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
Produced byNorman T. Herman
Screenplay by
Based onThe Chase
by Richard Unekis
Music byJimmie Haskell (Main theme)
CinematographyMichael D. Margulies
Edited byChristopher Holmes
Academy Pictures Corporation
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • May 17, 1974 (1974-05-17)
Running time
92 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 S1 locomotive.


Original novel

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry is based on the novel originally titled The Chase (later renamed Pursuit) by Richard Unekis, and 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 Hawks

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. The first was done by Antonio Santean, and it was he who turned a male character into "Mary". tThen Leigh Bracket did a draft. Then Leigh Chapman wrote a version.[5]

Hanson and White

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

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 an earlier successful car chase cult movie, Vanishing Point.

After pitching their project to their movie mogul friends, who not only included Pearson but Albert R. Broccoli, Harold Robbins, and Sam Spiegel, they soon 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 Sir James and Sir Gordon soon lost interest in making movies.

Jimmy Boyd

Over dinner one evening at Hanson's estate in Palm Springs, California they told their plight to friend and neighbor Jimmy Boyd. Boyd 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 along with his friend Lance Reventlow, and had come very close to pursuing race car driving as a career. He guaranteed Hanson and White their fifty thousand dollars in return for the rights to the book.

Boyd wrote the screenplay himself 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 two young, then-unknown actors, David Soul and Sam Elliott, in mind for the lead roles.

James Nicholson

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 his own company, 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.

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 entertaiment."[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 was originally called 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, because its script was ready to go. 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 the other two men in the company, Norman Herman and Mickey Zide.[11] Herman went on to produce 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 could bring English actress Susan George into the mix, providing one of the male leads would be rewritten for her.


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

The supermarket scenes were filmed in Sonora, 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 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.

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) "Limelight" (Chrysler paint code GY3) color Dodge Chargers were used in the filming. As the film was a low-budget project, and no more than three Chargers could be purchased, 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 also 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, California filming location offered a maze of railroad crossings, the ending was changed to incorporate the collision with the locomotive.

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."[14]

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.” [15]


There is the assumption film developers thought the Dodge Charger was actually bright yellow and so "corrected" the film negatives to eliminate the greenish tint on the car. In fact, 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 office

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry was released by Fox in the spring of 1974 and was a surprise sleeper hit[16] earning North American rentals of $12.1 million, making it Fox's most successful film of the year.[17] By 1977, it earned an estimated $14.7 million in theatrical rentals.[18]

Fonda said the film "made a shit pile of money. More money than any film Dennis [Hopper] ever made."[19] 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 tide."[15]

On February 18, 1977, the film came to broadcast television (with several scenes cut prior to theatrical release reïnserted to extend the film's length to the minimum required to fill a standard 2-hour time slot). These added-for-TV scenes have never been released to home video.[20]

Critical reception

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.[21]

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."[22]

Home media

The film was released on VHS and Beta in October 1979 on Magnetic Video.[23]

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.[24]

See also


  1. "DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY (X)". British Board of Film Classification. May 30, 1974. 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. 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.
  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. "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.
  15. Goldman, Lowell (Fall 1990). "Peter Fonda: I Know What It's Like to Be Dead". Psychotronic Video. No. 7. p. 35.
  16. Frederick, Robert B. (January 8, 1975). "'Sting', 'Exorcist' In Special Class At B.O. in 1974". Variety. p. 24.
  17. Solomon p 232
  18. 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.
  19. Aftab, Kaleem (July 15, 2014). "Dennis Hopper: Peter Fonda on his 'Easy Rider' co-star". The Independent.
  20. "Original TV Guide ad". Flashbak. Retrieved June 28, 2017.
  21. "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved January 27, 2016.
  22. Anderton, Ethan (June 29, 2017). "Edgar Wright Gushes About 10 Movies That Influenced 'Baby Driver' (Part 1)". Slash Film.
  23. "Magnetic Video (Creator)". TV Tropes.
  24. "Dirty Mary Crazy Larry / Race With The Devil [Double Feature] - Blu-ray | Shout! Factory". www.shoutfactory.com.


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