Charley Varrick (1973)


It’s the monthly switcheroo called the Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Movie Challenge, when blogger Mike’s Take on the Movies suggests a movie I’ve never seen and vice versa.

I’ve been watching or rewatching lots of 70’s pictures lately: The Carey Treatment, The Getaway, Chandler, Badlands, Duck You Sucker, Night Moves, Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid and more, so it’s a perfect time to be introduced to something as enjoyable and memorable as this excellent and gritty Don Seigel picture. Walter Matthau plays the title character, who, along with partner Harman (Andrew Robinson) and wife Nadine (Jacqueline Scott) rob a tiny bank in the middle of nowhere, New Mexico. They’ve unknowingly picked a mob money drop and walk off with more cash than they dreamed of. Varrick is less than thrilled at the windfall; he’s lost Nadine in the shootout and knows the mob is a more persistent pursuer than the law, but greedy, hard-drinking Harman thinks it’ll be easy to sneak off with his cut.

Soon, the relentless, disciplined, and terrifying mob enforcer Molly (Joe Don Baker) comes looking for them, but Varrick, the former air-circus flier turned crop-duster, is cagey enough to fly both figurative and literal loops around Molly, the law (D.A. Norman Fell and Sheriff William Schallert), and Boyle (John Vernon) the mobster responsible for the bank/way station. Document forger Sheree North is one of the colourful characters Varrick uses to prepare a spectacular final showdown and vanishing act.

This movie was delightfully seedy, with intelligent writing, witty dialogue and a great deadpan, calm, caring and clever character perfectly portrayed by Matthau. Varrick expects the worst, and sometimes pretends to be a bumbling small-timer but can predict the enemy’s next move and knows when he’s being played. He knows the mob sends a guy who uses “a pair of pliers and a blowtorch” (a nice line Tarantino swiped) and plans accordingly, with bigger ammo. When he buys lots of dynamite, the man at the store asks him, “may I ask what that’s for?” to which Varrick replies, “you certainly may,” before walking away (a nice line I’ll be using). His big escape scheme remains a mystery we can only guess at from the way he switches dental records, and the curious flight he takes out of town, among other clues. But we know it’ll be grand from watching Varrick’s other smart moves, and the fun is in being surprised by his tricks.

Now go see Mike’s Take on a fantastically fun screwball comedy from Preston Sturges.


24 thoughts on “Charley Varrick (1973)”

  1. This one is a gem from Siegel and casting Matthau was a great idea. Knew you’d like this one. Also interesting to see Siegel recast Scorpio himself (Robinson) for a second film together. Great cast of character players in here.

  2. Super film from one of my favorite directors and Walter Matthau is, as was so often the case, a terrific presence on the screen.

    1. It is super. Matthau is so likable, and he makes the most of Varrick’s soft side. Easy character to root for and fun to watch him operate.

      1. Awesome film watched this countless times on DVD it’s in there with my top 10 fav films . Can mind a watching it back in the day with ma old man 70s stuff cracking . Good to see a woman in to it as well any partners I ever had weren’t in to the good stuff.

        1. A good one for sure. Always liked a good crime picture, and all types of movies and genres, you close yourself off to a lot of quality and smart stories otherwise. Thanks

  3. Don Siegel is my favorite director.
    I was blown away when I visited
    Greenbriar Picture Show’s excellent take
    Apparently Siegel was originally going to
    direct and he wanted Joel McCrea to play
    the lead.The thought of my all time fave
    actor directed by Siegel had wonderful

    I recently got the wonderful Koch,Germany
    Blu Ray of CHARLEY VARRICK.,it’s a stunning
    Among the extras is an interview with Andy Robinson.
    Although he loved working with Siegel he loathed
    Joe Don Baker. Andy said the scene in the caravan
    where Baker roughs him up was an ordeal to say the
    least. The scene took all night to film.
    Isn’t the scene where Baker roughs up poor
    Tom Tully (who had had a leg amputated in real life)
    incredibly cruel. I love the way this film balances
    sadism with dark humor.

    There are several Siegel films I need on Blu Ray
    top of the list is the very wonderful MADIGAN.
    I’m also more than intrigued by Siegel’s HOUND
    DOG MAN which I have never seen and really
    want to….a most diverting cast I might add.

    1. Siegel movies are so good, and the idea of him and McCrea in BAD DAY is really great! Yes Joe Don Baker was scary and chilling, the real ordeal of shooting sure came through on screen. That bit with Tully was disturbing and agree about the good mix of seediness and fun, it works so well.

    2. Hey John, hope you don’t mind me butting in! I’ve also been running a bit of an early 70s Crime marathon – watching them in release order, which I find fascinating and important with contemporaneous films. Even over a short span of years it’s possible to see changes in cars and fashion, and in filmmaking techniques and influences as well.

      I actually started with Madigan, specifically because I’d just finished a big Noir run and with it’s cast and setting felt like it might be a good junction point – turns out it was.

      After that I jumped to French Connection, Dirty Harry, Duel (never fails to amaze), Get Carter (love that film!), Lizard in a Woman’s Skin (incredibly stylish) and Frenzy. The last three didn’t dawn on me til I’d started are all set in 1971 London.

