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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Monday, February 12, 2024

Charley Varrick (1973)

The movie opens with a small gang of thieves being led by the titular Charley Varrick. As we meet them they are about to knock over a small town bank to score a few bucks. Along with Charley is his wife Nadine, Harman, and another man who doesn’t really matter much. Spoilers he gets shot right away. See their plan goes sideways on them when a deputy checks the plates on the getaway car only to discover it is stolen. This means when they leave with the bags of cash the cops are there and a gunfight/car chase breaks out. The gang gets away but like I said one of them is dead in the bank and unfortunately Nadine is fatally wounded as well.

Here is where things get really interesting. First, we see that Charley might be sentimental as he takes the wedding ring from his wife but doesn’t seem that broken up when they leave her in the getaway car with a bomb to cover their tracks. Second, they tear open the bags to find a cool seven hundred and fifty thousand when they expected maybe twenty grand. Turns out the bank was mobbed up and not only are the cops hunting them, but a nasty hit man named Molly is on their trail as well. The rest of the movie is Charley dealing with the surviving gang member, the cops, and the mob in his efforts to get away with his life and maybe the cash.

I’m a huge movie nerd and have spent my entire life tracking down and watching all sorts of genres. Being a child of the seventies one of those genres that I’ve always loved is the crime drama. I like nothing better than watching plans being made and going awry with sometimes terrible results. The more twists and turns the better. So it was sort of a shock for me when I stumbled over Charley Varrick streaming on Netflix. This is just the sort of thing that I would have expected to have caught on HBO back in the day. Hell it stars Walter Matthau who I know better for his comedies and am a huge fan of.

The story is solid and stays on track unfolding the twists and turns as Charlie does his best to not get killed or caught. There are a lot of characters that get introduced like the mobster from Reno (played by John “Go Fuck an Iceberg” Vernon!), the crooked bank manager, and a bank examiner played by Norman Fell. This is all in addition to the surviving gang member Harmon (Andrew Robinson) and the hitman Molly (Joe Don Baker). You would think that would be too many characters muddling up the story but in reality they all serve a purpose to move the plot along nicely. Each of them has their part to play and the action quickly connects back to the primary plotline of Charley and the money.

How do they manage this? Well, it is a nice bit of storytelling thanks to a screenplay that is balanced and well thought out. The story knows exactly where it wants to go and keeps things on track. It also doesn’t hurt that the movie has a legendary director in Don Siegel. You may not recognize the name, but the man was responsible for some amazing movies. From the classic fifties science fiction movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers to later efforts with Clint Eastwood (Dirty Harry, Escape from Alcatraz, and my personal favorite The Beguiled) as well as John Wayne (The Shootist). When you are the preferred director for actors like this then you have to be great. Hell he even worked with Charles Bronson on Telefon.

There was a lot of talent both in front of as well as behind the camera. When that happens you normally get excellent results and that is what happened here. Charley Varrick is a movie that wasn’t on my radar until recently, but I can guarantee you that I will be revisiting it in the future. This is a nifty crime drama/thriller that has me looking at Walter Matthau and what he could do as an actor in a totally different way. I highly recommend everyone check this one out.


© Copyright 2024 John Shatzer

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