Charley Varrick - 1973
Don Siegel’s Charley Varrick is a crime thriller that often goes overlooked due to the director’s major success with Eastwood’s Dirty Harry and Escape from Alcatraz, among others. So, lets shine a light on this incredibly entertaining and smart movie that stars Walter Matthau as a bank robber. Yeah, The Bad News Bears, The Odd Couple, Grumpy Old Men and Dennis the Menace’s Matthau 100% works as a bank robber in this movie and it’s awesome. Thanks again to @Lons for this recommendation.
Plot is simple: small time bank robber robs a bank. When they start counting the money, they realize they have walked away with over three quarters of a million dollars. Logical explanation is this money belongs to the mafia and they are going to want it back. I found it very reminiscent of No Country for Old Men, as for the most part we see the cat and mouse game of the mafia’s enforcer (Molly) tracking down the robbers.
The practical stunts executed in this movie are truly impressive. The opening bank robbery is a slow build-up, but when everything goes to hell and the police get involved we get a great getaway scene. There is something really satisfying to the eye, seeing two real cars crash into one another or onto a building. But the cherry on top of the sundae is the final sequence in which we get a car versus a biplane. This is a sequence that would make Fast and the Furious envious, especially since it was pulled off without any CGI.
I have always loved Siegel’s minimalistic approach to film making. He is going to show you a scene that will move the plot or the character development forward, nothing more nothing less. He has a great eye for action and always finds a way to film it in both exiting and coherent ways. The audience is never lost within an action scene. You won’t walk away from one of his movies with an existential crisis, but you will for sure walk away entertained.
In terms of acting; this movie is a two-man race. Walter Matthau as Charley Varrick and Joe Don Baker as the mafia’s enforcer Molly. Matthau played his character straight and confident, never giving a sign that he is in true danger. I loved seeing him in a different light and I never questioned his abilities. Side note: I’m so accustomed to seeing Matthau as an older gentleman, that I didn’t immediately get that he was wearing a disguise for his bank robbery. On the other hand, Baker added a constant grin to his face as he killed his way throughout the entire movie, making his character a bit sadistic and, well, cocky. Charley Varrick benefits from a lot of clever moments written into the story and many of them are executed by the titular character. My favorite comes towards the end and how he decides to fight Molly in the junk yard tricking Molly into thinking his boss was in on the robbery.
There are two scenes that are very much “of its time” and can be considered off-putting to the audience of our time (PC culture being so relevant now). One comes from the encounter between Molly and an African-American actor. He punches him out and states “nobody talks to him, specially a negro”. The second comes from when Molly slaps a woman out of nowhere and then she smiles and they have sex. Cool. Side note: this movie was rated PG despite all the violence and subject matter, honestly love how we used to rate movies back in the early days of censorship.
Ok, this doesn’t have to do anything with the review, but I must add it. Doing research on the behind the scenes production of this movie, I read the tidbit below:
Matthau was also reported to have been unimpressed by the film, and Siegel later claimed that Matthau hurt the film's box-office by publicly stating that he neither liked nor understood it. Matthau sent Siegel a note that said, "I have seen it three times, and am of slightly better than average intelligence (IQ 120) but I still don't quite understand what's going on. Is there a device we can use to explain to people what they're seeing?
If that happened today, Twitter would explode.
Charley Varrick is a simple, fun, and creative thriller filled with enough twists and turns to keep the audience engaged and entertained. I saw a car and a biplane go head to head and that’s why I love movies.
Charley Varrick is available to rent on Amazon Prime. Do it before Molly slaps you.
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