Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is a 1974 American car chase film based on the 1963 Richard Unekis novel titled The Chase (later retitled Pursuit). Directed by John Hough, the film stars Peter Fonda, Susan George, Adam Roarke, and Vic Morrow. Although Jimmie Haskell is credited with writing the music score, the soundtrack contains no incidental music apart from the theme song "Time (Is Such a Funny Thing)", sung by Marjorie McCoy, over the opening and closing titles, and a small amount of music heard over the radio.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry
Theatrical release poster
Directed byJohn Hough
Screenplay by
Based onThe Chase
by Richard Unekis
Produced byNorman T. Herman
CinematographyMichael D. Margulies
Edited byChristopher Holmes
Music byJimmie Haskell (Main theme)
Academy Pictures Corporation
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • May 17, 1974 (1974-05-17)
Running time
93 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$1.14 million[2]
Box office$28.4 million[3]


Two NASCAR hopefuls, driver Larry Rayder and his mechanic Deke Sommers, successfully execute a supermarket heist to finance their jump into big-time auto racing. They extort $150,000 in cash from a supermarket manager by holding his wife and daughter hostage.

In making their escape, they are confronted by Larry's one-night stand, Mary Coombs. She coerces them to take her along for the ride in their souped-up 1966 Chevrolet Impala. The unorthodox sheriff, Captain Everett Franklin, obsessively pursues the trio in a dragnet, only to find his outmoded patrol cars unable to catch Larry, Mary, and Deke after they ditch the Impala for a 1969 Dodge Charger R/T 440 at a flea market.

As part of the escape plan, Larry's vehicle enters an expansive walnut grove, where the trees provide significant cover from aerial tracking, and the many intersecting roads ("with sixty distinct and separate exits") making road blocks ineffective. The trio evades several Dodge Polara patrol cars, a specially-prepared high-performance police interceptor, and even Captain Franklin himself in a Bell JetRanger helicopter. Believing they've finally beaten the police, Larry and company meet their doom when they randomly collide with a freight train pulled by an Alco S-1 locomotive.


Original novelEdit

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is based on the novel originally titled The Chase (later renamed Pursuit) by Richard Unekis, published in 1963. It was Unekis' debut novel. The New York Times called it "a brilliantly detailed and breathless tale of pursuit".[4]

The story incorporated a phenomenon that was relatively new in 1963: major auto manufacturers were putting powerful V-8 engines into mid-sized cars (the dawn of the "muscle car" era) and young thieves behind the wheel of these cars were now able to outrun the economy 6-cylinder sedans driven by police in many jurisdictions. The protagonists of The Chase used such a vehicle, a Chevrolet, and made use of the checkerboard of roads in the farm country of Illinois to outrun the police.


Howard HawksEdit

According to Unekis' son, the rights to the book were originally bought for very little money by director Howard Hawks, who had Steve McQueen in mind for the title role of a future film project.

Hawks commissioned three scripts, from Antonio Santean, who turned a male character into the character of Mary, from Leigh Brackett and from Leigh Chapman.[5]

Hanson and WhiteEdit

Hawks opted out of the project when he was offered US$50,000 for the film rights by Sir James Hanson and Sir Gordon White, two wealthy English industrialist partners.

White and Hanson (who, at the time, owned Eveready Batteries and Ball Park Franks) had purchased the book to read on their plane while flying to the U.S. They both felt The Chase would make an entertaining film and presented the idea to personal friend Michael Pearson, who had produced Vanishing Point, an earlier, successful car chase movie.

After pitching their project to their movie mogul friends, who not only included Pearson but Albert R. Broccoli, Harold Robbins, and Sam Spiegel, they discovered the movie business was not as easy as they had suspected. In addition, they were saddled with an out of date book and no screenplay for which they grossly overpaid. With no interest from anyone in picking up the project, Hanson and White lost interest in making movies.

Jimmy BoydEdit

Over dinner one evening at Hanson's estate in Palm Springs, California they told their situation to friend and neighbor Jimmy Boyd. The latter read the book and agreed with Hanson and White that it would make a great car chase. Boyd, a race car enthusiast, had successfully built and raced cars with his friend Lance Reventlow, and had come very close to pursuing race car driving as a career. He guaranteed Hanson and White their $50,000 in return for the rights to the book.

Boyd wrote the screenplay along the lines of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, updating the dialogue and humor for an early 1970s audience. He also changed the two main characters from the escaped convicts in the book into a slightly larcenous - but likable - NASCAR dreamer and his mechanic, nicknamed Fast Floyd and Dirty Deke. Boyd then incorporated the one-night stand female stowaway and the added dimension of a NASCAR-engined getaway car capable of 165 miles per hour (266 km/h). Except for the tires and wheels, it was a stock-appearing Ford built by the famous race car builders Traco Engineering.

