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Dirty Mary Crazy Larry / Race with the Devil


Two fine and sadly overlooked films

Rod Lott March 31st, 2011

Big sis Jane may have spent much of the '70s racking up the awards and accolades, but give me Peter Fonda's films any day of the week.

dirtymarycrazylarry

Even the lowest of his low-budget vehicles bear far greater repeat value. Case in point — or two, to be exact: Shout! Factory's double feature of "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry" and "Race with the Devil."

With regard to 1974's "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry," those title adjectives aren't just there for rhyme; they have reason. Fonda is Larry, a disillusioned NASCAR has-been who turns to kidnapping and robbery for a big payday. A skanky Susan George is Mary — aka "Super Crotch" and "Dingleberry," depending upon what mood Larry is in — a one-night stand who becomes a whiny hanger-on against his wishes.

Not part of the title, but forming the other leg of this ne'er-do-well triangle is Adam Roarke as Deke, Larry's mechanic. After pulling a grocery store heist (the manager is Roddy McDowall in surprise cameo), our anti-heroic trio flees in a Chevy Impala with the sheriff (Vic Morrow) close behind. When he can't catch up, Morrow pursues them by chopper.

After the opening job, the film is one big chase, with little room to breathe, like "Smokey and the Bandit" with a brain and a “no mugging for the camera” rule. Oh, there are laughs, all right — "So help me, if you try another stunt like that again, I'm gonna braid your tits!" Larry warns Mary — but they're not presented as punch lines. No flick with a slam-bang ending like this one has will be mistaken for comedy.

And despite the title, don't mistake the following year's "Race with the Devil" for action. It's a horror-oriented thriller, and a damn good one even today. Two married couples (Fonda and "Dark Shadows" vet Lara Parker; Warren Oates and Loretta Swit) find that an RV vacation turns all OMG when they inadvertently witness a coven knee-deep into one spooky, satanic ritual.

From there, the foursome is on the run from the witches who wish to turn them into their next sacrifice. When I first saw this about 20 years ago, I was stunned by its final shot, and it still gave me the creeps today. Yet few people ever talk about this movie anymore, if they ever did, so hopefully this reissue will widen its, er, cult.

The package provides great value with directors' commentaries and more trailers, plus half-hour documentaries on each film that go in depth about their productions, and reveal Fonda as quite the quintessential storyteller. It's almost worth the price of admission just to hear him talk about being peed on by a snake. Let's hear Jane be as candid. —Rod Lott





 
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