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.