The late 1960s and early 1970s produced a number of classic car chase movies, including Richard C Sarafian’s brilliant VANISHING POINT (1971), Jack Starrett’s RACE WITH THE DEVIL (1975) and Peter Yates’ BULLITT (1968). Aside from Yates, the other British film-maker to make a significant contribution to the genre was John Hough, who learned the ropes on THE AVENGERS TV series before directing Hammer’s TWINS OF EVIL and the classic LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE for James H Nicholson. After these, DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY was something of a departure for the director, but he acquitted himself admirably in making a quirky, action-packed, nihilistic feature in keeping with the cinematic trends of the time.
Larry (Peter Fonda) and Deke (Adam FROGS Roarke) dream of winning NASCAR, but need money to build a car to do it. They rob a local supermarket by threatening the manager (an uncredited Roddy McDowall) with harm to his family if he doesn’t open the safe. They make their getaway but pick up an unwanted passenger in the form of Mary (Susan George), Larry’s one-night stand from a few hours previously. Soon the police are in pursuit, led by Vic BRONX WARRIORS Morrow in a helicopter. The rest of the movie is an event-filled chase across the state, with Larry and Deke trying to unsuccessfully rid themselves of Mary along the way.
A car chase movie from an era long before CGI, it’s curiously refreshing (and far more thrilling) to see real cars missing trucks, bulldozers and each other by a hair’s breadth, plummeting through billboards, and careering into freight trains, rather than today’s CGI equivalent, which has rendered the genre sterile and far less involving. Then again, it may just be me getting old, but it’s also good to see characters who are not intended to be cool or slick but instead are at best misguided and at worst completely insane. I’m not suggesting DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY is meant to be in any way realistic (I can’t believe the script was looked over more than once by the writers as there's way too much daft dialogue here to suggest much care was taken with it) but there’s a rawness and a believability here that’s very hard to come by in modern Hollywood action pictures.
The acting is fine for this sort of thing, with George coming over as especially and deliberately annoying - a twelve year old girl in a denim-clad twenty-something’s body. The stunts and car chase sequences are splendid and there are enough of them that one can excuse any lapses in believability. So different is it from his horror films that it’s actually difficult to believe this was directed by the same man who made LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, although it would appear the cat from that movie has followed him and appears under his directorial credit. DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY features some great car chases, some even greater car crashes, and, with a sure eye behind the camera for the US landscape, has the feel of an American road movie on fast forward. All this and a gratuitous shot of J&B - what more could you ask for?
Mind you, some extras would be nice. Odyssey’s new Region 2 DVD release of DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The copy supplied for review was the film alone.
Odyssey DVD are releasing John Hough's DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY on Region 2 DVD on 15th September 2014