1974. Starring Peter Fonda, Susan George, Adam Rourke. Directed by John Hough.
Two-Lane Blacktop is more contemplative and Vanishing Point is more elegiac, but Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry isn’t concerned with much of a story, allowing it to focus on some really great chase scenes. Larry (Peter Fonda) and Deke (Adam Rourke) are small-time crooks who have planned a grocery store robbery, holding the owner’s (Roddy McDowell, uncredited) wife and daughter hostage until they can make a clean getaway. That getaway is complicated by Larry’s girl from the night before, the trampy Crazy Mary (Susan George), who refuses to be left behind.
The trio is pursued by an unconventional sheriff (Vic Morrow), who is determined to stop their escape, no matter how many squad cars are sacrificed in the process. When he feels they are trapped in a maze-like walnut grove, he even commandeers a helicopter to pin them down. (Seeing Morrow ducking as he runs toward the helicopter is disturbing, knowing that he’d be killed on set in a helicopter accident nine years later.)
For most of the movie, Fonda and George argue and pick at each other, trading some ridiculous lines meant to show their juvenile attraction to each other (their argument as Rourke fixes the car is hard to understand), and Rourke is brooding and silent. None of them are likeable, which helps the viewer not care whether they live or die in the car chases. The stunts are well worth waiting for, including a drawbridge jump and the billboard crash that we’ve seen many times since. The sequence where the helicopter is trying to force the car off the road is jaw-dropping, even 35 years later, and the ending is very satisfying.
I’m on a roll with these drive-in classics — not sure why. The cars are fantastic, including the 1969 Dodge Charger with the “Limelight” paint job. The Northern California roads are nearly empty, and the gas stations are just feet off the blacktop. Susan George drifts in and out of her “American” accent, sporting a real tan and those great, crooked teeth. Fonda seems like a bit of a jerk, but earns credit for doing much of his own driving. There’s a rebellious feel to the whole movie, even among the cops doing the chasing.
It might be that, instead of trying to convince us of its coolness, Dirty Crazy (as Fonda calls it in the DVD extras) puts it all on the screen, and lets you decide that for yourself.