[Originally published in Movietone News 35, September 1974]
Coming away from Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, an MTN colleague remarked that it had to be the most confused movie to cross our path in a long while. I disagreed, preferring to reserve the term “confused” for films that have somewhere they want to go but can’t quite decide how to get there, or others that may have more (perhaps very interesting) things to say than they can encompass. I felt that the makers of Dirty Mary Crazy Larry knew exactly what they were doing: they had nothing whatsoever to “say,” but they did have a handy file-card index of issues and ideas that other road-movie makers had addressed themselves to, and they could pull a card every five minutes and insert its text into somebody’s dialogue. Result: a quasi-intellectual zapper to occupy coequal status with the other disconnected shocks in the movie, be they the most unimaginative of scatological putdowns (any verbal exchange in excess of five lines can be handily terminated by having one party tell the other to “Kiss my ass!”), utterly unmotivated characterological turnabouts (two old buddies fall out, two sworn enemies fall in, and the three persons involved become the best of comrades, all within less than three minutes), or—who’d ever guess?!—car crashes.
Dirty Mary Crazy Larry plays the same game as The Exorcist (though admittedly The Exorcist is at the other end of the quality spectrum, narrow as that range may be in this region of confirmed non-art), heaping jolt upon jolt to convince the audience that progress is being made, that we are indeed moving from Point A to Point B, and that as long as we’re moving we must be OK. John Hough, who has previously gifted us with such dubious commodities as Treasure Island and The Legend of Hell House (the latter of which has accompanied DMCL in most of its saturation bookings), has no shame whatsoever. At one point a police car in hot pursuit of our two payroll robbers and their accidental moll leaves the road and plunges through a billboard; it’s necessary that one of the cops turn to the other and wonder, “Hey, just what did that billboard say?” after which Hough shows us it was a familiar warning about driving carefully and keeping your seatbelt fastened. So much for stylistic self-confidence. It’s a measure of the filmmakers’ moral conscience that invariably, after Crazy Larry has run another member of the world’s most inept police force off the road, we get a shot of the trooper(s) climbing out of the wreck or bobbing up out of the ditchwater to splutter in disgust: smashing cars is good clean fun and nobody gets killed or even seriously hurt, until the final, gratuitous, trashiest-of-them-all shock effect.
Peter Fonda, who had been displaying gratifyingly good judgment as a director and a performer, is undifferentiatedly obnoxious, and Susan George’s stupid grossness as a one-night stand who won’t be left behind may be bad enough to make a few more carpers realize how subtly she was directed in Straw Dogs. Adam Roarke lends much more character to the part of Fonda’s mechanic and heist accomplice than the film deserves, though his costars do make his nonstop exasperation more than credible. The ugliest thing about this disposable film is that it virtually teaches audiences that matters like form, consistency, and a responsible point of view don’t matter: the show, the kicks, will go on. I read somewhere that it had made $20,000,000 in the South alone. I dunno, maybe they dropped an extra zero in there….
DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY
Direction: John Hough. Screenplay: Leigh Chapman, after the novel The Chase by Richard Ulniek. Cinematography: Mike Margulies.
The Players: Peter Fonda, Susan George, Adam Roarke, Vic Morrow, Kenneth Tobey, Roddy McDowall.
Copyright © 1974 Richard T. Jameson