Charley Varrick (1973)

Directed by Don Siegel

Cinematography by

Michael C. Butler

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.

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Charley Varrick (1973) ***

15 January 2005 | by JoeKarlosi (U.S.A.) – See all my reviews

It’s such a shame they can’t make gritty down-and-dirty movies like they did in the 1970s anymore. And CHARLEY VARRICK is a fine specimen of the exciting, brutal, honest approach to movies in that decade. We’ve become so accustomed to seeing Walter Matthau in comedies like GRUMPY OLD MEN that at first you’d wonder if he could pull his part off as Varrick convincingly (well, he also played a crook in KING CREOLE and a detective in THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE, TWO THREE, for openers). It turns out that Matthau is very good here, playing a small-time bank robber, a common-man type who’s latest take unexpectedly winds up being laundered Mafia loot!

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Now he has to outsmart the mobsters as well as their sadistic hit-man and the police, all of whom are hot on his trail.

Everyone in this film is out for all he/she can get. I have to take a moment to acknowledge Joe Don Baker in particular. As the punchy, no-nonsense, wisecracking hit-man he provides many fun moments and is a real standout. He’s perfectly cast, but then so really is most everyone (Woodrow Parfrey, Sheree North, Andy Robinson and John Vernon – the dean from NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE). Don Siegel keeps us interested throughout, and one nice scene in particular struck me when Parfrey and Vernon are having a discussion near the cow field. Their dialogue and acting is done practically in one long take that keeps us focused just by the sheer talents of the actors being allowed to do their thing. I wonder if this is a lost art with the now ever-moving MTV camera styles and edits of the 21st Century? I should mention I also enjoyed the unpredictable climax.

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They just don’t make movies like this anymore – unless you count the great Quentin Tarantino, who undoubtedly likes this film himself and seems to have borrowed some of it for his own work (there’s even a line from VARRICK that was reheated for PULP FICTION). *** out of ****

It doesn’t get any better than this.

10/10
Author: Preston-10 from Phoenix, Arizona
23 July 2000

Now that more and more people are reflecting on the great career of Walter Matthau it is surprising that very few critics have mentioned his top-notch performance in Charley Varrick (the best thing he has ever done). I got interested in this film when I discovered that it had an underground following with everyone from “The Pretenders” to several critics.

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I bought the film and became floored by how outstanding of a movie this is. In my opinion it is the most under appreciated movie ever made and the best movie to come out of the 70’s (yes, even better than THE GODFATHER, DAYS OF HEAVEN, TAXI DRIVER and APOCALYPSE NOW). It is also one of the ten best movies I have ever seen. I have seen this movie over 20 times and it gets better every time I see it. It is surprising that I have learned more about how to make a great suspense/action film from this movie than any other which I have seen. The interesting thing about Charley Varrick is that you wonder why you are so taken in by the story. It’s a relatively simple one. Yet, this is a story with a conclusion that leaves you stunned every time you see it and convinces you that this is a film that should be seen again and again (unlike some great movies that should be seen only once). I make it an effort to see Charley Varrick on a regular basis.

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The story starts out as follows: a group of bank robbers attempt to make a small killing and right when they think that they have succeeded . . . The story then allows the viewer to be consumed in a film of drum-tight professionalism with great action sequences, excellent performances, incredible dialogue, and possibly the greatest single screen villain of all time in the form of Joe Don Baker (I wouldn’t have believed it until I saw it). I am convinced that in the near future Charley Varrick will be resurrected in the form of a remake (not that I am looking toward that day). But in context, Don Siegel’s masterpiece is a film that stands by itself as one of the great under appreciated and undervalued movies of all time and is a film for everyone. It doesn’t get any better than this.

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Towards the top of the list for both Walter Matthau and director Don Siegel

10/10
Author: Brandt Sponseller from New York City
1 February 2005

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Matthau Makes The Modern-Day Noir Work

8/10
Author: ccthemovieman-1 from United States
27 April 2006

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.

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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.

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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.

Matthau’s fine performance

7/10
Author: Popey-6 from London, England
7 January 2002

Matthau’s fine performance and Siegel’s assured direction makes this a must for all lovers of 1970s action movies. Having passed this over before, I found Charlie Varrick to be an exhilarating watch containing beautiful landscapes and a stunning finale.

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I highly recommend this film and the section on it written by Siegel in his own autobiography. Criticisms that this is a confusing and slow-paced adventure are unfounded as many of the loose ends come together almost perfectly in a well thought through chain of events.

Definitely worth a look when it next comes on TV, but probably even better at the cinema.