      Next, Magnum Force, Serpico (which I’ve seen many, many times), The Seven Ups (new to me, absolutely brilliant – get the UK blu!), Friends of Eddie Coyle (initially disappointing, but for some reason really stuck with me), Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (great fun), French Connection II (odd follow up), and Night Moves (maybe my all-time favourite Hackman)

      Mate, a couple of criminally under-appreciated Crime pictures from around that era, The Outfit (outstanding cast. MoD disc only, but a solid transfer), and Rolling Thunder (excellent blu-ray).

      Thanks Kristina for reminding me I still haven’t seen Charley Varrick, a film that pops up a lot on Best 70s Film lists.

      Chris B

      1. Those are great movies, and you’d surely like Charley Varrick, hope you see it soon. I’ve started discovering giallo recently so Lizard in a Woman’s Skin is on my list. Night Moves, the Outfit and the Seven-Ups I saw for the first time in the past few weeks, and really enjoyed.

        1. Isn’t it amazing how many great and unsung character actors there were in the 70s? And Scheider, Hackman, and Duvall weren’t exactly what you’d call conventional leading men either!

          I’m cautiously investigating 60s Italian cinema as well. Bava’s Planet of the Vampires has held a long time fascination, mostly due to it’s largely unrecognised influence on Ridley Scott. That led me to Danger: Diabolik, and more recently a bunch of other early Bava’s, Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, The Whip and the Body, Hercules in the Haunted World, and The Giant of Marathon (which he co-directed with Jacques Tourneur!). They’re all bonkers bananas and absolutely brilliant.

          Argento’s early 70s stuff, Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Cat O’ Nine Tails, and Deep Red are very stylish, like Hitchcock on steroids. You’d like them a lot. The only thing is, as you get into the 70s the Italians seem to move away psychological horror towards what I consider exploitation cinema which just doesn’t interest me.

          1. Last month I saw Cat O’Nine Tails and the amazing-looking Deep Red, really liked those and intend to see the others you mention, commenters here have given me a lot of suggestions for my watchlist. Have seen a few of those Bavas and totally agree on Planet of the Vampires, I reviewed it here a couple years back, love the look of that one. I want to get to Friends of Eddie Coyle soon, Yakuza would be a fun one to rewatch alongside that. Great stuff!

            1. Hey Kristina

              Ah, Watchlists, tell me about it! Between you, Colin over at Riding The High Country, 50 Westerns and Danny’s amazing Pre-Code site I don’t think I’ll ever catch up. But I’m glad of it.

              I hit a wall back around 2011 when I noticed they weren’t making movies anymore, at least not what I recognised. Cinema seems to be evolving into something else, so many remakes, reboots, and comic book movies. It’s all about franchise building now, design by committee, leave your brain at the door stuff – they seem to have completely how to put the Show in Show Business. Well, maybe not completely, but if you asked me what the best film I’ve seen this year I can guarantee it wouldn’t be anything made this century!

              Hey, a perfect double bill with The Yakuza might be House of Bamboo or Black Rain. I’m convinced Ken Takakura plays an older version of the same character in Black Rain 😀

            2. I like your suggestions, seen them both and love Black Rain! I keep up with new movies, but it takes me a lot of reading reviews and watching to weed out the samey bland blockbusters from the gems. I think something like The Drop might appeal to you, that’s along the lines of the movies we’ve been talking about here, if you don’t mind subtitles then Phoenix is great a German one that feels like noir/Hitchcock. Life of Crime wasn’t too bad, if you liked Jackie Brown that might appeal. How about John Wick?
              Love Colin’s blog and need to catch up with his Madigan post! Thanks again, love this kind of discussion.

  4. Just backtracking on this excellent post;
    I too have been having something of a
    “Seventies Movies In High Definition” fest
    and loving every moment of it.
    From classic stuff like DUEL and HIGH
    PLAINS DRIFTER through guilty pleasures
    like AIRPORT ’75 and ’77
    Even guiltier pleasures like SHADOWS IN AN
    EMPTY ROOM (aka Blazing Magnum) trashy
    but great fun.
    Other items in my 70’s fest include the
    underrated EIGER SANCTION and
    ROLLERCOASTER….Widmark makes the
    latter worth staying with,in fact Widmark makes
    anything worth staying with.
    As mentioned above I live in hope someone will
    finally release MADIGAN on Blu Ray….Widmark,
    Fonda and Siegel are a combination that’s hard to beat.

    1. It’s been years since I watched MADIGAN, would love to revisit that one too. Like EIGER and ROLLERCOASTER I enjoyed last year or so, I have BLACK SUNDAY here and possibly a rewatch of PELHAM soonish too. Also re McCrea I’ve been through a big stack of his westerns, maybe a couple more to go, all good. My monthly list will be a doozy this time. Thanks as always!

