Adam Roarke

Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974, John Hough)

I’m not sure how Dirty Mary Crazy Larry played on its original release—like, did audiences actually sympathize with “leads” Peter Fonda and Susan George—but whatever shine time has scrubbed off it has left something of an endurance test. Fonda and Adam Roarke (who’s more the protagonist than Fonda and often more than George) are a would-be NASCAR team. Fonda’s the driver, Roarke’s his mechanic. There’s not a lot about their history but basically Roarke’s a drunk and Fonda’s just never had a good enough car. Fonda’s got the driving skills to be a champion driver, which are more potential than realized given they drive around a mostly empty Central Valley California and there’s only like two actual chase sequences, albeit decent ones. He just can’t get the speed.

So he and Roarke decide they’re going to rob a supermarket of its cash delivery… by taking the store manager’s wife and daughter hostage and forcing him to open the safe. Roarke is the hostage-taker. He’s really good at being scary. Fonda’s in charge of getting the manager (an uncredited but rather good considering the performance calibers Roddy McDowell) to open the safe. Fonda’s not good at it. The film never explains how they come up with the plan (or target); as grocery store cash delivery robberies go, it’s not the worst plan but… Fonda and Roarke don’t seem to have any concept of possible consequences. Roarke maybe, he just stays quiet about his concerns; Fonda’s an idiot.

George is the local woman he hooks up with the night before the robbery. She tracks him down and refuses to get out of the getaway car and then outsmarts Fonda whenever he tries to ditch her. We later find out she’s an ex-con (serial shoplifting) with nothing better to do than hang with Fonda. When she first ambushes him, she goes on a little about how he’s just afraid because of their great connection the night before… but given the utter lack of chemistry between Fonda and George (and her best line being about his romantic failings)… well, it’s not like Leigh Chapman and Antonio Santea’s screenplay contributes much to the film. In fact, when it’s more surprising when it’s not terrible than when it has the occasional funny line. Deputy Eugene Daniels, who does one of the two chase scenes, is occasionally hilarious but it’s a combination of the bad script, Hough’s inept direction of his actors, and Daniels’s wanting acting chops.

Both Fonda and George are awful. George manages to be more likable because Fonda’s so unlikable, but she’s still terrible. Fonda often acts with his sunglasses on, obscuring his expressiveness… which might be a plus given the film.

Hough’s direction is occasionally incompetent—he and cinematographer Michael D. Marguiles lean into shaky camera work sometimes to the point it’s impossible to see follow a scene—but then he (and Marguiles) will have these great, elaborate long shots of the vehicular mayhem. They work at the vehicular mayhem. Nothing else. Though there’s this one strange perspective shot at the beginning with a car going down a hill where it seems like Hough’s going to try some things.

Even when the film looks good, it’s not trying anything.

The supporting cast lacks goodness but is occasionally mediocre. Kenneth Tobey mildly embarrasses himself as a blowhard sheriff guy. Vic Morrow is an iconoclast captain in the sheriff’s department (it’s unclear if Tobey’s boss or what); Morrow doesn’t carry a badge or a gun or wear any kind of uniform, he’s just a hardworking Cali farmer guy who takes the robbery personally. Apparently because of the kind of car Fonda and Roarke have. It seems like it’s going to mean something. It doesn’t. Nothing means anything in Dirty Mary Crazy Larry, including the title, which seems to be slut-shaming George (or not) and Fonda’s not crazy, he’s just a sociopathic jackass.

But it’s only ninety minutes, moves well, has the occasional good vehicular mayhem sequence, and has one hell of an ending. And Roarke’s often really good. Roarke deserves a better script, director, and so on. Fonda and George? They’re right at home in the dismal.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by John Hough; screenplay by Leigh Chapman and Antonio Santean, based on a novel by Richard Unekis; director of photography, Michael D. Margulies; edited by Christopher Holmes; music by Jimmie Haskell; production designer, Philip Leonard; produced by Norman T. Herman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Peter Fonda (Larry), Susan George (Mary Coombs), Adam Roarke (Deke), Vic Morrow (Capt. Everett Franklin), Eugene Daniels (Hank), Kenneth Tobey (Carl Donahue), Lynn Borden (Evelyn Stanton), Adrianne Herman (Cindy Stanton), Janear Hines (Millie), Elizabeth James (Dispatcher), T.J. Castronovo (Steve), James W. Gavin (Helicopter Pilot), and Roddy McDowall (George Stanton).


