The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - CHARLEY VARRICK (1973) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - CHARLEY VARRICK (1973)

charley varrick review
A bank robber unwittingly steals a large sum from an organised crime gang.

Review by Jason Abbey

Directed by: Don Siegel

Starring: Walter Matthau, Joe Don Baker, Felicia Farr, Andrew Robinson, Sheree North, John Vernon

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This none more '70s reissue, receiving its UK debut on Blu Ray, has all the expected elements a genre fan could desire. Spanking Lalo Schifrin score? Check. John Vernon as a B-movie bad guy? You betcha! Don Siegel’s lean and mean direction? We got you covered. Clint E… Walter Matthau, WTF?

With a face like a disgruntled testicle, Matthau isn't many people's idea of a smooth, laser sharp criminal. Adept at playing dyspeptic sad sacks with a line in laconic humour, Matthau's casting is the equivalent of William H Macy playing one of the leads in Heat.

charley varrick

Yet strangely it works wonders. There is a reality to Varrick that a cocksure Eastwood wouldn’t be able to muster. Matthau can blend in, be overlooked and always underestimated. Dressed as a crook-legged old timer at the beginning, your heart sinks that this will be a comedic master of disguise role for Matthau. Luckily Siegel’s hard edge comes to play toot sweet, when an overly diligent cop realises Varrick is in a stolen car and intercepts a robbery with a body count on both sides, including Varrick’s wife Nadine (Jacqueline Scott). This sets up a key scene in which Varrick’s love for Nadine is clear but his hard edged professionalism doesn’t waver as he removes her jewellery and preps the car and her for detonation to wipe out the evidence. Leaving just him and cohort Harman (Andrew Robinson graduating from psycho duties as Scorpio in Dirty Harry to greedy day dreamer) to divide the small score loot from a small town bank. Finding they have got away with $750,000 and the score of a life time raises questions. Why does a small New Mexico bank have so much ready cash? And why is the news reporting that only $2000 was stolen.

charley varrick

Varrick is suspicious (correctly) that they may have ripped off the mob; Harman just wants to enjoy the score. What you get is a melding of crime caper with existential conspiracy thriller. This isn’t cops versus robbers but robbers versus robbers. The police are always one step behind. That the main villain is banker Maynard Boyle (Vernon, a man with a lust for scenery chewing like no other) just adds to the contemporary feel of the movie. Throw in attack dog Molly (Joe Don Baker), a queasy mixture of Mike Pence and Anton Chigurh whose idea of foreplay is a slap round the face, and you could be looking at a satire of Trump era America.

This is a Siegel film all the way. Story is action. Character detail is strictly on a need to know basis and always has a payoff. Varrick used to be a stunt pilot and poses as a crop duster as a subterfuge for his criminal activity. You know that’s going to be important later on. Like the prose of Elmore Leonard, this is a masterclass of economy, a dime store novel that wants to entertain, engross and get you out the door with a smile on your face - a tale well told.

charley varrick

Relatively unloved at time of release - not least by Matthau, who couldn’t understand the film or the character - this now looks like top gear Siegel. It may stumble occasionally; a subplot involving Boyle’s secretary Sybil (Felicia Farr) seems to exist only to show how studly Varrick is, which begs the question, who thought the world needed a Walter Matthau sex scene? And didn’t his wife die just a few days ago?

Misstep aside, this is top drawer filmmaking, presented here in a pristine restoration; another in the seemingly endless well of excellence produced in '70s Hollywood.

The usual excellence in presentation from Powerhouse, this is about as comprehensive as you could wish for from a film where most of the main players are now no longer with us. Most substantial is a feature length documentary Last of the Independents: Don Siegel and the Making of Charley Varrick, which contains interviews with actors Andy Robinson and Jacqueline Scott, stunt driver Craig R. Baxley and Siegel’s son, Kristoffer Tabori.

Two pseudo audio commentaries, one an NFT lecture with Don Siegel and a Guardian lecture with Walter Matthau. Neither are film specific but both are essential listens.

A fun but inessential Super 8 version; trailer (with Trailers from Hell commentary); image gallery; as well as the usual booklet featuring a new essay by author and critic Richard Combs and a Siegel interview.

In a word, faultless.

Charley Varrick is on blu-ray now from Indicator Films.