Sunday, February 10, 2013

Classic Car Chases, part two: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry

Theatrical Poster for Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974)

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974)

Like 1971's Vanishing Point, director John Hough's classic car chase / heist film, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, is a direct reflection of the mood of the era it was made in. But 1974 was not 1971 and in just a few years America was well past the sad and thoughtful mood of the first film. With the war in Vietnam still dragging on, American troops killing American students first at Kent and then at Jackson State, and of course the truly staggering depths of inept corruption shown from the top down in the cover-up of the Watergate scandal and what you had was a United States that was angry, cynical and filled with people convinced that there was no point in looking out for anything but number one. Dirty Mary Crazy Larry is a film that reflects the new cynicism which came to dominate the rest of the decade and beyond.

The '69 Charger in action, Crazy Mary Dirty Larry (1974)

As any regular reader of this blog knows I have long made the case that 1974 was one of those many critical years in American arts. A year where everything in the culture seemed to both coalesce and break away at the same time. Old styles of music, writing and film-making produced some brilliant, yet final moments while new, daring forms smashed their way to the forefront. On top of that 1974 was also one of the last years where it was still possible for creators to make a film, publish a book or record an album, on a minuscule budget, in some out of the way place and still have half a hope to have it show up all across the country. It was a rare year where pretty much everything, even the B-Movies, even the grinders, Hell even the porn, somehow, managed to be if not good, at least good fun. With that in mind, where Vanishing Point was trying for inner growth and personal depth, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry has goals that are a million miles away. Instead of a grim study of man and machine against society, you've got the fast paced prototype for just about every good old boy, misunderstood robber film to come for the next 10 years.

As the movie begins, race car driver Larry, played by Peter Fonda, B-Picture staple and the star of the film classic Easy Rider, along with his best friend and mechanic Deke, played by Hells Angels on Wheels star Adam Roarke are implementing their detailed and well though out plan to fund their NASCAR career by having Deke break into the home of a local grocery store manager and holding his wife and daughter of a grocery store manager hostage, while Larry goes to the store forcing the terrified manager to hand over $150,000.

Adam Roarke, as one of our "heroes" terrorizing an innocent woman and  her child, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

Surprising the lady while she's in the shower, Deke ties up her daughter and forces the frightened woman to call her husband telling him that she is in danger and that he must obey or she and his daughter would die. Roddy McDowell in an uncredited role as the store manager, quickly gives in to Larry's swaggering threats and hands over the cash.

Roddy McDowell menaced by a jolly Peter Fonda, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

Except for a couple of brief scares first from grocery managers daughter and then from the stores office clerk, the plan goes off like clock-work and Larry is ready to meet up with Deke to make their escape. As Larry goes to make his escape, his plan gets hit by a huge monkey wrench in the form of his barroom hook-up from then night before, Mary, played by British actress Susan George, who feeling that she's been run out on (and she has) is sitting in his car, refusing to get out.

British actress Susan George plays redneck in Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

Susan George had been a child actress in Britain gaining serious notice as an adult playing Dustin Hoffman's wife in the 1971 Sam Peckinpah film Straw Dogs. More recently she had starred as the female leads in a made for television musical version of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde, starring Kirk Douglas, so the role of the brash, loud and cocky American was not the first role you would expect to see given to the classically trained actress. But she pulls it off beautifully well, playing the perfect 1970's barfly, and if you didn't know she was, you'd never guess she had ever lived anywhere but out in the sticks of eastern California.

Without the time to either argue or to just get the loudly complaining Mary out of the car, Larry has no choice but to makes his escape in his souped up 1966 Chevy Impala with Mary tagging. Deke is less then pleased when Larry shows up to get him and there's a witness tagging along for the ride. But Mary is persistent that she isn't going anywhere and if the guys want to get away they are going to need to take the bored woman along with them.

Adam Roarke, Susan George and Peter Fonda, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

While Deke is quietly trying to figure out what to do now that their plan is basically blown, Larry begins to threaten Mary which doesn't go over so well when the woman bites Larry causing him to lose control of the Impala and crash off the road. Luckily, the car rolls to a stop next to a conveniently empty barn, leaving the trio safely hidden while they make their repairs.

Driving Action with a '66 Chevy Impala, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

Meanwhile back in town, the police are organizing a pursuit of the fleeing robbers, with the local sheriff played by actor Kenneth Tobey star of the original science fiction classic, The Thing placing the hunt into the hands of rebellious, police captain Everett Franklin played by the always volatile Vic Morrow.

Vic Morrow, Dirty Mary Crazy  Larry (1974)

With the Impala running, the trio make their way to a local flea market where Larry and Deke have a Dodge Charger stashed away as part of their escape plan. Abandoning Mary at the first opportunity the hapless robbers begin to make their escape, but don't get far when the realize that Mary has walked off with the detailed maps they are going to need to use for their escape.

The lime green, 1969 Dodge Charger R/T 440,  Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

Luckily for the boys, Mary isn't trying to hard to hide and they quickly find her sitting in front of a local store enjoying a popsicle, while waiting for the pair to retrieve her. Causally enjoying her snack as Larry begs her to give them the maps, Mary works herself a cut of the take before returning to the car.

