Category Archives: 1974

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 Sugarland Express (1974, Steven Spielberg)

After setting up Goldie Hawn and William Atherton as the protagonists, Sugarland Express takes about an hour to get back to them. Hawn and Atherton have an amazing setup–he’s about to get out of prison and has been transferred to pre-release. Hawn comes to visiting day but to break him out. She’s just gotten out of jail and the state took away their son. So she wants Atherton to come with her to get him.

They make it out all right only to end up kidnapping a state trooper (Michael Sacks) within the first twenty or so minutes. There’s a big car chase sequence–pretty much the only one of the movie, which eventually has about 80 cars in a shot–where Hawn and Atherton get the upperhand. Well, they bumble into it. But then Sacks isn’t really particularly with it either. Once the cops figure out what’s happened, they call in the boss, Ben Johnson.

So until Johnson gets into the movie, it seems like Sacks is going to take over as protagonist. But then he doesn’t. Because Johnson dominates the film. Intentionally. Director Spielberg, screenwriters Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, they pull back from Hawn and Atherton’s story and fill it out with the ginormous police response. It’s the kidnappers followed down the highway by a line of a dozen cop cars. It’s quirky. Johnson takes an immediate liking to Hawn after she grins at him through the back window. Because Johnson doesn’t want to be a hard ass, he wants to help these crazy kids (they’re supposed to be twenty-five but he’s a softey), and he’s never killed a man in ninteen years on the Texas highway patrol.

The movie is based on events from 1969. Texas in 1969. So that character motivation raises all sorts of possibilites for further discussion of portrayal of law enforcement in popular culture. But for the purposes of Sugarland, Johnson’s an old softey and he wants to help all these kids–including Sacks–get out of the situation okay.

Eventually they have to bed down for the night–cops and kidnappers–and that break from the Express is when the film catches back up with Hawn and Atherton. There hasn’t been time for them to get a moment. And it’s kind of when it becomes clear how far Spielberg and the writers want to keep the viewers from Hawn and Atherton. They don’t want to dig too deep. Just like they don’t want to dig too deep on Sacks, who Stockholms way too fast to be an effective state trooper unless they’re really all supposed to be sensitive doofuses (no other cop in the movie is sensitive–just Sacks and Johnson–the rest are gun-happy). And they don’t want to dig too deep on Johnson, because, well, he’s in his late fifties and it’s a still Goldie Hawn movie, after all.

So there’s not going to be character exploration. There’s also not going to be much more comedy; Atherton is realizing the gravity of the situation. The adrenaline has worn off and he sees his death. Meanwhile Hawn’s convinced because they’re famous–oh, yeah, they’re folk heroes–they’re going to get their baby back. Only they can’t really talk about it because, well, they aren’t bright. The moments when you do actually find something out about Atherton and Hawn–about their backgrounds or situation–it’s a sympathy moment. Not just for the audience, but for Johnson and Sacks too. Because even though Sacks is a doofus, he’s not a dope like Atherton or Hawn.

Then there’s the next morning there’s the next big action sequence–involving the kidnappers, there’s a big car crash without them that Spielberg plays without absurdity but still want some humor in the danger–and it’s a doozy. Texas gun nut vigilantes go out after the kidnappers. They shoot up a used car lot, with Hawn trapped in a camper while Atherton goes after an escaping Sacks through the lot. It’s intense. And sets the direction of the rest of the film. The energy of it too. The first half has a lot of great editing from Edward M. Abroms and Verna Fields and it’s fast but it’s not hurried. In the second half, with Atherton deciding to officially offer to trade Sacks for the baby, the Express–save narrative-driven slowdowns–is accelerating all the way to the finish. Spielberg and the screenwriters are intentional with how they use their time.

The script from Barwood and Robbins is precise. Spielberg’s direction is always in rhythm with it, even when he’s slowing down or speeding up. He gets flashy at times, but always to further the story–or affect its pacing. And there’s this patient, lush Vilmos Zsigmond photography so it’s never too flashy. Then there’s that great editing. And the effective (and simple) John Williams score, which enthusiastically promises hope then takes it away. It’s a technical feat.

Of the performances, Atherton and Johnson stand out. Sacks and Hawn have a lot less to do. Well, Hawn has more to do occasionally but it’s really just more screentime. The first half of the film is Atherton in a panic, the second half is Hawn in a different one. Again, Spielberg and the screenwriters stay back from the characters. They’re caricatures the actors have to fill out, because if you fill them out too much in the script, then Sugarland can’t be Sugarland. Part of the film’s charm is Spielberg and the screenwriters ostensibly keeping things light. Because it’s a Goldie Hawn movie and she’s so cute and bubbly. Only there’s a sadness around the cute and bubbly. Because it’s a tragedy, not a comedy. It’s a tragedy with some funny parts and some exciting parts. But it’s such a tragedy instead of trying to cover all the factors, the filmmakers just implied them and the actors informed them through their passive performances. Because it’s a lot of Hawn, Atherton, Sacks, and Johnson in close-up. There’s a lot of time with these characters together. And they have to develop together. And they do. The filmmakers are able to bake in all the sadness without doing any excess exposition dumps.

Sugarland’s great. It all works out.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Hal Barwood and Matthew Robbins, based on a story by Spielberg, Barwood, and Robbins; director of photography, Vilmos Zsigmond; edited by Edward M. Abroms and Verna Fields; music by John Williams; produced by David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Goldie Hawn (Lou Jean), William Atherton (Clovis), Michael Sacks (Slide), Ben Johnson (Captain Tanner), Gregory Walcott (Mashburn), Louise Latham (Mrs. Looby), Jessie Lee Fulton (Mrs. Nocker), Gordon Hurst (Hubie Nocker), and A.L. Camp (Mr. Alvin T. Nocker).