Director Don Siegel wanted Varrick’s company’s motto, “Last of the Independents,” to be the title of the film. The motto appears on the film poster and briefly as a subtitle in the film trailer.

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When the hitman Molly arrives at Jewell’s photo studio and introduces himself, Jewell sarcastically replies, “Yeah, I didn’t figure you for Clint Eastwood.” – a sly in-joke that refers to the fact that the role of Varrick was written for Eastwood, who turned it down, reportedly because he said he could not find any redeeming features in the character. Despite his well-reviewed performance, Matthau was also reported to have been unimpressed by the film, and Siegel later claimed that Matthau hurt the film’s box-office by publicly stating that he neither liked nor understood it. Matthau is also reported to have sent Siegel a note which said, “I have seen it three times, and am of slightly better than average intelligence (IQ 120) but I still don’t quite understand what’s going on. Is there a device we can use to explain to people what they’re seeing?”

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Varrick’s aircraft is a Boeing PT-17 Stearman Kaydet (N53039) flown by noted Hollywood aerial pilot Frank Tallman. The modified crop duster belonged to a California agricultural spraying business.

Siegel filmed several of his movies in northern Nevada, including Charley Varrick, The Shootist and Jinxed! Charley Varrick was set in New Mexico, but filmed primarily in two small Nevada towns, Dayton and Genoa. Both lay claim to being the oldest towns in the state. The opening bank robbery exterior shots were filmed in Genoa at the old Douglas County court house. The sheriff’s chase of Varrick and his gang was filmed nearby at Genoa Lane, and on U.S. Route 395.

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The interior bank scenes were filmed in Minden. The trailer park scenes were shot in Dayton at the trailer park near Red Hawk Casino (closed in 2008) and the Carson River, at the corner of Hart and Louie Streets. The photographer’s studio and gun store scenes were filmed in Gardnerville. The aircraft flight scene at the end was shot at City Auto Wrecking in Sparks. Reno locations include the Chinese restaurant at 538 South Virginia Street and the Arlington Towers apartment building where Varrick meets Miss Fort.

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Reception

Although very well received critically, it was a disappointment at the box office. Reviewer Paul Tatara described Charley Varrick as “intelligent, commercial filmmaking at its finest. They rarely make them like this anymore.”

Vincent Canby in his review for The New York Times considered Charley Varrick as both an action film and a mystery:

An intelligent action melodrama is probably one of the most difficult kinds of film to make. Intelligence in this case has nothing to do with being literate, poetic, or even reasonable. It has to do with movement, suspense, and sudden changes in fortune that are plausible enough to entertain without challenging you to question basic premises. If you start asking whether such-and-such could really have happened, or if so-and-so would have acted in a certain way, the action film falls apart.

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While not strictly a “remake,” 2 Guns (2013) has many of the same film elements as Charley Varrick. The protagonists of the film also rob a bank in Tres Cruces, New Mexico, and make off with a far larger than expected amount of money.

Are we really seeing what’s going on or is Don Siegel throwing dust in our eyes?

Author: Geofbob from London, England
8 August 2001

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.

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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.

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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.

(Incidentally, those IMDb commenters who are offended by Charley bedding Boyle’s secretary (Felicia Farr) because she is too young for him should check Ms Farr’s DOB. Also, she was married to Jack Lemmon, Matthau’s friend and film-partner, so the bedroom scene is something of an in-joke.)

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I`m Sure Quentin Tarantino Has Seen This

7/10
Author: Theo Robertson from Isle Of Bute, Scotland
13 August 2003

Did someone say this was written for Clint Eastwood in the title role rather than Walter Matthau ? This would explain how Charley has a couple of sidekicks half his age and how he has a distasteful scene of going to bed with someone young enough to be his daughter . Hey wait a minute if Eastwood had been cast would they have left in that line about ” I figured you weren`t Clint Eastwood ” ? As for the rest of the cast Joe Don Baker is memorable as a really evil hitman , John Vernon plays the most laid back mobster I think I`ve ever seen in a movie while Andrew Robinson is slightly disappointing after his show stopping appearence in DIRTY HARRY but it`s amazing to think his only notable role after this movie is in HELLRAISER some fourteen years later

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CHARLEY VARRICK is a very clever and totally amoral thriller . It`s the sort of film Quentin Tarantino wants to make but he doesn`t have the economy of skill to do so , and I couldn`t help noticing there`s a line of dialogue about ” A blow torch and a pair of pliers ” that seems to have been reused in PULP FICTION.

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