The Stunt Man (1980, Richard Rush)

The Stunt Man opens with an exquisitely interconnected sequence, introducing all of the principals–Peter O’Toole, Barbara Hershey and Steve Railsback–while concentrating on Railsback. Hershey’s introduction, which turns out to be the first of director Rush’s muddling of reality, manages to be both blatant and muted. I wonder how it plays on someone’s first viewing of the film (this time is my third or fourth). This opening sequence plays up the film’s almost screwball comedy–something Dominic Frontiere’s score makes possible.

But the film isn’t actually a screwball comedy. It’s a film about films, where there’s a blur in the difference between the two, whether it’s Rush cutting from an actual, practical effect sequence to a movie-in-movie shot or Railsback’s vet on the run meeting and falling in love with his dream girl, Hershey’s successful Hollywood actress. The Stunt Man practically begs for an intense analysis, since all three of the main characters are incredibly complex, but also Rush’s approach to telling their rather singular stories.

I hadn’t noticed before–probably because the first one or two viewings were at a young age and the last time I saw it, I was more concentrated on seeing it OAR for the first time–but O’Toole’s character is never explained. There are barely any hints at it. On one hand, he’s a megalomaniac film director who manipulates everyone around him for the best filmed result, but then there’s the exceptionally complicated relationship with Railsback’s vet. It occasionally starts to make sense, then almost immediately stops, with O’Toole, or the film, providing a contrary reason. Trying to make sense of it all–while Rush is busy filling the film with these big set pieces–puts the viewer on the same unsteady ground Railsback spends the entire film traversing.

Railsback–who never really had a major role after this one, never even had a role in a respectable production again from my perusal of his filmography–is outstanding. He’s got to be the lead with O’Toole around and O’Toole’s performance here is one of his best. It’s a catered career best performance–and one of the few I can think of where the actor exceeds the expectations. O’Toole has a great time with the role, but part of The Stunt Man‘s beauty is how it gets away from everyone involved. I’m not sure Rush and company knew they were going to make such a singular motion picture.

Barbara Hershey doesn’t get the film’s hardest role–Railsback has a couple gut-wrenching monologues where he asserts himself as the lead in spite of O’Toole’s glister–but where Railsback has so much to accomplish through dialogue, Hershey instead has to do it all quiet. She’s got Rush and Frontiere constructing the perfect arena for these physical expressions and they’re amazing. Rush doesn’t just know how to shoot her, Hershey knows how to act in his shots.

With the emphasis on stunts–not to mention the Vietnam connection (comparing this nearly unknown film to something more well-known and popular, like First Blood, is painful)--The Stunt Man becomes less and less accessible to audiences with each year. The film’s enthralled with the magic of filmmaking, the bottled wonderment; it’s also responsible for its contents–the Vietnam details are never cotton candy–and then there’s that screwball tone. It’s a difficult film to describe and should be seen instead. It hasn’t been, however, and the viewership isn’t going to go up and that state’s a bad thing.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Richard Rush; screenplay by Lawrence B. Marcus, adaptation by Rush, based on a novel by Paul Brodeur; director of photography, Mario Tosi; edited by Caroline Biggerstaff and Jack Hofstra; music by Dominic Frontiere; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Peter O’Toole (Eli Cross), Steve Railsback (Cameron), Barbara Hershey (Nina Franklin), Allen Garfield (Sam), Alex Rocco (Police Chief Jake), Sharon Farrell (Denise), Adam Roarke (Raymond Bailey), Philip Bruns (Ace), Charles Bail (Chuck Barton) and John Garwood (Gabe).


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