really were.

In today’s world of 3D models and CGI excitement, audiences have unfortunately lost sight of how impressive the medium can be when it comes to presenting danger. As Harold Lloyd (Safety Last) originally taught is in the days of silent film, cinema can provide an adrenaline shot so brutal that it can make us sick. While I won’t say that Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is the absolute be-all, end-all of roadway action films (there are arguments to be made for The Road Warrior and even Tarantino’s own Death Proof, a film that paid reverence to Dirty/Crazy), but it is certainly a brilliant reminder of a bygone era that provided genuine thrills and excitement. The danger that the film provides is truly one of its standout elements, and something that has no doubt continued to bring viewers in decades after its release. However, to be entirely fare, I think there’s a great deal of character work at play in the film that often gets overlooked due mainly to the tremendous action spectacle. While I won’t argue that the character depth is oceanic, the cast do their best in order to take the character moments that they have and make them as poignant as possible. On the outset the character of Larry, who is our main protagonist through the majority of the film, is a genuinely unlikable figure. We the audience see the way that he abuses and uses Mary, but as the narrative moves along and through the charisma of Peter Fonda, we can’t help but feel drawn to this wild man. The actors, who I will discuss further a little later on, all rope us in and give this outlandish piece of action cinema a true heart and soul, which may be the entire reason that it is still around thirty years later.

Based upon the novel The Chase, a quick read on the backstage ordeals that the movie ultimately went through and you can imagine just how different this film must be from its source material. John Hough, who was brought in from the UK late in the production, also spiced things up by encouraging his actors to take part in improvisational ad-libbing while on the set. So one can imagine that the end result is probably an entirely different beast than the Richard Unekis novel. I was a bit surprised to find, through the supplemental features on the Shout! Factory DVD, that some of the best lines in the movie were actually ad-libbed! Included in these lines were many of Peter Fonda’s outrageous quips such as “Every bone in her crotch, that’s what I’m going to break!” However, the dialog here is universally very impressive. The banter is back and forth in a style that seems more modern, but ultimately traces back to the days of film noir. The chemistry between actors helps give the tempo of the dialog, and the moments between Peter Fonda and Susan George are some of the best in the movie. The back and forth banter between these two can be brutal at times, due to the harsh attitude of Fonda’s character, but the way the actors dig deep and spit venom at one another is really fantastic to watch. As Mary does her best to get the attention of Larry, she finds herself being humiliated and although she may be simplistic at times, there’s an underlying layer of depth to her actions. Ultimately, you could say that the entire movie is based around her own growth as a character. She is a woman who defines herself by the men she attaches herself to, and by the time she finally discovers that she is her own woman, it may just be too late.

Peter Fonda had never been a favorite actor of mine, due mainly to my being inexperienced with his filmography, but I now find myself thoroughly intrigued by his work. While he had a lot to live up to with his family’s legacy, his odd career choices were certainly engaging in the fact that they cornered some very strange markets. With Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, Fonda goes a bit over the deep end as he portrays the radical Larry, but his charisma and the depth of the character gives the film an overall feeling of dignity. I like Fonda here, and it doesn’t hurt that he is surrounded by a litany of equally talented actors/actresses. Susan George, who will no doubt always be known for her role in Straw Dogs, is pure sex appeal from the second she graces the frame. Although the American accent she dons for the movie can be a bit distracting at first, it is easy to get over after only a a few scenes. Her character, to me, is probably the most important puzzle piece for the entire movie and I love the naive and subtle charm that she brings to the role. She is truly Americana as Mary. The third person in the car, not mentioned in the title (I suppose Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Brooding Deke doesn’t sound as catchy), is Adam Roarke in the role of Deke. Roarke is the polar opposite of Fonda’s wildman-nature. He is soft spoken but heavily contemplative, and he brings an intensity to the film that really was needed. Especially during the early heist sequence where we see Deke take the grocery store manager’s wife hostage. His quiet and all-business demeanor gives the audience the feeling that this man could literally do anything and we fear for the young woman and the child being held captive. As the film moves along, we learn that Deke, despite his persona, is the more open and human of the two criminals. However, like Mary, he ultimately has a need for acceptance and appreciation from others.

The Conclusion
Grading Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is a difficult decision for me. I’m torn between a four and a five as far as the overall rating goes. I can tell you this however, this is a film worth watching for any action movie fan who loves the raw adrenaline pumping cinema of the seventies. A white trash adventure yarn, this is a film that really deserves some recognition on a wide scale. I ultimately give it a four, due mainly to the fact that there are some aspects that we have all seen before and I don’t want to get your hopes up too high. Pick up the double disc set from Shout Factory, along with Race With the Devil, sometime soon and prepare for unadulterated entertainment!