  5. I always seem to be on some kind of Seventies kick,one
    way or another. Your fine review has prompted me to re-view some
    other 70’s faves ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE and CHATO’S LAND
    for starters.
    I’ve recently (re) viewed two other Siegel classics THE SHOOTIST
    I’ve also been on a John Wayne 70’s binge watching his two fun
    cop flicks McQ and BRANNIGAN both of which I enjoy very much
    Only the other night I saw CHISUM which for me is one of The Dukes
    best 70’s Westerns.
    I also need to re-watch (among many others) Michael Winner’s
    much maligned THE BIG SLEEP…truly a once in a lifetime cast.

    1. Seen all those except for Chato’s Land and The Big Sleep, all worth another look! In fact just picked up an upgrade of Escape From Alcatraz couple weeks back, along with the middle 3 of the Dirty Harry series. Love Chisum!

  6. Hi Chris,

    I hope you are still with this thread!
    We seem to have similar tastes.
    I loved THE OUTFIT more like a Siegel movie
    than a Siegel movie.
    I agree I would rather Warners released this as a Blu Ray
    than a MOD.
    Lots of folks thought their very fine MOD of
    RUN OF THE ARROW really should have been released
    on Blu Ray.
    I DO wish Warners would release some of their higher profile
    films on Blu Ray as opposed to MOD-still I cannot fault the great
    service they are delivering for vintage film freaks.

    You mentioned a couple of “Sword & Sandal”/”Peplum” titles.
    I am dismayed how few of these films are available on DVD or
    better still Blu Ray.
    and love Reg Parks’ other Hercules effort HERCULES CONQUERS
    ATLANTIS. Reg who was Arnie’s mentor makes Steve Reeves look like
    Sir John Guilgud but that don’t matter because he IS Hercules.
    I too would love to see THE GIANT OF MARATHON get a Blu Ray
    I’d also love to re-visit Andre De Toth’s THE MONGOLS with Jack
    Palance and Anita Ekberg.Never seen THE WARRIOR EMPRESS with
    Tina Louise and Kerwin Matthews but would sure love to.
    A great Sword & Sandal” effort was recently released as an MGM MOD
    REVOLT OF THE SLAVES with Rhonda Fleming. The widescreen
    transfer is stunning and the film appears to be uncut-cramed full of
    impalings and torture….great fun though..
    Needless to say I am a huge fan of the iconic actress Barbara Steele.
    Siegel fired her from FLAMING STAR…wonder what went wrong there?
    The thought of Elvis and Barbara in a Siegel film is awesome to
    consider,to say the least.

    1. Hey John,

      Yeah, we sure are. I was smiling reading some of those film titles in your earlier comment.

      I’m a Film Noir and Sci-fi nut mostly, and I love the darker 50s Westerns, especially the Anthony Mann and Boetticher films (doesn’t everyone though!?) This year I’ve been getting into a lot of Pre-Codes, 50s Samurai films, and the aforementioned 60s Italian pictures – What a mix, hahaha!

      My foray into the Sword and Sandal epics is a tentative one, mostly because the picture quality tends to be hit and miss – mostly miss – and it’s almost impossible to find reliable information about them. This is how bad I am, if I order a DVD and it turns out to be pan and scan I won’t even entertain it! The widescreen compositions is absolutely critical, but funny enough I can tolerate a bad print if that’s the best they have available. Goliath and the Vampires DVD is like what I’d imagine an old Grindhouse cinema might run. Oddly I think it enhanced it! Brilliant, crazy film.

      It’s interesting you mention the Reg Park/Arnie connection. I wasn’t sure how that worked. I’ve been lifting weights pretty seriously for about 27 years. Reeves posters were always around the gyms when I was starting out so it’s kinda odd I’d never seen any of his movies. Knowing the effort involved and mostly that he was all natural at a time when nutritional info and specialised products (protein powders, vitamin sups etc) wouldn’t have been readily available makes me respect him that much more. What an inspiration!

      Cool to see those movies appearing on MOD regardless. I can report the PQ on Reeves’ Son of Spartacus (The Slave) is fantastic, haven’t watched it yet though. You probably already have Colossus of Rhodes, great print and a total blast of a film! Last Days of Pompeii is on order from Germany, I’ll pop back and let you know if the PQ is any good. It’s crazy the lengths we have to go to to find some movies, eh?

    2. Just added a few of these to the neverending watchlist 🙂 thanks! Revolt of the Slaves, I recall reading Savant’s review of that recently, looks interesting!

    3. John wanted to mention that in recent weeks I also watched ‘THE GIRL HUNTERS, WORLD FOR RANSOM, THE LONG WAIT! Really enjoyed them, Peggie Castle in LW was super and that was an edgy ending. Great stuff and also enjoyed Spillane’s performance in GH. I might have to make a viewing list post for the stuff I have no time to review…

  7. THE LONG WAIT is great,if a tad
    nasty and misogynistic especially in
    its treatment of the Peggie Castle character.
    As you quiet rightly say Peggie is super in the film.
    THE LONG WAIT needs a restored Blu Ray release.
    I would loved to have seen Cameron Mitchell (in his prime)
    play Mike Hammer.
    I might add THE LONG WAIT is NOT a Mike Hammer flick.

Comments are closed.