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It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown! (1974, Phil Roman)

Easter Beagle has a really strong script from Charles M. Schulz. Everything is balanced just right. It’s not balanced equally. The proportions are just right. Besides the lovely musical sequences–where Beagle goes for being lovely and graceful (lots of dancing Snoopy, set Vince Guaraldi, some Bach, and some Beethoven)–most of the special is spent with Peppermint Patty (Linda Ercoli) and Marcie (Jimmy Ahrens). Patty is trying to teach Marcie how to make Easter eggs. Things go wrong in very amusing ways as Marcie apparently has no understanding of how eggs work.

That subplot keeps up the whole special–but is actually completely independent of the “twist”–and just gets funnier. By the final few screw-ups, Peppermint Patty’s frustrations are possibly less than the viewer’s. It’s perfectly plotted by Schulz and director Roman. Really funny, really good plotting.

Other subplots include Sally (Lynn Mortensen) needing new shoes, Linus (Stephen Shea) trying to convince Sally and the other kids the Easter Beagle will give them all Easter eggs so why make them, and Woodstock needing a new bird house. Charlie Brown (Todd Barbee) and Lucy (Melanie Kohn) are around, but mostly just to be exasperated by their younger siblings.

There’s a great department store sequence–where everything is all Christmas (Easter Beagle has a couple moments of big commercialism commentary from Schulz; the department store works a lot better than the stuff in dialogue)–and only Snoopy is able to find the Easter section, on his way to picking out a bird house for Woodstock. Because even though Snoopy is a bit of a jerk to Woodstock–there’s a lot of almost mean slapstick violence–he does want to get him a new bird house.

Great music, some fantastic sequences (like, lots of them–Easter Beagle is mostly fantastic sequences), and strong performances from the cast. Kohn is maybe the weakest, but she comes around–though Barbee does have the worst part in the special–and Ercoli and Ahrens do some great work. Oh, and Mortensen and Shea. The Easter Beagle stuff is excellent.

And it’s got a great finish.

It’s the Easter Beagle, which has almost zilch to do with Easter, is a constant, consistent success.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; written by Charles M. Schulz; edited by Chuck McCann and Roger Donley; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Linda Ercoli (Peppermint Patty), Jimmy Ahrens (Marcie), Lynn Mortensen (Sally), Melanie Kohn (Lucy), and Todd Barbee (Charlie Brown).


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It’s a Mystery, Charlie Brown (1974, Phil Roman)

It’s a Mystery, Charlie Brown opens with this adorable five minute Woodstock sequence. He builds a new nest, then goes and takes a swim in a bird bath. A storm comes in–whatever its faults, Mystery does have some rather ambitious animation for a “Charlie Brown” special–the tranquil clouds changing into storm clouds looks awesome. Woodstock then has to survive on the water until Snoopy can save him. Once Snoopy comes in, things start to get less adorable. Mystery starts going for gags, because whenever Snoopy tries to help Woodstock, something goes wrong because of Snoopy’s callousness. For a while it seems like a subplot is going to be Woodstock snapping.

But it’s not. Because Mystery doesn’t have any subplots.

Once the storm is over and Woodstock is dry, Snoopy walks him home. Only the new nest is gone, so Snoopy dons a Sherlock Holmes outfit and they get investigating.

Wait, did I forget to mention Sally (Lynn Mortensen) has a science project due and the subject is nature. She needs something from nature.

Hint, hint.

So Snoopy and Woodstock investigate the Peanuts kids, starting with Charlie Brown (Todd Barbee) under a hot lamp. Then Lucy and Linus, then Marcie, then Pigpen, then Peppermint Patty. None of the scenes stand out except the Peppermint Patty one, where Patty decides Snoopy is playing cops and robbers and plays as the robber and attacks him. It might be a good scene if Donna Le Tourneau’s voice work on Patty were better. There’s got to be something special in the voice of a character who thinks a bipedal dog in a costume is a funny-looking kid and Le Tourneau doesn’t have it here.

After all the investigating, they go to the school and find the bird nest. Even though they’re just following the footprints from the tree, which Mystery previously implied led to Charlie Brown’s house and maybe the plot would move along a little faster. The trip to the other kids’ houses is narratively pointless. Other than to keep doing this sight gag where Snoopy’s bubble pipe makes a big bubble. The big bubble always pops on Woodstock, soaking him once again. Given Woodstock almost drown to death in the opening scene, it’s a little mean. Mystery is a little mean to Woodstock, who’s basically the only not annoying character in it.

Because Sally gets really, really, really annoying. Mortensen plays her a little sociopathic, which is funny, but she’s fighting with Woodstock, who’s sympathetic.

The last third is a series of unfunny jokes. Mystery goes out on a particularly bad one.

It took six guys to come up with the story for Mystery–Charles M. Schulz isn’t credited with them, though he wrote the teleplay. They didn’t come up with much. For a while it seemed like it’d be focused more on Snoopy and Woodstock, so dialogue-free comedy. But no.

It’s not terrible, it’s just not successful. It doesn’t really try to succeed either. It’s also not assured enough to be rote.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Phil Roman; teleplay by Charles M. Schulz, based on a story by Joseph A. Bailey, Jerry Juhl, Jeff Moss, Norman Stiles, Jon Stone, and Ray Sipherd and characters created by Schulz; edited by Chuck McCann; music by Vince Guaraldi; produced by Bill Melendez; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Todd Barbee (Charlie Brown), Lynn Mortensen (Sally), Melanie Kohn (Lucy), Stephen Shea (Linus), Donna Le Tourneau (Peppermint Patty), Jimmy Ahrens (Marcie), and Tom Muller (Pig Pen).


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