Susan George

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).


Straw Dogs (1971, Sam Peckinpah)

Little known fact: the British Tourist Authority actually funded for Straw Dogs. They were sick of Americans moving over.

Obviously not true, but it would explain a lot. Not many films have such singularly evil human beings as those portrayed in Straw Dogs, but then few feature such textured evil human beings either. The film’s perfectly comfortable with assigning features by crap shoot and the complexity of the result is some of the film’s point.

But it’s hard to say if Straw Dogs really ends up having a point. It’s an amazing piece of American cinema, not just for its influential status in film history (the list of films inspired by the conclusion goes on and on), but because it’s so constantly unexpected. Jerry Fielding’s score changes drastically from the beginning to end–it starts out ominous, but ends in a rousing, glorious spirit (Straw Dogs, with the empty English skies and Fielding’s score, often reminds of Jaws). The editing–from Paul Davies, Tony Lawson and Roger Spottiswoode–is always competent, but it slowly becomes astounding. The first hints–sound from one scene playing over another–are discrete, to the point the first full scene of that type seems like a syncing error. But nothing can forecast the end, with its constant fast cuts from angle to angle. John Coquillon’s photography is similarly essential.

Peckinpah’s direction is masterful. Every single shot in the film–and given the rapid cutting at the end, there must be a lot–is perfect. Every move Peckinpah makes here is more than perfect, they’re unequaled.

The majority of the film isn’t calm discomfort–I think the end sequence runs longer than it seems and the initial conflicts kick off early–but the beginning’s scenes introducing Dustin Hoffman and Susan George are nice, concise storytelling. During their first scene at home together, I wondered why the film didn’t open with Hoffman and George boarding a plane for England. It soon becomes apparent the two don’t know each other very well or at least aren’t prepared to spend every waking hour together. As the story progresses, even after all she endures, it becomes hard to empathize with her, if only because Peckinpah treats her so hostilely. Following a scene all her own, which clearly illustrates her suffering, George still manages to perplex. She and Hoffman, though married and in almost all their scenes together (with the one monumental exception), are on completely different paths.

As for Hoffman–who didn’t like the film and only did it for the money, which accounts for my earlier statement about the film successfully having a point, as the lead working disingenuously seems to effect such things–he’s fantastic. Straw Dogs is frequently cited as being a “pushed too hard” story–the poster even advertises it as such–but the film never necessarily pushes Hoffman over any edge. In fact, it seems more like Hoffman would have responded in the first five minutes as he did in the last thirty. It makes the film even more confounding (and rewarding).

I haven’t seen Straw Dogs for a while, but I’m sure I had the same reaction at the end I did this time–it’s better than I remembered.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Sam Peckinpah; screenplay by David Zelag Goodman and Peckinpah, based on a novel by Gordon Williams; director of photography, John Coquillon; edited by Paul Davies, Tony Lawson and Roger Spottiswoode; music by Jerry Fielding; production designer, Ray Simm; produced by Daniel Melnick; released by Cinerama Releasing Corporation.

Starring Dustin Hoffman (David Sumner), Susan George (Amy Sumner), Peter Vaughan (Tom Hedden), T.P. McKenna (Major John Scott), Del Henney (Charlie Venner), Jim Norton (Chris Cawsey), Donald Webster (Riddaway), Ken Hutchison (Norman Scutt), Len Jones (Bobby Hedden), Sally Thomsett (Janice Hedden), Robert Keegan (Harry Ware), Peter Arne (John Niles), Cherina Schaer (Louise Hood), Colin Welland (Reverend Barney Hood) and David Warner (Henry Niles).


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