Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry March 28, 2017
As a car movie, 1974’s Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry balances the balls-to-the-wall action of a cheap thrill and the sinful pleasures that come with watching bad guys do bad like something of a latter-day KISS concert. Which means it's a good car movie. But as a crime drama, it’s also decent. Grab onto its shockingly nihilistic ending with passion and it’s clear that the done-to-death “crime doesn’t pay” message was embedded in the celluloid all along, us perhaps too shallow to see that all in front of us was never really just a fun Gone in 60 Seconds (1974) riff.
I’m not necessarily calling Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry terrifically smart nor entirely original. But to see an essentially hedonistic thriller eventually come to the conclusion that you really can’t have your cake and eat it too is a rarity. Its decidedly misanthropic charms are not to be missed.
The film stars Peter Fonda and Adam Roarke as Larry (not crazy, just stupid) Rayder and Deke Sommers, a pair of NASCAR hopefuls who extort $150,000 from a supermarket manager to help fund their prospective careers. Embarrassingly, they’re too misguided to see that holding people hostage sans masks and that executing thievery more on a whim than with a highly planned-out blueprint in pocket is dumber than Rayder’s pronunciation of “risque” (ris-cue, he says).
The duo, predictably then, becomes a hot topic in the eyes of local law enforcement officials. Particularly after Rayder’s one-night stand from the night before, Mary (not dirty, just crass) Coombs (Susan George), decides to tag along when a high speed chase ensues.
Perhaps Smokey and the Bandit (1977) and Death Proof (2007) did it better, but there’s no denying just how easily Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry’s economical pleasures get to us. Like a particularly well-made creature feature, a monster’s destruction of a metropolis can be as satisfying to behold as a chaotic car chase starring cops and robbers.
I’m also inclined to like good-natured, inarguably chintzy drive-in action of this film’s sort more than I am methodically mapped-out Hitchcockian suspense. But as we watch the eponymous anti-heroes drive through billboards, drive off drawbridges dangerously close to meeting their upright position, and drive into other cars with explosive results, it’s more or less impossible not to turn into a Hot Wheels obsessed kid again and take to the vroom vroom zaniness of it all.
Everything about Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is relatively carefree. But once its determinedly random, totally horrific ending makes way, we’re not as disposed to remembering it post-viewing as an effortlessly fun cinematic banger any longer. And that’s what I like best about it. It reminds us that even the most grand of times can go flying off the rails if fate isn’t as much on your side as you think it is.
Upon release in May 1974, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry proved to be a major box-office success. In a matter of a couple months, it made its $1 million budget back more than 12 times and, by 1977, made 14 times more. And it’s easy to see why – when the thrills are this gleeful, resisting isn’t much an option. B