October 3, 2016

Charley Varrick (1973)
Grade: 67/100

Director: Don Siegel
Stars: Walter Matthau, Joe Don Baker, John Vernon

What it's about. Charley Varrick (Walter Matthau) is a crop duster with a secret double life. He's a small town bank robber, the mastermind in a criminal gang that includes his getaway driver wife Nadine (Jacqueline Scott) and two young heavies.

Their heist in Tres Cruces, New Mexico goes awry. Two policemen and a bank security guard are shot, along with one of the henchmen. Nadine is also wounded, and soon dies. But Varrick escapes, along with one of his heavies, Sullivan (Andrew Robinson). They hole out in Varrick's trailer to count the money, and learn they have $750K, a vastly greater haul than expected.

Varrick surmises it is Mafia money, and sure enough, colorful tough guy hitman Molly (Joe Don Baker) is on the trail of the money and bank robbers. The police, led by Patty Duke's dad William Schallert prove less effective. Molly suspects an inside job, putting the heat on bank executive Boyle (John Vernon). Varrick comes up with an improbable, yet successful, scheme that kills all his persecutors and leaves the law and Mafia believing he is dead.

How others will see it. Charley Varrick was not a box office success, but it drew good reviews, and is shown fairly frequently on television. Today, all of Siegel's crime dramas have a strong following, and this film is no exception. At imdb.com, the user votes are 8K, reasonable for a 1973 movie, and the user rating of 7.5 out of 10 is fairly high. The ratings are consistent across all demographics. It seems that everybody enjoys cheering for everyman Walter Matthau as he, without directly killing anybody himself, comes out on top with all the money, leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake.

Many people have seen the film multiple times, which is required in order to make complete sense of the Gordian Knot of a plot.

How I felt about it. One thing must be said. Charley Varrick has suspense, and it is entertaining. Varrick certainly has a charmed existence, but luck doesn't have everything to do with it. He plans ahead. Still, look what has to happen in a day or so: Jewell calls Boyle; Boyle arrives to learn Sullivan's address; Boyle goes to Sullivan's trailer and kills him; Varrick finds the body; Varrick purchases dynamite in Albuquerque; takes the dynamite and Sullivan's body to the junkyard; buys flowers in Reno; has them delivered to Farr; stalks Farr; follows Farr; holds her hostage; phones Boyle; has sex with Farr; and returns to his airplane. It would take a team of Varricks to accomplish all this.

The finale is unconvincing. Molly would not drive over Vernon. He can take him out anytime. He would wait for the money to appear before revealing himself. Or, he would shoot Varrick in the legs from a sniper position, to incapacitate him before forcing him to reveal where the money is.

Crime dramas of this sort are typically male fantasies. This explains why a whorehouse appears in the story, along with an attractive photographer (Sheree North), and a sexy secretary (Felicia Farr) who (for no reason other than to save her skin) is eager to have sex with the middle-aged Varrick.

It also isn't cool that Varrick sets up his partner to get tortured and killed. In fact, Varrick is the only survivor of his gang. He must be proud.

It seems odd that the only black character with a line gets his car repossessed, and gets beaten and racially insulted by Molly. No wonder Shaft did well at the box office. Blacks have to make their own movie to get respect.