On the strength of his script, Boyd had raised $2 million for the budget (large, at the time). Boyd had then-unknown actors David Soul and Sam Elliott in mind for the lead roles.

James NicholsonEdit

Boyd got a phone call from James Nicholson, president and partner of Sam Arkoff at American International Pictures, a major producer of B Movies. Nicholson was leaving AIP to form Academy Pictures in partnership with 20th Century Fox: Fox would finance and distribute his films and give him complete control. Nicholson told Boyd he had read his script for Pursuit and wanted it for Academy Pictures. Boyd decided to enter into a partnership with Nicholson's Academy Pictures.[citation needed]

In June 1972, Nicholson announced that Academy would make six films for Fox over two years.[6] Nicholson said the films wouldn't be "exploitation quickies" but would be "good entertainment."[7] Nicholson's widow Susan Hart later said it was five films: The Legend of Hell House, Blackfather, Street People, The "B" People, and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry. She says the latter originally was titled Pursuit, but Nicholson, who had an excellent reputation for coming up with titles, thought Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry "was kitschier - and he was right, as usual."[8]

Nicholson decided to make Legend of Hell House first, and it was directed by John Hough in England.[9]

In October 1972, Nicholson had a seizure that was revealed to have been caused by a malignant brain tumor. He died of complications from an operation for the tumor in December 1972.[10]

Following his death, Academy Pictures was taken over by Norman Herman and Mickey Zide.[11] Herman produced the film, but Nicholson received no credit.[12]

Fox got Peter Fonda interested in the project and Nicholson hired English director John Hough. Hough had directed a horror film for Nicholson and brought English actress Susan George as one of the leads.[citation needed]


The film was shot in late 1973 in and around Stockton, California, mostly in the walnut groves near the small town of Linden, California.[13]

The supermarket scenes were filmed in Sutter Hill, California, the drawbridge jump was filmed in Tracy, California, the swap meet scene in Clements, California, and the climactic train crash was filmed on the Stockton Terminal and Eastern Railroad in Linden, near the intersection of Ketcham Lane and Archerdale Road. The Bell JetRanger helicopter used in the climactic chase was flown by veteran film pilot James W. Gavin (who played the character of the pilot as well) and was actually flown between rows of trees and under powerlines as seen in the film.[citation needed]

In the commentary of the 2005 DVD and later Blu-ray releases, Hough says two blue 1966 Chevrolet Impalas, as well as two 1969 (and one 1968) "Citron Yella" (Chrysler paint code GY3[14]) color Dodge Chargers were used in the filming. As the film was a low-budget project,[citation needed] and no more than three Chargers could be purchased,[citation needed] a team of mechanics would work on the cars overnight to repair damage, while the film crew would cycle through the available cars throughout the shooting day. Car haulers would follow the filming team with the additional cars as they were available.

In the same interview, Hough revealed that the ending in which the Charger crashes into the train was not in the original script. The novel upon which the film was based ended with the robbers colliding with a tanker truck, but as the Linden filming location offered a maze of railroad crossings, the ending was changed to incorporate the collision with the locomotive.[citation needed]

Hough said the lead characters did not die in the script. "I did that myself without asking or telling anybody. Consequently, we would not be able to make a sequel because the leading characters were all killed. But a statement I really wanted to make, was: speed kills. If you're gonna drive a hundred miles an hour, you’ll get yourself killed, so you'd better not speed."[15]

Fonda said the film was shot "pretty much in sequence. We had about 20 exciting stunts and about five minutes worth of acting. We had to make our scenes count. Adam Roarke, Susan George, and myself were sort of like The Three Stooges I guess you could say...I had a fine time making the film. It was a lot of fun.” [16]


The film developers thought that the Dodge Charger was actually bright yellow so they "corrected" the film negatives to eliminate the greenish tint of the car. Therefore, the entire movie in theaters, on TV, and on VHS was originally very warm toned. The color was more correct in the 2005 DVD release (and later Blu-ray releases) and the Dodge Charger became the correct lime green color.


Box officeEdit

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry was released by Fox in the spring of 1974 and was a surprise hit[17] earning North American rentals of $12.1 million, making it Fox's most successful film of the year.[18] By 1977, it earned an estimated $14.7 million in theatrical rentals.[19]

Fonda said the film "made a shit pile of money. More money than any film Dennis [Hopper] ever made."[20] He added, "I couldn't believe that so many moviegoers had seen the film four or five times. I could understand them seeing Easy Rider four or five times or maybe even The Hired Hand, but why Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry? Heck, I was even embarrassed by the title."[16]

Nonetheless the film established Fonda as a draw on the exploitation circuit and most of his films over the next few years were action movies.[21]

On February 18, 1977, the film came to broadcast television (with several scenes cut before the theatrical release reinserted to extend the film's length to the minimum required to fill a standard two-hour time slot). These added-for-TV scenes have never been released to home video.[22]

