The quick witted, Charley Varrick is a former stunt pilot, who makes his living as a crop duster. He also profits from criminal activity. The character is portrayed by Oscar winner, Walter Matthau (The Fortune Cookie). At the start of the film, Varrick is about to rob his latest target, the Western Fidelity Bank, in Tres Cruces, New Mexico. Accompanying Varrick, is his team, which consists of his wife, Nadine (Jacqueline Scott); his young accomplice, Harman, played by Emmy nominee, Andrew Robinson, (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and seasoned professional, Al Dutcher (Fred Scheiwiller). (As an aside: Walter Matthau won the BAFTA for Best Actor for Charley Varrick).
What should have been a quick cash grab, is complicated by Deputy Sanchez (Rudy Diaz). He approaches an idling, 1971, yellow, Lincoln Continental, which is parked in front of the bank. When the deputy approaches the vehicle, Varrick, who is disguised as an elderly man, with an injured foot, says that his wife will move the car as soon as he’s done in the bank. Deputy Sanchez leaves the married couple alone, but as he drives away, his suspicions get the better of him. When he has his police dispatch run the license plate, it turns out that it belongs to a stolen car. In the short duration of time, since the deputy drove away, the bank robbery has already commenced. During the melee, while escaping the bank, there are causalities on both sides. Deputy Diaz is killed. Varrick loses his long time associate Al, and shortly thereafter his wife. Ever the professional, Varrick doesn’t allow emotions to slow him down. He and Harmon stick to the plan and, eventually, manage to escape with what they initially believe to be a modest score.
The take from the robbery, when counted, is anything but modest. In fact, Varrick and Harmon have $750,000 to split between them. The money would equate to over five million dollars today. Harman, a former Vietnam Veteran, who is tired of small time living, is elated at the amount of money. He can’t wait to start spending his share on all of the things that he’s ever dreamed about. Varrick is concerned. His mindset is that there is no way a local, town bank, should have had that amount of money. He is even more mystified, when a news broadcast, that pertains to the robbery, states that only a few thousand dollars was taken. It doesn’t take him long to realize, that he and Harmon have stolen from the mafia. Harman could care less, he wants to spend, and spend now. Varrick states to his impetuous, young, accomplice, that the mob will never stop coming for them. Complicating matters, Varrick knows he can’t return the money, because he’ll still wind up dead, as a cautionary tale to others, who might foolishly think they can take what belongs to the syndicate. He lets Harmon know, that as a safety precaution, the money can’t be spent for at least three years. Harmon is overly distraught at the prospect of having to wait that long.
Even as Varrick attempts to think of a way out for him and Harmon, forces are already at work. Law enforcement, led by Sheriff Horton, a role acted by Emmy nominee, William Schallert (The Fisher Family), will not rest, until the people responsible for the killing of his deputy are brought to justice. Sheriff Horton is bolstered by the support of Garfinkle, played by Golden Globe winner, Norman Fell (Three’s Company), who represents the federal government. He has been interjected into the investigation for two reasons: To seek justice against the people who murdered the deputy; and to review the records of the bank. The bank’s president, Maynard Boyle (John Vernon), immediately gets in touch with his contact in the mob, to inform them of what has taken place. Through one of the mafia’s middle men, Honest John (Benson Fong), the perfect person to track down the money, is hired. The no-nonsense, Molly played by BAFTA nominee Joe Don Baker (Edge of Darkness), is dispatched by Honest John to retrieve the money, and execute the perpetrators. It doesn’t take Molly long before he has viable leads as to where the money is, and who took it. Can Charley Varrick make it out alive, and live to spend his ill-gotten fortune?
The film was directed by Don Siegel (Escape from Alcatraz). The screenplay was co-written by Howard Rodman (Harry O), and two time Emmy nominee, Dean Riesner (Vanished), and was based on the novel “The Looters” by John Reese. The novel was published by Random House on January 1, 1968. The score was composed by four time Grammy winner, and 2019 Honorary Oscar winner, Lalo Schifrin (Mission Impossible). The movie premiered at the Elko Film Festival on September 15, 1973. Parts crime, drama, and thriller, the film has a runtime of 111 minutes.
Charley Varrick is a taut, compelling film. The movie is well written, and competently acted. There are a number of tension filled moments throughout the duration of the film’s runtime. The plot is clever, and I liked the way it played out, up to, and including, its memorable climax. Overall, a film that is often underrated, but shouldn’t be.
This is one of my all-time favorite films of the ’70s. In fact, this is the first of three very memorable crime films featuring Walter Matthau. The Laughing Policeman (1973) and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974) would follow. Fine review, Jonathan.
I can understand why it’s one of your favorites. I am sorry I hadn’t watched it years earlier.
I’ve seen “The Taking of Pelham One Two Three” (1974). I have had “The Laughing Policeman” on my watch list for a while. I’ll have to watch it soon.
Thank you as always for reading and commenting.
Thanx for the advice. I have it on DVD waiting for so long to be watched. I Think time has come to kill Varrick. 😉
I hope when you get a chance to see it, that you enjoy it.
Thank you for reading and commenting.