For this iteration of Rob’s Car Movie Review, I must confess to you that I have picked a film that I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with, if for no other reason than to get the albatross of my opinion of it off my back once and for all. As you’ll see, I have some very good reasons for my mixed feelings towards the flick, in spite of it possessing some admirable cinematic facets. And so without further ado, I present to you my thoughts on Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry!
Released by 20th Century Fox in 1974, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry stars Peter Fonda as Larry, and Adam Rourke as Deke, a wanna-be NASCAR driver and his mechanic, who, after realizing they’ll never make the big time without big time funding, hatch and execute a plot to rob a supermarket. Pulling off the heist successfully, their plan is to coolly drive away from the area of the crime and switch cars to confuse any pursuing cops. All would have gone off without a hitch if it wasn’t for the appearance of Mary, played by Susan George, a scorned one-night-stand of Larry’s who insinuates herself into their getaway plans.
At the mention of Susan George, here is where my rant begins. She is AWFUL. As in possessing the ability to ruin the whole film awful. She injects an over-the-top, obnoxious and wooden performance into what would otherwise be a solid genre car movie. Her back-and-forth repartee with Fonda is not only less than witty, but makes it incomprehensible why the characters of Larry and Deke wouldn’t simply kick her out of the getaway car in a New York minute.
While I never thought of Peter Fonda as a heavyweight thespian, he does an okay job here saving the film from total ruin, as does the shape-shifting Adam Rourke as Deke, a character that seems to be an utter sociopath until revealing his softer side late in the film. Also successfully keeping the entire ship from capsizing is the late, great Vic Morrow portraying Franklin, an unconventional cop obsessed with nabbing the robbers, and Roddy McDowell in a brief cameo as the supermarket manager.
Continuing my rant, all genre films draw from similar films of the past, but, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry takes things a step further by straight-up stealing plot elements from other movies, some that were released just a few years prior. The entire idea of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, that of two lowlifes in a car with an unwanted female tag-along, is pretty much directly lifted from Two-Lane Blacktop (1971) a film I reviewed earlier this year. Even more egregious is the pilfering of elements from another subject of Rob’s Movie Review, Vanishing Point (1971), such as the hero’s car being chased by a police helicopter and the ending of the film, which in Vanishing Point comes off as dark and nihilistic, but here comes off as random and unmotivated.
Rant over, there are many things that make the film worth watching. The cars of the film are great, and include a 1966 Chevrolet Impala Sport Sedan (improperly identified in dialogue as a ’68) with a 327 cubic inch “Turbo Fire” V8 engine and a 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission; plenty of 1972 Dodge Polara police cars; and the movie’s Holy Grail, a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T 440 Magnum in Sublime Green with a 3-speed Chrysler TorqueFlite automatic. What a car the latter is, with its throaty growl filling the soundtrack of the last half of the film with thrilling effect.
Also gratifying is the movie’s stuntwork, featuring some serious driving (with Peter Fonda doing much of his own wheel work), the aforementioned helicopter/car chase (the irony of Vic Morrow flying in a seemingly out of control helicopter was not lost on me given his untimely and unfortunate death in a helicopter accident on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie almost exactly a decade after the filming of Dirty Mary), and a truly spectacular jump of an opening draw bridge by the Chevy.
Further buoying the film is the cinematography and editing which are both top-notch. The former captures the dusty, sun-gilded nature of the American Southwest perfectly, and the latter providing much needed cross cutting between the heroes’ story and that of their pursuants. The editing also comes in handy in creating some real tension and excitement to the movie’s chance sequences.
Because of the unevenness of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, I will offer it two ratings instead of the usual one. With any other actress playing the role of Mary, I’d give the movie a solid seven out of ten pistons. But alas, as is, I can only offer Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry five out of ten pistons.
About The Author: Rob Finkelman is a freelance writer for Street Muscle Magazine. He attended and graduated from New York University’s film school in 1992, and subsequently worked in the movie business for twenty years as a documentarian and screenwriter. Combining his two great passions in life – films and cars – and writing about them is a dream job for him. He will be bringing us a Car Movie Review each month, and he’s open to suggestions so list yours below.