[4 June 2013]
After The Wild Angels, The Trip and Easy Rider put him on the map beyond simply his shared last name, there was a certain action-packed, counter-culture persona expected of Peter Fonda in his prime. Therefore, that’s exactly what audiences got, especially in Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Race with the Devil a pair of surprisingly PG Rated fast-driving action-rich drive in movies with enough Peter Fondaisms to choke a giraffe.
Both 20th Century Fox films have been given the deluxe Blu-Ray treatment in the “Action-Packed Double Feature” from Shout Factory. There’s a certain antithesis to taking a couple of dirty road pictures and cleaning them up for perfect 1080p (1.78.1) high definition. One might expect something along the lines of the intentional scratches and bad splices that we got in 2007’s Grindhouse, but the transfers of both these films make for a beautiful viewing experience. The lonely Texas desert in Race with the Devil and the lush green groves in Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry are both brought to vibrant life, enhancing the quaint surroundings to contrast with the fast-paced insanity barreling down the highways through them.
The first film on the double feature, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is the better known and more successful of the pair. Co-starring the distractingly beautiful Susan George (Straw Dogs, The House Where Evil Dwells) as the young groupie-cum-accomplice to Fonda’s aspiring NASCAR driver and veteran actor Adam Roarke as his surprisingly sympathetic tough guy mechanic, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry details a supermarket heist that leads to a cross-country car chase with the cops, first in a classic, souped up Chevy Impala, then in an equally muscular Dodge Charger.
While this may sound simplistic, there’s more to the film than simple American Heist and Chase thriller, of the Dukes of Hazzard style. For one thing, the film was directed by John Hough, fresh off the brilliant horror masterpiece The Legend of Hell House, and the man brings a similarly unique approach to this flashy, daytime thriller as he did to his darkly horrific prior film. Hough brings his Hell House star Roddy McDowall to the small (and uncredited) role of the supermarket owner and his penchant for the “long take” to the chase sequences. It’s amazing how many impossible to recreate and fast car moves are captured in a single take with no cuts. Similar care is given to his dialogue-rich scenes that turn Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry from the B-Movie it could (and perhaps, should) have been and into a serious (but oh, so much fun) drama.
Race with the Devil (1975)
The “actual” B-Picture in this double feature, Race with the Devil, has one of the best (and hindsight-funniest) ‘70s tag lines I’ve ever heard in “When you race with the Devil, you’d better be faster… than HELL!” Directed by Jack Starrett (who actually did go on to direct some Dukes of Hazzard episodes), Race with the Devil is a strange combination of chase picture and horror film, with some decidedly Mad Max style stunts thrown in for badass measure.
In Race with the Devil, Fonda plays a motorcycle racer (strangely combining his Easy Rider and Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry characters), teamed up with partner Warren Oates (a frequent co-star) and their respective wives played by Loretta Swit and Lara Parker for an RV road trip to Colorado. That is until they witness a Satanic sacrifice in rural Texas and spend the rest of the film stalked by cultists across the bleak countryside.
With its desert landscape, amazing car tricks, crashes and chases, some sequences are so much like Mad Max that a case for plagiarism could be made if Mad Max hadn’t been released four years later. Race with the Devil doesn’t quite measure up to Mad Max or even Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry as a drama, but with its thrills, mystery and legitimate scares, this film is an unquestionable good time.
While a still gallery for either film’s promotional material would have been welcome, the extras on both features are impressive. Fonda lends interviews to both, with Susan George and John Hough providing additional interviews for Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and both feature feature commentary as well as theatrical trailers, TV spots and radio commercials. The real beckoning force here is (as it should be) the two features themselves, which are much more entertaining and of better quality than the cheese fests they could have been.
Neither film will inspire grass-roots efforts for retroactive recognition by their respective years’ Academy Awards ceremonies, but both films are a hell of a good (and fast) time as much on Blu-Ray today as they must have been at the drive in during their first run.