Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

I've known about Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry for a long time, read about it in books about cult movies, surely I've heard Quentin Tarantino mention it at some point. After all these years, I still can't get the title straight in my head. Is it Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, or is it Dirty Larry, Crazy Mary? Even watching the movie, I couldn't remember which was which. Because, you see, Mary didn't seem so dirty to me, but she did seem kind of crazy. And Larry was definitely crazy, but he was also kind of a dirtbag. Still, despite all my confusion, that title leaps out at you when you see it written out in front of you.

Right out the gates, Dirty Mary/Larry, Crazy Larry/Mary puts all the pieces in place for a perfect car chase movie. Larry (Peter Fonda) is a race car driver. His friend Deke (Adam Roarke) is a mechanic. Together they hatch a plan to rob a ton of money from a guy. They hold the owner's family hostage at home, while getting him to hand over the money in the store. Roddy McDowall is the store owner, and it's a tiny role, but I still ended up really liking his character, because it's made clear that he's no dummy.

The plan goes off, almost without a hitch, until Larry gets in the getaway car, only to find Mary (Susan George), his one-night-stand from the previous night sitting in there waiting for him. He tries to get rid of her, by being a jerk, but she wants to come along for the ride and she won't take no for an answer.

Meanwhile, the sheriff (Vic Morrow) has already begun a search for them, sparing no resources, and a high speed race to the border ensues, where Larry, Mary, and Deke use all of their wits and know-how to keep one step ahead.

The movie is well known for its car chases, and the car chases are absolutely great. 1970's car chase movies are so much better than modern car chase movies because they really did the stunts you see up on the screen. There's no CGI at play. No quick cutting. Just real stunts with real cars.

But the action isn't the only draw. The interaction between the characters is just as good. Peter Fonda's Larry is a mean guy, but that doesn't mean you don't like him. He walks that line really well. Susan George is really likeable as Mary, who, though unwanted at first, earns the respect of Larry and Deke, and is eventually accepted as part of the team. I actually liked her the best of the three.

The classic French film The Wages of Fear casts a heavy shadow over a lot of these 1970's movies involving vehicles. Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is actually the second 70's film that I've seen in the last few months with an ending that owes everything to Wages of Fear. The other, of course, is The Italian Job. And these were both made before William Friedkin flat out remade Wages of Fear with his movie Sorceror (which I have yet to watch). I wonder if there were many movie-goers back in the day wondering why all these movies coming out had such similar endings.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is cool, culty, gritty, and action packed, with an intelligent script and memorable characters. I've never seen anything else by director John Hough, though it looks like he made some pretty memorable movies in the 70's. He did a great job with this one. It's one of the most memorable and exciting car chase movies of all time.

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