With the release of Easy Rider, came a whole new wave of road movies, where the simple act of riding or driving was made into an act of defiance against the older generation, and the modern way these were filmed reflected that. Soon, titles like Vanishing Point would take this even further, adding in a large focus on stunt-driving and car chasing, made possible by the new generation of V8 Engines in cars. This was the age that Tarantino was paying homage to in Death Proof, and it’s where Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry comes from. This was a big success, and is remembered fondly amongst fans of old school car chase movies, but unfortunately it hasn’t aged terribly well at all.
Former NASCAR teammates Larry (Peter Fonda) and Deke (Adam Roarke) have been out of the circuit for a while, but decide to swindle a supermarket owner (Roddy McDowell) out of a few hundred grand and vamoose out of town. But they have an extra passenger in their escape with Larry’s one-night stand Mary (Susan George). Soon, the cops are involved, and now it’s a race to a walnut grove to lose them and their Captain Franklin (Vic Morrow).
The biggest problem this film has is with its characters. As mentioned, the whole movement of movies that DMCL is part of is all about rebellion, stickin’ it to the man, so of course the characters in these are some manner of outlaw. Unfortunately, the main trio in this are just profoundly unlikeable. What Larry and Deke are doing isn’t some grand act of rebellion, or righting some wrong, they’re just making a quick buck in order to bribe their way back into the game. What’s worse, they do so by terrorising an innocent woman (whilst she’s in the shower!), her daughter and her husband, and this is the first thing we see them do. It doesn’t exactly lead to that much audience sympathy, and in their bickering over the course of the movie it never wins us back. What’s more, the titular Mary really is only there to cause more bickering and sexual tension; she doesn’t even have a solid reason to join them on this quest, except because. These aren’t rebels, they’re a bunch of self obsessed jerks.
The film’s pacing is pretty glacial. Not a lot really happens over the course of this other than they drive really fast. Occasionally things stop for a character moment, but nothing really comes from these, no one truly changes. Even with the cops chasing them, they’re still a bunch of bickering self-interested idiots and no fun to spend much time with. Of course all this is pretty much a vehicle for car chase scenes, and most of these are pretty good. There’s nothing quite like the thrill of a real, pre-CGI chase where you actually have cars smashing into each other. However, this one’s chases, while often having a good sense of speed and urgency don’t work quite as well as they should. They are still impressive, but they don’t really have a kick to the ending, they just sort of fizzle. None of them has a proper climax, they just sort of stop suddenly. This also sums up the film’s ending really, in that it just sort of has a “wait, that’s it?” last scene, making the rest of the film feel like a shaggy dog story.
Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry hasn’t aged well. Certainly the stunt work is good for the time, and the film and its’ ilk have had their influence in many a subsequent action/chase film, but the original is just so insubstantial. If you really like your classic American muscle cars, you might get a kick of seeing what use a 1966 Chevy Impala and a 1969 Dodge Charger get used for in here, but other than that there’s very little to see here.