Upstream. A Mohawk Valley Blogzine.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974) - Film Review

With "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry", Peter Fonda brings us another road movie, sneaking it in between his legendary "Easy Rider" (1969) and the underrated classic "Race With the Devil" (1975). Under the direction of Britain-born John Hough, best known for his work in the horror genre, Fonda plays Larry Rayder, a racecar driver dreaming of breaking into the proverbial bigtime. What he lacks, though, is the money necessary to obtain a decent racing vehicle. So, in the tradition of such movies, he and his mechanic Deke Sommers (played by Adam Roarke), pull a robbery. Along the way, they are, against their better wishes, joined by Mary Coombs (Susan George), a one night stand of Larry's who didn't take nicely to his not saying goodbye. And, in hot pursuit, are a number of police cars under the command of law officer Everett Franklin (the late, great Vic Morrow). Auto-oriented action movies were a staple of '70s cinema...they gave Ron Howard his directorial start and helped end Burt Reynolds career. Somewhere in the middle of greatness and ineptitude falls this film. It's a technically competent film, and it's obvious that the people making it liked what they were doing. The film has gone on to cult status...and it's not that I can't see why that is, its just that I didn't particularly get excited myself. The greatest flaw is in the characterization. The similar "Bonnie and Clyde" (1967) featured criminal lovers on the run from the law, but one of that film's strengths was that you loved Bonnie and Clyde (despite their heinous actions) and wanted them to get away. The same rule applied to the classic "The Getaway" (1972). But Larry, Mary, and Deke just aren't that appealing. It's not the fault of the cast, who all turn in decent performances...but more of writers Leigh Chapman and Antonio Santean. Larry comes of as stupidly crazy (as opposed to lovably crazy...which is tolerable), Mary as an aimless annoyance, and Deke as a sad sack. Those aren't necessarily bad traits to have main characters possess, but in this instance there is little in the way of endearing characteristics to balance the lesser ones. Attempts are made to make the leads more sympathetic (Deke, for example, is a recovering alcoholic), but they come off cliched. In the end, I failed to have any passionate desire to really root for the heroes. In fact, I found the most engrossing character to be Franklin, an unconventional policeman who won't wear a gun or a uniform or cut his hair...nor will he let a criminal outsmart him. The film manages to muster some strengths...there are some nice bits of humor involving an overzealous patrolman played by Eugene Daniels, some well-staged car crashes and chases (though never breathtaking as in "Race With the Devil"), and a fine supporting cast featuring Kenneth Tobey (famed sci-fi leading man of the '50s), Elizabeth James (leading lady from the 1967 hit "The Born Losers"), and an unbilled Roddy McDowall. But, though such positive assets make the film watchable and somewhat entertaining, it fails to reach the heights accorded other films in the genre. On a one to four star rating system (with one the worst), this merits 2 1/2 stars.

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