Charley Varrick and his friends rob a small town bank. Expecting a small sum to divide amongst themselves, they are surprised to discover a very LARGE amount of money. Quickly figuring out that the money belongs to the mob, they must now come up with a plan to throw the mob off their trail.
Walter Matthau ... Charley Varrick
Joe Don Baker ... Molly
Felicia Farr ... Sybil Fort
Andrew Robinson ... Harman Sullivan (as Andy Robinson)
Sheree North ... Jewell Everett
Norman Fell ... Mr. Garfinkle
Benson Fong ... Honest John
Woodrow Parfrey ... Harold Young
William Schallert ... San Miguel Sheriff Bill Horton
Jacqueline Scott ... Nadine
Marjorie Bennett ... Mrs. Taft
Rudy Diaz ... Deputy Sanchez
Colby Chester ... Deputy Steele
Charlie Briggs ... Highway deputy
Priscilla Garcia ... Miss Ambar
This quick-moving thriller demonstrates that cinematic amorality has been around a long time. Made in 1973, it allows crop-duster and bank-robber, Charley Varrick, played by Walter Matthau, to get away with a heap of stolen money, the theft of which has led to the death of about half a dozen people, including his wife. The movie is directed, in his usual snappy but artful way, by Don Siegel, who taught Clint Eastwood everything Clint knows about direction, but not necessarily everything Don knew.
The movie also demonstrates that in the days when movies spent less time on technical wizardry, they could spend more on character development. For example, on "Molly" (Joe Don Baker), a courteous but sadistic heavy from the deep South, who can beat a man to death without losing his cool or creasing his sharp suit. Other noteworthy character studies are Andy Robinson as Charley's sweaty, weasly accomplice; Sheree North as a two-timing photographer; John Vernon as Maynard Boyle, a suave but crooked bank owner; and Marjorie Bennett as a nosey trailer park resident.
The plotline is supposed to be that Charley expects to get only a modest sum from the bank heist, and then has to get his thinking cap and skates on when he realises he's taken a pile of Mafia loot. But Siegel teases us, and it's never very clear just how much Charley knows and how far ahead he's thinking; perhaps there was an insider and Charley knew about the big money before the raid. Overall, can we believe what we're seeing, or is Siegel playing with us, like Bryan Singer in The Usual Suspects?
Which leads to the third thing demonstrated by this and other Siegel movies - that current hotshots like Quintin Tarantino owe him a debt.
Charley Varrick (Walter Matthau) is a former stunt pilot turned independent crop duster who is on the low end of the socio-economic scale. He lives in a trailer park with his girlfriend, Nadine (Jacqueline Scott). He decides to supplement his income by robbing a small bank in a backwater New Mexican town. Unfortunately, not everything goes as planned.
I watched Charley Varrick (in a fine widescreen transfer by the way; at present only a bad pan and scan version appears to exist on DVD) during a TCM channel marathon of director Don Siegel's films. I had just finished Madigan (1968), which I didn't care that much for (although I thought the limited action sequences were good and the direction fine), and was about to finally shut off the television and go to sleep. However, Walter Matthau is one of my favorite actors, and Charley Varrick was starting almost immediately after the end of Madigan, so I figured I'd at least "peek" at the first few minutes. That was a long peek, because this is one excellent film. Charley Varrick ended up with a 10 out of 10 from me.
It probably wouldn't be quite so good without Matthau as the lead. He's had a plethora of fantastic performances, but none are better than Charley Varrick (many are just as good). Matthau was perfectly cast--he had exactly the right age, the right look, and the right disposition for this role. His understated, intelligent manner makes the character and his actions eminently believable within the context of the film. As this is a film that hinges on a fairly complex, logically intricate plot, believability within the context of the film is very important.
Not that the other elements aren't laudable. Siegel's direction--most of it imbued with a great, gritty, early 1970s "feel"--is impeccable, and ranges from a series of beautiful shots of the countryside during the opening credits to elaborately staged, underhanded "clues" as to the "plot beneath the plot"--during most of the middle section, Varrick makes a number of moves that would seem bizarre if taken at their surface value, but he's really hatching a scheme to extricate himself from the mire he's sunken into. None of this is explicitly stated, but Siegel easily conveys it with his direction. There is even one point--right after a character named Molly (Joe Don Baker) visits Jewell Everett (Sheree North), that it seems like maybe Siegel made a fatal misstep, and a scene or two are missing, but I retained faith that it would work out in the end, and it did, seamlessly.
The rest of the cast is fantastic, as well, and of course a film like this wouldn't succeed without a great script, in this case written by Dean Riesner and Howard Rodman from a John Reese novel. This is a too-little-known gem that deserves wider recognition and better treatment, such as a good DVD transfer with lots of extras.
This was a pleasant surprise; better than I thought it would be, although I shouldn't have been surprised since Walter Matthau usually plays interesting roles.
What I appreciated was the realism of the story, except for two things at the end of the film such as no one coming to investigate a loud chase scenes and firebombing? Overall, the ending, however, was a very satisfying one, and one that brings you back for future viewings. Matthau also makes the film realistic, as he typecast perfectly for this role.
Other than Matthau, the cast isn't a big-name one but a lot of familiar faces and names from movies in the '60s and very early 70s such as John Vernon, Sheree North, Joe Don Baker and Felicia Farr.
Andy Robinson, is a not a known name in movies because he did years of television, but viewers might remember him as the creepy "Scorpio Killer" in the first "Dirty Harry" film.
"Charlie Varrick" is considered a film noir even though it's 1973 and in color, but it's noir in story and that's good enough for me. This is definitely worth a look if you like crime films.
* Director Cameo: ['Don Siegel (I)'] a table tennis player.
* Working title: "The Last of the Independents".
* Joe Conforte, the owner of Mustang Ranch, has a cameo as himself.
* A yellow Lincoln Continental sedan is used during a major plot in the film, during the bank heist. This particular scene is similar in Telefon (1977), where a yellow Lincoln Continental is used during the attempted bombing of the Hyatt Regency in Houston, Texas (actually San Francisco, California, where the film took place).
* Charley's old mobile home was located near the home of well known Nevada artist Afton Frederick, who allowed the use of her home for some exterior shots. Her husband Cliff Frederick helped the crew with the night security of the old Varrick mobile home, because the roof of Varrick's home was fully removed for the ease of the camera and lighting work inside. The weather was extremely warm during the filming, which lasted seven weeks in the Dayton, Carson City, and Genoa, Nevada area.
* The crop duster that Varrick (Walter Matthau) attempts to escape in at the end of the movie was destroyed in Oakdale, California on 31 December 1976 during a crop dusting operation. Upon starting a swath run the pilot of the BOEING A75N1 failed to see and avoid wires and crashed. The 33 year old pilot was killed.
* The last film of veteran character actor Tom Tully.
* The last film for Bob Steele.
* Stuntman Craig R. Baxley plays a character named van Sickle which appears to be a tribute to longtime stuntman Dale van Sickle.
* The braided wedding bands worn by Walter Matthau and Jacqueline Scott are the same as those worn by Charles Bronson and Lee Remick in Telefon (1977) also directed by 'Don Siegel (I)'.
* Character Maynard Boyle's line, "They're gonna strip you naked and go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch," is paraphrased in Pulp Fiction (1994) by character Marsalus Wallace.