Peter Fonda’s Deadly Races

In today’s guest post, Jim Brymer looks at two awesome autocentric flicks starring Peter Fonda:

Drive-in movies have certain themes that appeal to me. Car chases, shoot-em-ups, and a healthy dose of action make up some of the better ones.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974):

This movie is probably misnamed if you ask me. Larry isn’t all that crazy and Mary isn’t all that dirty. It probably should’ve been titled Crazy Mary, Dirty Larry, because Larry is a little bit dirtier and Mary is definitely better described as “crazy.” Be that as it may, it doesn’t deter from being a great movie in the drive-in movie genre.

Larry (Peter Fonda) and his friend, Deke (Adam Roarke) have a plan to hijack the supermarket payroll from a local supermarket. ($150,000, which given that this takes place in the mid 70’s, either suggests that the supermarket must pay one hell of a good wage or the supermarket just doesn’t trust banks). The plan involves Deke holding the supermarket manager’s wife and kid hostage while Larry takes on the manager (played by an uncredited Roddy McDowall).

Upon success of this robbery, Larry and Deke plan to take the money to finance their entry into NASCAR, and become professional racers. Hey, no one ever said drive-in movies had to make sens). But the fly in the ointment is a crazy girl named Mary (Susan George). George’s essaying of a southern tramp may not be all that impressive until you realize the actress is British. I think it comes off a lot better considering that. Mary had a one night stand with Larry, but she is adamant about wanting more.

When Mary discovers that the two have just committed robbery, she deals herself into the adventure, although she claims she doesn’t want a share of the loot. She just wants adventure. Which she is going to get in spades.

Capt. Franklin (Vic Morrow), a renegade police officer — a somewhat milder form of Dirty Harry — initiates the search for the car identified as the getaway car and commandeers an all-out search for it.

Meanwhile, in the car, Deke harasses Larry about the unwanted passenger. Larry tries to ditch her on several occasions, but Mary seems to have a line on them. At one point they ditch her at a pharmacy only to find their escape map is gone, and realize that Mary has stolen it, so they have to go back and get her.

This is a class in Car Chase 101. It has elements of Smokey and the Bandit as well as hundreds of other low-budget outlaws vs. the lawmen films. And both Fonda and George pull off the tumultuous relationship between man and woman rather well. Morrow is entertaining too. Hard to believe this one has escaped my notice for so long.

Race with the Devil (1975):

“When you Race with the Devil, you’d better be faster than Hell!” – from the film’s trailer.

A fun road trip can often turn into a nightmare, especially in the movies. Roger (Peter Fonda) and Frank (Warren Oates) decide to take their wives on a skiing trip. The two own a motorcycle dealership in San Antonio, and decide to go to Aspen, Colorado for two weeks of fun, traveling in a decked out RV.

Frank’s wife, Alice (Loretta Swit) and Roger’s wife, Kelly (Lara Parker) go along for the trip.

They travel well on the first day and pull off the road near a river to camp out the first night. But they have chosen the wrong place. Directly across the river that night, Roger and Frank observe a bizarre ritual in which a band of witches or Satanists (its not exactly clear) sacrifice a woman.

This in itself is a bad thing. But to make matters worse, the cultists see the intruders and give chase. The four make it to the nearby town where they try to report it to the sheriff (R.G. Armstrong). Initially the sheriff investigates, but he dismisses it as just some fakery being done by stoned hippies, and that the sacrifice may not have really been a woman, but was a pig instead. What makes Roger and Frank suspicious however is the fact that the sheriff and his deputies take the men out to the site where it happened, but never ask for directions to the location.

Thinking that the sheriff may not be entirely on the level, Roger surreptitiously gets a sample of the blood which he intends to take to higher authorities in Amarillo. What begins as a trip to report the event turns into one of the most intense dramas in their lives. Not only are they chased across Texas by the cultists, but it seems that just about everyone they meet along the way has some connection to the cult.

The adamant insistence by their wives to just turn around and go home does not deter the two. Nor does the attack on the road by nearly every vehicle they encounter. (This cult must be pretty widespread indeed. One could get the hint that it must include just about every citizen in southwest Texas). This movie is sometimes credited as a horror movie, but don’t be fooled. Except for the one scene in which the sacrifice occurs there is very little in the movie to appeal to a horror fan. However, if car chases and action are up your alley, this is one hell (excuse the pun) of a ride.

Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films. This article originally ran in January and is being reprinted as part of our ongoing tenth anniversary celebrations.