Sunday, March 31, 2024


Director: Don Siegel

Writers: Howard Rodman, Dean Riesner, adapted from John H. Reese’s novel The Looters

Producer: Don Siegel

Cast: Walter Matthau, Joe Don Baker, Andy Robinson, John Vernon, Sheree North, Felicia Farr, Jacqueline Scott, William Schallert, Benson Fong, Woodrow Parfrey, Marjorie Bennett, Norman Fell, Kathleen O’Malley, Tom Tulley, Albert Popwell, Colby Chester, Rudy Diaz, Christina Hart, Charlie Briggs, Craig Baxley, Scott Hale, Priscilla Garcia, Hope Summers, Charles Matthau, Monica Lewis, Al Dunlap, Virginia Wing, Don Siegel, James Nolan, (and uncredited cast) Bob Steele, Joe Conforte, Fred Scheiwiller, Robert D. Carver, Carol Daniels, Art Cribbs, Thomas Dunbar, Richard R. Hogan, Walt Wallace, Holly Nutter, Fred Little, Carlos Valesquez 

Crop duster and former stunt flier Charley Varrick (Walter Matthau) leads an armed robbery of a small town New Mexico bank. Things don’t go according to plan when shooting starts and two members of his gang are killed. Varrick and his surviving accomplice (Andy Robinson) are surprised to find over three-quarters of a million dollars in the moneybags they stole. Since the loot happens to be a secret stash of Mafia money, both the Mob and law enforcement are after the thieves. 

The Flashback Fanatic movie review 

Unlike most heist movies, Charley Varrick is not a film that details the elaborate planning of the crime building up to the climax of the robbery’s execution. The film opens with the bank robbery that leads to the rest of the story’s conflict and complications. This is a heist-gone-wrong movie. In addition to some cops getting shot, two of Charley Varrick’s accomplices are killed during the robbery. Varrick and his surviving partner, Harman Sullivan, seem to have hit the jackpot with a much larger pile of dough than they could have expected. But Varrick, figuring that so much money has no legitimate reason being stashed in such a small bank, correctly assumes that it is money being laundered by the Mafia. The rest of the film concerns Varrick trying to figure out how to survive the Mob’s retribution for his dumb-luck, criminal payday. 

Despite the recent success of The Godfather (1972), another film about criminal protagonists, Charley Varrick was probably a bit before its time for a mainstream movie. The Godfather film also had the advantage of being based on a best-selling novel. Director Quentin Tarantino would later popularize crime thrillers without any redeeming characters as protagonists in the 1990s, but back in 1973 this was usually a much harder pill to swallow. That is why director Siegel’s frequent star Clint Eastwood turned down the title role and probably why the film’s lead, Walter Matthau, was displeased and a bit confused with the finished movie. Ultimately, many people will ask, “Where’s the hero?” 

Most American movies still seem to have the need for a moral center to them. If they focus on the evil or amoral motives and actions of the main characters, we expect those characters to get their just desserts. Failing that, the criminal-centric story usually has to be about bad guys vs. bad guys. Once an audience gets past the lack of a moral center in a film, they can engage with criminal characters’ backgrounds and motives, yet that audience is still usually picking sides and deciding which law-breakers should prevail against their more despicable adversaries. 

In Charley Varrick, the title character is whom we are almost traditionally bound to root for. He is the main protagonist and has admirable and unflappable stealth and intelligence. However, he masterminded a bank robbery that got some innocent people shot. He spends the rest of the movie trying to save his own skin. His defining character trait is pragmatism. The only sentiment we ever see him express is some sorrow for his late wife (Jacqueline Scott). In spite of his criminality, we admire his quick thinking and ingenuity. He confides in no one and manages to be one step ahead of everyone, including the audience. 

Despite Matthau’s dissatisfaction with the finished production, his performance as Charley Varrick is what really holds the film together. This is not Matthau in comedy mode. His offhand decisiveness and total lack of swagger creates a peculiar confidence and authority for his character without diminishing the sense of danger that he faces. Since Matthau’s Varrick is a criminal, we are even more uncertain of his eventual fate than we would be for a more honorable protagonist. 

Andy Robinson plays Varrick’s partner in crime, Harman Sullivan. He turns out to be an added risk for Charley Varrick. The younger and hotheaded Sullivan is overjoyed with the surprise of a much bigger haul of cash than expected from the bank robbery. The older and more cautious Varrick has his hands full trying to keep his impulsive partner from recklessly spending the money too soon and exposing them to the Mafia or the law. Robinson will forever be one of the most reviled movie villains ever as the Scorpio Killer from director Siegel’s classic Dirty Harry (1971). Had Clint Eastwood not turned down the role of Charley Varrick, it would have been a real kick to see him in a criminal alliance with Robinson in this film just two years after Eastwood’s iconic hero ‘Dirty’ Harry Callahan faced off against Robinson’s psychopath. 

Joe Don Baker threatens to steal the show as eccentric mob enforcer Molly. With his Texan accent and western-styled apparel, the big, pipe-smoking thug has an amiable and dignified manner that seems contrary to the brutality he enjoys inflicting. Molly has been sent to track down the bank robbers and retrieve the stolen money. He is the clearest example of how the offbeat characters maintain our interest in this film without true heroes to root for. 

Another Dirty Harry cast member, John Vernon, appears here as crooked bank president Maynard Boyle. Despite knowingly stashing money for the Mafia in one of his bank branches, and as a result being under suspicion by the Mob of possibly arranging the robbery, Boyle manages to remain cool and controlled. 

In her small role as Jewell Everett, a photographer and passport forger, Sheree North contributes her world-weary sex appeal with just a touch of kink. Her amusing scene with Matthau’s Varrick raises our expectations for something to develop between these two. She has a couple surprises for us that seem all too likely in this film’s cold, cruel world. 

Elderly Marjorie Bennett is very funny as Mrs. Taft, Charley Varrick’s trailer park neighbor. She is convinced that she has to be on her guard at all times against sex-crazed men. 

It is this assortment of odd characters and the satisfaction we derive from how Varrick copes with his criminal predicament that keeps us involved with director Don Siegel’s neo-noir film. Perhaps its protagonists were too amoral to rake in much loot at the box office, but if approached with an expectation of a crime thriller just about criminals, Charley Varrick really takes off.


  1. I've heard so many people on Youtube praising this film that it makes me wonder if I'm missing out. Matthau has never been one of my favorite comedians, but I've seen him play serious a few times and liked his work. Great cast of supporting players. Marjorie Bennett! Sheree north! is that Andy Robinson from Star Trek: Deep Space 9?

  2. Yup, that's him. I had not seen Robinson in a lot of stuff, but looking up his filmography shows that he has a huge body of work. He had that memorable film debut in DIRTY HARRY. Once seen in that, he is unforgetable!



Director: Robert Edwards Writers: Jo Pagano, Maurice Tombragel Producer: William Stephens Cast: George Reeves, Ralph Byrd, Lyle Talbot, ...