Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974) ***

PG, 93 min.
Director: John Hough
Writers: Leigh Chapman, Antonio Santean, Richard Unekis (novel “The Chase”)
Starring: Peter Fonda, Susan George, Adam Roarke, Vic Morrow, Kenneth Tobey, Roddy McDowell, Lynn Borden, Tom Castranova, James Gavin

Now, here’s a classic car movie. “Fast & Furious” is pretty good for seeing great cars in great action scenes, but there’s not much else thought put into them. “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry” is a heist movie and a car chase movie that has put some thought into the consequences of the characters' actions and the motives behind their crimes. Somehow, it’s all a whole lot simpler than the “Fast” series, but it engages us better.

This is because we want to know more about Larry and Deke and Mary. These guys are performing a real robbery in the real world. They’re good at what they do, but they’re not supermen. They don’t always agree with each other. It’s not about big things, like being betrayed by a friend that they would probably never be involved with if he were the type to betray them, but about littler things like joking around when they’re about to commit a serious crime.

Mary is hardly a little complication when she decides to take her revenge against Larry for leaving her in bed without saying goodbye by forcing him to take her along with him on their heist, but her reasons are smaller. She’s just bored. She has some petty criminal background herself and this whole thing seems like fun. However, there’s this sense in everything she does that she feels she might’ve bit off more than she can chew.

Of course, Deke, the mechanic, is the most interesting of the bunch. He’s the stoic, who’s wary of Mary’s involvement, but ends up being the more chivalrous of the two men. Their motivations are simple, and so the filmmakers can concentrate on them, rather than the plot. He can give us information in measured amounts and lets us be intrigued by the characters and the events they’ve created.

Look how the filmmakers give us information on the Vic Morrow character, who’s brought in to lead the man hunt. There are no speeches of exposition, he just comes in and is who he is; and those who work with him must deal with it. Through that we learn about him. A few things are pointed out, but there’s never a sense that you’re being told something important.

Of course, the big difference between a crime picture from the early seventies and the types of heist movies we see today are in how everything is resolved. That probably has a lot to do with the political and social environment we live in today. We want our criminals to be Robin Hood to make up for the white collar crimes we see going unpunished today, so the “Fast” crew wins out in the end. The fate of our heroes in “Dirty Mary” is much darker, however. Its lesson isn’t quite that crime doesn’t pay. Although the artists of the seventies might’ve believed in law and order, they weren’t blind to the fact that crime usually does pay; but often they found fate had a way of righting the scales.

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