Critical receptionEdit

The film received mixed reviews from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has a 50% rating based on 14 reviews, with an average rating of 4.7/10.[23]

Edgar Wright said the film influenced Baby Driver. He said he "always felt sorry for the actor Adam Roarke in it who plays Deke. He's in the movie for the entire thing. You assume in the movie that Adam Roarke is going to die at some point, but he's there right to the end, so it really should be called Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Deke. Why does this guy get left off the title? He's been there the whole time."[24]

Home mediaEdit

The film was released on VHS and Beta in October 1979 on Magnetic Video.[25]

On June 28, 2005, the film was released on DVD through Anchor Bay Entertainment as a "Supercharger Edition". It included a color-corrected and fully restored theatrical version of the film as well as many bonus features.

On April 12, 2011, the restored film was released again on DVD, this time through Shout! Factory, packaged as a double feature with another Peter Fonda film Race with the Devil. This release contained fewer bonus features than the Anchor Bay release.

This same release debuted on Blu-ray for the first time on June 4, 2013.[26]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY (X)". British Board of Film Classification. May 30, 1974. Archived from the original on February 2, 2016. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  2. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p257
  3. ^ Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, Box Office Information. Archived April 13, 2012, at the Wayback Machine The Numbers. Retrieved May 22, 2012.
  4. ^ Criminals At Large By ANTHONY BOUCHER. New York Times 7 Apr 1963: BR50.
  5. ^ "Lotsa Teeth: An Interview With Leigh Chapman". Classic TV History. November 17, 2015. Archived from the original on December 29, 2018. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  6. ^ Former AIP Chief Forms Film Firm Los Angeles Times 9 June 1972: i11.
  7. ^ James H. Nicholson Starts Own Film Production Firm, Wall Street Journal 9 June 1972: 7.
  8. ^ Weaver p 143
  9. ^ MOVIE CALL SHEET: 'Legend' to Be First Venture, Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times 4 Aug 1972: f13.
  10. ^ James Nicholson, Producer Of Movies New York Times 11 Dec 1972: 42.
  11. ^ MOVIE CALL SHEET: Leslie Uggams Will Star in 'Eddie', Los Angeles Times, 20 Oct 1973: b8.
  12. ^ Weaver p 143,144
  13. ^ Movies Divorce, Disillusion......hard times hit the easy rider Shevey, Sandra. Chicago Tribune 17 Feb 1974: e14.
  14. ^ "imdb FAQ on Charger color". imdb. Archived from the original on March 5, 2013. Retrieved May 4, 2020.
  15. ^ "John Hough: "I am happy to say that 'Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry' is one of Quentin Tarantino's favorite films"". Film Talk. August 30, 2017. Archived from the original on August 5, 2020. Retrieved September 14, 2019.
  16. ^ a b Goldman, Lowell (Fall 1990). "Peter Fonda: I Know What It's Like to Be Dead". Psychotronic Video. No. 7. p. 35.
  17. ^ Frederick, Robert B. (January 8, 1975). "'Sting', 'Exorcist' In Special Class At B.O. in 1974". Variety. p. 24.
  18. ^ Solomon p 232
  19. ^ FILM VIEW: Why 'Smokey and the Bandit' Is Making a Killing FILM VIEW 'Smokey and the Bandit' Canby, Vincent. The New York Times 18 Dec 1977: 109.
  20. ^ Aftab, Kaleem (July 15, 2014). "Dennis Hopper: Peter Fonda on his 'Easy Rider' co-star". The Independent. Archived from the original on September 13, 2019. Retrieved September 14, 2019.
  21. ^ Vagg, Stephen (October 26, 2019). "Peter Fonda – 10 Phases of Acting". Filmink. Archived from the original on October 29, 2019. Retrieved January 9, 2020.
  22. ^ "Original TV Guide ad". Flashbak. Archived from the original on June 27, 2017. Retrieved June 28, 2017.
  23. ^ "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Archived from the original on March 12, 2016. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  24. ^ Anderton, Ethan (June 29, 2017). "Edgar Wright Gushes About 10 Movies That Influenced 'Baby Driver' (Part 1)". Slash Film. Archived from the original on June 11, 2019. Retrieved September 14, 2019.
  25. ^ "Magnetic Video (Creator)". TV Tropes. Archived from the original on August 11, 2019. Retrieved August 17, 2019.
  26. ^ "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry / Race With The Devil [Double Feature] - Blu-ray | Shout! Factory". www.shoutfactory.com. Archived from the original on July 24, 2018. Retrieved July 24, 2018.


  • Weaver, Tom (February 19, 2003). Double Feature Creature Attack: A Monster Merger of Two More Volumes of Classic Interviews. McFarland.

External linksEdit