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Before and After, Part Two: Post-Fat Boy Fonda: The Stop Smiling Film Review

The Stop Smiling Film Review

L: Race with the Devil (1975) R: Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)


Monday, August 08, 2005

Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974)
Directed by John Hough
Race With the Devil (1975)
Directed by Jack Starrett
(Anchor Bay)

Reviewed by Lawrence Levi

In the more than 30 years between his best performances — opposite Jean Seberg in Lilith (1964) and in Ulee's Gold and The Limey in the late '90s — Peter Fonda cock-walked through many roles, adopting a hipster version of his father's easygoing gait and gazing at the world with a rebel's remove, usually through a nice pair of shades. After his two iconic disaffected-biker roles, in The Wild Angels and Easy Rider, and a respectable turn as actor-director in The Hired Hand (1971), he made some fun B-pictures, two of which are freshly out on DVD.

In Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974) he plays the latter, a studly thief who's itching to be a racecar driver. He's already got his own mechanic, Deke (Adam Roarke), who's also his accomplice. They pull what they hope is their last heist, a supermarket job that requires holding the manager's family hostage, but Larry's one-night stand of the night before, Mary (Susan George), finagles her way into the getaway car with them, leading to a 75-minute chase and some knee-slappin' bad-guy banter. "If you try something like that again," Larry tells Mary after she tries to take a bite out his shoulder, "I'm gonna braid your tits."

George, a doe-eyed bottle-blonde in a denim halter-top, yells all her lines in a weird twang; supposedly, she had to be partly dubbed to cover her British accent. (Maybe she was still recovering from playing Dustin Hoffman's brutalized wife in Straw Dogs.) Fonda's delivery is casual and effortless. Roarke tries for deadpan sarcasm and looks and sounds a lot like Alec Baldwin. Upstaging them is Vic Morrow, the crotchety smokey on their tail, who barks at his hick police force with an unrestrained Noo Yawk accent. As they tear across the plains, first in a blue Chevy, then in a lime-green Dodge Charger, the by-the-book director, John Hough, seems to want to make them into outlaw-heroes, but there's no time for the movie to catch its breath. It's exciting to watch this bickering threesome shake off one police car after another, and to see Morrow foaming at the mouth, but there's not much more to it. What's truly entrancing is Fonda's hideous haircut — the shaggiest do this side of his sister's in Klute — which prompts one especially pissed cop to yell, "I'm gonna eat your lunch, you longhaired faggot!" You can almost hear them rip-snorting at that one back at the drive-ins.

Race with the Devil (1975) is a whole lot better, like Rosemary's Baby meets The Road Warrior, with a touch of The Hills Have Eyes. Fonda and Warren Oates are dirt-bike buddies who set out from San Antonio on vacation with their wives (Lara Parker and Loretta Swit, the M*A*S*H babe) in a pimped-out Winnebago. All's well until nightfall, when Fonda and Oates witness a satanic cult ritually engaged in some very bad behavior. The four tear off in the Winnebago and the Satanists follow. For the rest of the movie, as the shaken road-trippers deal with skeptical police, ornery gas station attendants, and pushy trailer-park neighbors, you don't know who's benign and who's evil — there's a sinister redneck at every turn. And where there are rednecks, can a gratuitous bar fight be far behind?

Jack Starrett, the director, keeps things moving, and Fonda and Oates clearly enjoy themselves. (It "was like going to camp," a blissed-out Fonda says in an interview on the DVD.) Oates is by far the most compelling of the bunch, letting loose seemingly improvised asides and sly facial expressions that give his character more wiliness than the story calls for. Though the movie doesn't take itself too seriously, it's played straight, and it's genuinely spooky. (Spooky enough to inspire a remake, due next year, in the already played-out vogue for Seventies horror.) And the chase scenes kick ass, especially considering they're in a Winnebago. But Fonda's reticent regular-guy-pushed-to-extremes holds it all together — the man just wants his bike, his wife, and his buddy, and damned if some robe-wearing, hokum-chanting Satanists are going to spoil his vacation.




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