While not actually a good movie in terms of artistic achievement and/or narrative ambition, Dirty Mary Crazy Larry is in some perverse ways the epitome of its genre. Throughout the ’70s, filmmakers made innumerable ennui-drenched flicks about young people hitting the road for crime sprees that represented a sort of anti-Establishment activism. In the best such pictures, the wandering youths articulated their angst so well that their actions felt meaningful; in the worst such pictures, the basic premise was simply an excuse for exploitative thrills. Since Dirty Mary Crazy Larry exists somewhere between these extremes, it’s emblematic of the whole early-’70s road-movie headspace. The picture also has just enough cleverness, reflected in flavorful dialogue and oblique camera angles, to validate the existence of genuine thematic material, even in the context of a trashy lovers-on-the-run picture.
Peter Fonda stars as Larry, an iconoclastic driver pulling crimes to earn money for a new racecar. Riding shotgun during Larry’s adventure is Deke (Adam Roarke), an accomplice/mechanic. During the movie’s exciting opening sequence, Deke breaks into the home of a grocery-store manager (Roddy McDowall) and holds the man’s family hostage while Larry waltzes into the store to collect the contents of the store’s safe. Unfortunately, Larry’s most recent one-night stand, Mary (Susan George), tracks Larry down during his getaway—she steals his keys and threatens to tell the cops what he’s doing unless she lets him tag along. Thus, Deke, Larry, and Mary form an unlikely trio zooming across the Southwest with police in hot pursuit. Working from a novel by Richard Unekis, director John Hough and his assorted screenwriters do a fine job of balancing talky interludes with high-speed chase scenes, creating an ominous sense of inevitability about the drama’s impending resolution.
Still, the characterizations are thin—although the crooks’ main pursuer, Sheriff Everett Franklin (Vic Morrow), is an enjoyably eccentric small-town lawman—and the performances are erratic. Roarke anchors the getaway scenes with a quiet intensity that complements Fonda’s enjoyably cavalier persona. Englishwoman George, however, is a screeching nuisance, presumably impeded by the task of mimicking redneck patois. She’s so annoying, in fact, that it’s easy to laugh when Fonda berates her with this bizarre ultimatum: “So help me, if you try another stunt like that, I’m gonna braid your tits!” Dirty Mary Crazy Larry zooms along as fast as the cars featured onscreen, delivering several nerve-jangling crash scenes and generally setting an interesting trap for the reckless protagonists. Yet the movie’s ending changes everything, and the finale is so quintessentially ’70s that it’s reason enough to check out this hard-charging romp.
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry: GROOVY