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Charley Varrick (1973)

April 14, 2010

7/10 Smart Cookies

Just one more reason why Matthau was the man.

Charley Varrick is about a guy who pulls a bank job in a small town in New Mexico and quickly realizes that the reason he made off with an astronomically larger amount of dough than he was expecting is because he accidentally stole from the mob’s private stash. Lucky for Charley, he’s not a freakin’ idiot like the guy he’s traveling with and so he does his best to stay one step ahead of the game before the mob finds him first.

Not sure how many people know about this movie, but it’s one of those things I’ve been hearing about in passing for years from folks along the way who know a thing or two about truly badass movies. And considering that no one does badass movies anymore like they did in the ’60s and ’70s, it was about damn time I got around to it.

It’s directed by Don Siegel, the same guy behind Dirty Harry and Escape from Alcatraz, so we’re already off to a good start. And even though Varrick isn’t quite up to the same caliber as these two Eastwood gems, it’s got a lot of the same elements that made them both totally awesome.

Right away, Siegel opens it up with the said bank heist. He doesn’t waste any time with trivial crap like strategizing or clueing the audience into what’s going on, he shoots first and asks questions later and hooks you in before you even have time to ask what the hell is going on. It’s a mean, wild scene and it sets a great tone for what’s ahead, the only problem is that it has trouble keeping that adrenaline rush pumping throughout the rest of movie as Charlie tries to do everything in his power not to land himself in a six-foot ditch.

And despite how cool the dialogue and the characters are, it’s hard not to notice this sudden lull in the pacing. Granted, pacing back then wasn’t as ADHD-friendly as it is today, but when you start a movie off with a freakin’ bank robbery, you’d kinda hope that the next scene to mirror that level of intensity doesn’t come in the last ten or fifteen minutes of the movie. Unfortunately, such is the case, but that last scene is completely worth sticking around for and it’s not as though everything in between is garbage.

But the upside is that the script is solid and the dialogue is cool and the characters are badasses, so it’s not like I was gritting my teeth watching this thing, you just need to have some patience with it and actually listen to what everyone is saying. Personally, I like to listen; you pick up a lot when guns aren’t going off every five seconds.

The other big upside is that Walter Matthau continues to solidify his rep as one of the all-time greats as Charley, and for a guy who probably wouldn’t strike me as the most intimidating fella’ out there, he sure knew how to play it cool and he’s a blast to watch. Also love that there’s no good guys in this movie and that Varrick is an anti-hero with brains instead of just a guy on the run. Reminded me a lot of Heist and it’s awesome to see his plans play out, especially since he’s the only one who knows what’s going on.

What a stud.

And Joe Don Baker is a damn good villain as the mob’s muscle, Molly -one of those guys who’s been in absolutely everything. Same goes for John Vernon (aka: Dean Wormer).

So, it didn’t quite live up to all the subtle hype surrounding, but Charley Varrick is still another great example of badassery back when it was done right. It’s a fun ride, it’s tough as nails and it’s a great reason to check out Matthau if the only thing you associate him with is Grumpy Old Men. He was a funny dude alright, but, man, did he mean business.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2010 4:07 am

    I have no idea about this film but, two things, 1. I watched – in the most professional terms – “a short from 2007 called Zeroes” starring blogger/actor … you! Looked great – and, more importantly, looked like it was a lot of fun to make!

    We all have our Uni-friends shorts … some of us have shorts completely ripping off certain films … calling the films things like “Kung Fu Balls” and “Jedi Balls” and “Alien Balls” …

    erm … anyway …

    still a great site!


    • April 14, 2010 9:38 am

      Thanks, man! “Super Balls” was the alternate title, glad you dug it all the same. And, yeah, it was a lot of fun to make, here’s to hoping it’s not the last time I ever do it.

  2. April 14, 2010 12:26 pm

    This is a hot movie. I thought that Joe Don Baker was just so creepy. I remember getting this at Borders for 4.99, one of the best pick-up’s ever! The only thing I found distracting about the film was Mathau calling the police “fuzz” – but alas, sign of the times I suppose.

    • April 14, 2010 12:42 pm

      Haha, someone needs to bring back “fuzz”. Awesome pickup and glad to see someone else beside me has seen this.

    • April 14, 2010 8:59 pm

      Mathau’s gum chewing bugged me too for some reason.

      • April 14, 2010 10:04 pm

        Haha, I dug the gum. Well, I just dig Matthau in general.

  3. April 14, 2010 2:32 pm

    i like it when you do movies ive never heard of
    Matthau definitely was the man

    • April 14, 2010 2:33 pm

      Yeah, it’s been a while. I’ll do my best to keep it up.

  4. April 14, 2010 8:58 pm

    You’re creeping me out, Aiden. My Father-in-Law has been telling me about this movie for years and I just watched it last week… I’m not lying… check the Facebook! 🙂
    I actually loved this film although, you’re right, it’s totally 70’s pace. I think it would be great for a remake though they would probably fuck it up!
    Also, realized that Tarantino’s line from Pulp Fiction about “pliers and a blowtorch” came straight out of this movie… when they’re talking by the cow farm!

    • April 14, 2010 10:04 pm

      Awesome! Your father in law knows what’s up! Yeah, a remake of this would be wildly unnecessary and highly fuck-upable. Didn’t catch the Tarantino inspiration, but I’m not surprised whatsoever, seems very on par with something he would borrow from like Pelham One Two Three.

  5. Pablo Chiste permalink
    April 27, 2010 1:10 pm

    By some weird coincidence I just saw this movie too. You gotta love the makeup job on Matthau in the opening heist. You also got to love that he’s supposed to be a suave ladies man. It’s no Taking of Pelham One Two Three, but at least no one’s made a lame remake of Charlie Varrick yet.

    • April 27, 2010 1:40 pm

      Haha, I hope it stays that way, too. Yeah, I was kinda surprised when Matthau started getting busy with the ladies, but he is a total badass even if his mug might not give it away. And I loved the makeup at the start, had to do a double-take with that one.

  6. Mitchell permalink
    December 18, 2010 1:32 am

    Matthau said in later years that he didn’t like Charley Varrick because he didn’t understand it. Well, I do and it’s one of my most watched movies. And now, I’m off to “box the compass” as Charley would say.

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