So my brother was in town for Easter. He’s extremely jealous of my Netflix subscription and HDTV, so we made good use of both during his visit. He had a real hankering for a car chase movie and for some reason Netflix isn’t currently streaming Bullitt or the original Italian Job so we looked elsewhere for high-speed thrills. Fortunately we stumbled across a little gem called Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. It’s a cozy little piece of Americana with bouts of bad dialogue and worse acting. Fortunately she’s got it where it counts. A few good cars, almost as many smash ups, and plenty of crazy stunts.
The plot is pretty straight forward. Two NASCAR washouts hold up a grocery store run by none other than Roddy McDowall to get funding for one last run at the big time and get an unexpected tag-a-long in the form of a loud mouthed blonde whose purportedly been around the NASCAR circuit a few times herself, know what I mean? know what I mean? They spend the next hour or so trying to outpace and out whit a grumpy old cop played by Vic Morrow who seems to spend more time on his farm than on the road these days but wants to prove he can still cut the mustard.
The actual driving is peppered with tension between Morrow and Morrow and his underlings. The only underling of note aside from the chopper pilot is the hillbilly who fancies himself a race car driver and is more than willing to toss out line after stereotypically hilarious line. The tension between the driver Peter Fonda and the blonde Susan George is at best amusing and at its climax melodramatic and full of more ham than my gullet on Easter. For some reason I can’t get over the fact that George bears a striking resemblance to the Queen of the Nürburgring, miss Sabine Schmitz. Fonda is frequently out shone by co-star Adam Roarke who plays his mechanic. Roarke’s subtle mannerisms and jokes and his humanity during the robbery make him a much more likeable character all around. Say what you want about Easy Rider but I’ve never thought much of Fonda’s acting anyway.
But let’s face it. My brother didn’t come here for the drama and neither did you. The star of the show is a limelight green 1969 Dodge Charger R/T. It’s the same style which was later made famous on the Dukes of Hazard and has the same engine as the Challenger in Vanishing Point. It’s also the car whose own advertisements, as Jay Leno has pointed out, is shown careening off the road at a deadly angle. The car makes some massively wide turns but they’re handled really well and when you combine them with a pretty sweet pursuit vehicle it makes for a fantastic chase. Not to be outdone there is also a 1968 Chevy, I believe it’s a Malibu, early on in the movie which pulls off some very exciting stunts.
The police cars are six Dodge Polaras, not to be confused with the Bluesmobile Dodge Monaco. Even if they share the same engine and the same cop tires, cop suspension, cop brakes, and they don’t have catalytic converters so they run ok on regular gas. Lucky for us every last one of them met a horrific end, even if one was particularly anticlimactic.
One of my very aspects of movies like Vanishing Point and this one is their locations. Dirty Mary Crazy Larry takes place in rural northern California and it highlights much of the beauty of rural American highways. I’m not talking about the grand vistas and natural beauty, although they certainly contribute. No, I mean the cozy little towns with their roadside convenience stores. The gas stations that are little more than a patch of gravel and a couple of pumps. The fence lined narrow roads that seem to stretch out to nowhere. As a kid my Dad loved to take us on Sunday drives and we learned at an early age not to ask where we were going. What struck me about these little towns that Larry, Mary and Deke were flying through was how very much alive they were. The little concrete block bar with its plastic light up sign was actually open. The gas pumps were operational. The Superette’s windows weren’t boarded up. All these little places I passed as a child, and admittedly as an adult when I get the urge to take the back roads, were open and functional. Quentin Tarantino tried to recapture this in his movie Deathproof, but it’s hard to highlight a little dot on a map when it’s nothing more than a ghost town.
So not only is Dirty Mary Crazy Larry an exciting and loveable car chase movie, it’s a time capsule full of a time before smartphones and GPS. Before a 10 mile trip to Wal-Mart didn’t seem so easy and convenient. But don’t let my relentless nostalgia lull you to sleep. The chase scenes are more adrenaline packed than Vanishing Point and the plot less subtle. The ending is also very satisfying. I don’t want to give it away so I won’t say more, just check it out for yourself.