At this point I need to inject that it is pretty clear that these two guys, despite threatening an innocent woman and child, are not nearly the tough criminals they are trying to pretend they are, as there have already been at least three separate occasions where Mary has put their plan in danger and the two haven't laid a hand on her, let alone taking the obvious step of putting a bullet in her obnoxious little head.

Maybe that's the wrong attitude to take while making a film review, but sometimes it seems like you need as a viewer to point out the obvious.

Susan George, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

With the maps in hand the trio finally begin to make their escape. The plan is to drive across mile after mile of orchards that dot the landscape, like a giant maze for 50 mile or so, losing any pursuit as they go along. A plan that works perfectly as numerous police cars catch up to the three only to either lose their prey in the maze of roads or to end up wrecked against some apple tree.

Action shot from Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

The gang has been successfully avoiding the law and things are looking good for an escape, when the trio finds themselves confronted by a determined Captain Franklin hunting for the trio inside a Bell Jet Range Helicopter and ready to fight. What follows is a series of  chase stunts that are among the classics, as the Bell flies on top of the Charger tightly between the orchard groves. performing some of the best action shots between a car and a flying vehicle ever filmed.

One of pilot James Gavin's fantastic helicopter stunts, Dirty  Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

The chase goes on for several tense minutes as the Charger and the Helicopter streak across the rows of trees. But luck is not with the determined policeman when just as it looks as if Franklin finally will capture the trio, the pilot is forced, with the captain grumbling and yelling the entire way, to land the out of fuel machine, leaving the trio free to escape across the border.

Helicopter chase, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

The tension collapses, laughing and joking, relaxing at last, knowing that there is simply nothing left to stand between them and wealth and freedom. The plan worked despite it all, the kid having an asthma attack, the office help, Captain Franklin and even Mary, against all the odds, the plan worked.

Still, as the films final lesson teaches us all, it never pays to relax or to stop paying attention until the journey is actually done. And most of all Crime Does Not Pay!!!

Susan George and Adam Roarke face the end, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

Originally based on a 1963 novel, titled The Chase, by writer Richard Unekis the great American filmmaker, Howard Hawks had bought the rights to the original story with the plan of making it into a big budget movie starring every bodies favorite king of speed, Steve McQueen. However as is often the case in Hollywood, after years in development the story had moved from Hawks and a disinterested McQueen to the legendary former head of American International Pictures, James Nicholson. Nicholson, decided to bring in the British actress George, as well as British director Hough for the project hoping that the presence of international creators would help the film internationally.

One "High Octane" Double Bill, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, with Vanishing Point

Originally released mostly to drive-in's and grindhouses by 20th Century Fox, the film performed surprisingly well, especially as part of a double feature bill with the re-released Vanishing Point, in the end becoming Fox's biggest individual moneymaker for 1974.

I've got to say that Susan George, the sexy British actress who had co-starred in Straw Dogs as Dustin Hoffman's "threatened" wife, plays the American barfly Mary pretty damm convincingly once again proving that if you want some one to play redneck American, hire a Brit. I is also loud, brash and more often then not makes some truly stupid decisions over the course of the film. Which leaves Adam Roarke's, Deke as the only grown-up in the bunch, to the point where if you are really paying attention the viewer has to wonder why Deke is putting up with these two losers in the first place. Which of course leads to the questions of just what the Hells wrong with Deke?

Tension mounts, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

Dirty Mary Crazy Larry was Filmed in and around Stockton California and taking advantage of the miles of walnut groves in the area which made a perfect set of roads for the films climatic final chase scene.while also allowing for miles of straight lines making it possible for some of the helicopter stunts that were performed.

Chased by the law, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

The helicopter pilot James Gavin who also plays the role of the pilot in the film, does some amazing stunt flying going under powerlines, flying between rows of trees and playing touch and go with a fast moving automobile, it really is some stunning work for the pilot who shot the majority of his scenes with actor Vic Morrow in the passengers seat to help with the films realism.

Vic Morrow takes up the chase, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

There is, I suppose, a certain irony to seeing Vic Morrow, taking part in dangerous helicopter stunts considering his tragic death by helicopter blade on the set of 1983's film version of the Twilight Zone. And it did leave me wondering, just a little, if when on the set that horrible night, if Morrow thought back to his work inside of the chopper a few years before.

There's no sequel for Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)

Dirty Mary Crazy Larry is good fun, with a solid plot and fun performances from every one involved. Add to that some incredible stunt driving and spectacular flying sequences and you get a true classic of the chase genre and one of the best films for pure movie making in my collection.

Footage added for tv broadcast.


  1. Hey nice site , I enjoyed the clear pictures , I'm with you as far as Vanishing point and mary/larry go ,they are the best car chase movies ever made without a doubt , Nearly every car chase in a modern CGI movie is rubbish and so over the top they are just ridiculous , give me some good character actors and a Mopar any day , keep up the good work

  2. Seems a cool movies.... I like the cars chase movies :)

  3. Susan george is the most gorgeous woman that ever lived