Quantum Geek: Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (May 1974)

Foreword:

What is the definition of Geek? According to my sources, a geek is somebody perceived to be greatly enthusiastic, sometimes over-excited, for a particular specialist subject. If this can be true of film collectors and connoisseurs, then maybe you and I have something in common. Maybe we have a long way to go, as of today. Well this is a journey I hope you will love as much as I will!

I'm a collector of film and have been all my life. In today's age, it's even easier to be reunited with forgotten cult classics and childhood favourites. The Internet, served by likeminded people, gives us much of what we crave. But what can we do when some of those memorable cinematic moments become lost in time, brushed under the carpet to make way for today's half-hearted fare?

Is it coincidence that we fellow geeks look back to the past more and more in this age of groundbreaking movie production techniques; CGI visual effects replacing stuntmen and explosions, car crashes, gunshots and prosthetic special effects, thus replacing the craftsmen that made cinema great? It is, and it's so understandable that we will happily trade perfectly packaged bullshit High Definition and Surround Sound for the scratchy two-dimensional pastel colours of old film and the retro buzz of yesterday's soundtracks, because many of the filmmakers of the last century treated filmmaking as an art, not as a frenzied corporate clusterfuck of cross/trans-media marketing and merchandising. Back then, our favourite writers and directors, actors and artists faced many challenges that today's will never experience. The results are all glorious, good or bad.

New nerdgenious.com time travelling classic movie review article series

And so, welcome to Quantum Geek, the time travelling movie review series that leaps through the decades, month by month, in the hopes of preserving the legacy of classics; some still victorious, others lost in the seas of time. For our debut, this week, we will be leaping back forty years to May of 1974, so washing your hair tonight is no excuse...


DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY


What better way to start off this series with a classic road movie starring one of the all-time cult favourite greats? If you could compare Peter Fonda's career with any movie character, regardless of career differences, personally I'd choose Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.

I'm guessing Fonda is the only Reb Brown B-Movie villain to have been nominated for an Oscar, and that is my way of trying to point out that the man most memorable for Easy Rider, and then Ghost Rider decades later, is old-old-school cult classic royalty next to the likes of Roger Corman and William Lustig. In that category, no bad film ever seemed to destroy his career, or pidgeon-hole him (at least for longer than a decade at a time).

Peter Fonda and Susan George poster to the racing heist thriller Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry was not only one of Fonda's golden age movies, it was a golden age movie for absurdly dangerous car racing stunts and carefree script writing, back when the hippie generation were still just about growing out of their flares. While other white knuckle racing/heist features of the same decade such as Gone In 60 Seconds and The Driver (much later) focused on a more gritty urban setting, Dirty Mary... went down the Vanishing Point route, but curiously with a more upbeat Dukes of Hazzard theme. However I can still say that I get a slight feel for Russ Meyer revisiting this film.

The movie stars Fonda and Adam Roarke as aspiring NASCAR Larry driver and his mechanic friend Deke, who feel that they've got what it takes to compete in the big time. With just one problem in the way, the fact that they don't have the money to build the car they need to compete, they pull off a heist on a supermarket. It goes well enough, but to get away with the crime? That's another matter, altogether, as is Larry's one night stand, Mary (played by Susan George), who is pissed off with Larry, but ends up wanting to cut in on the adventure.

Susan George, actress of Straw Dogs Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Eastenders' Margaret Walker

With the three joined up as outlaws, cooped up in a Chevy Impala, they're hunted down by Sheriff Franklin (another cult classic, Vic Morrow) and his department, and looking to race to freedom. The movie also features original Planet of the Apes and Fright Night legend Roddy McDowall, who never contributed a bad performance in his lifetime.

What's noticably different about Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, as compared to many modern attempts, is its constant shuffling of character agendas and dynamics, and it's not to say that everybody's suddenly trying to fuck each other over for a few dollars. Typically, as Mary makes the duo into a trio, relationships becomes strained and unpredictable and there's some untypical cruelty on Larry's part.

These guys aren't drug addicts, they've just lost their patience with life and they want an easy ride. Mary's presence really switches from being a charm to a curse at any given moment and you understand Deke wanting to ditch her. This isn't Bonnie & Clyde, not by a longshot, and whereas that might be your immediate thought, you're still going to be thrown off, especially by the playful road competition between Larry and all these backwoods cops.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, a golden age for driving movies and dangerous vehicle stunts

Despite its age, the movie's perpetual chase scenes are sublimely executed and filmed. You may never see the likes of this ever again, and that's what makes it such a classic. It isn't so over the top that it's unbelievable, but all the same, a helicopted literally trying to bump a speeding car off the road in a narrow tree-lined country road is my kind of insane. This isn't CGI, this all happened, whether a cop helicopter would attempt that or not!

Right, if you haven't seen this movie and you still want to...

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SCRAM! DO ONE! GET LOST!

GET TO DE CHOPPAH!!!

How many fast-paced road movies do you know that end with the sudden high-impact death of every protagonist? If you never saw Vanishing Point, there's a difference. In fact, there are many!

Classic muscle cars in driving movies

One, only one guy died in that and it's still perceived today that it was outright suicide, that he meant to crash his car and kill himself in the process. What happens at the end of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is clearly a case of Larry running shit out of luck. They drive, at very high speed, in this beautiful Dodge Charger, right into the nose of a train speeding out from behind a line of trees and are dramatically blown to smithereens, but of course, not before Mary screams, very audibly, from amidst the pluming flames. A sudden fiery ending to the lives of our characters, which frankly leaves me stone cold every time. But, oh well, they were criminals, by the old laws of the movie universe, they kinda deserved it. Roll credits...

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry starring Peter Fonda, Susan George and Adam Roarke

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is undeniably a classic, despite it's dated and sometimes aimless style, and if you love your road movies, heist movies and racing movies, then add this to your watch list. Join us in a few more days time for another classic, John Carpenter and Dan O'Bannon's debut, Dark Star. Thanks for reading and feel free to leave me your comments below.
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