Made in 1973, Charley Varrick stars Walter Matthau as the title character, a crop duster who makes ends meet by robbing small-town banks. When a patrolman recognizes a stolen license plate, one of Charley's robberies goes horribly awry, resulting in three fatalities. Charley and his lone surviving gang member, the dim-witted Harman (Andrew Robinson), discover their bank haul amounts to $765,000. Harman is thrilled; Charley is not. He realizes immediately that they robbed a bank used by the mob. It's not long before the police, the FBI, and a mob hit man start looking for Charley and Harman. Their challenge, though, is that they underestimate the resourceful Charley, who methodically anticipates their every move.
|Joe Don Baker as hit man Mr. Molly.|
|Matthau in disguise for the robbery.|
Siegel directs Charley Varrick with remarkable efficiency. The title credits roll over the same New Mexico town where the robbery occurs: farm workers whistling at a pretty girl; kids playing in a sprinkler; a patrol car cruising down a lonely highway. By the time Siegel's directing credit appears, we already have a feel for the locale, its residents, and the economy. Another example of Siegel's visual brevity is when he shows a close-up of Charley's hand as he slides a wedding band off the body of the female driver of the getaway car. He places the ring on his pinkie, next to a matching band. In one short sequence, Siegel has conveyed that Charley was married, he loved his wife, and must now cope with her death in addition to his self-created mess.
Despite its craftsmanship, Charley Varrick is occasionally sloppy around the edges. In a minor miscue, the plot has Charley sleep with the bank boss's pretty assistant. It makes no sense for either character. She's going to make love with a stranger that stalked her and broke into her apartment? He just lost his wife, but is ready for a one-night stand?
To fully appreciate Charley Varrick, though, one must accept such sporadic missteps. Overall, it's a first-rate action film with a well-cast, interesting protagonist. It makes a strong case for re-evaluating Don Siegel's filmography and recognizing him as a creative force in American cinema from the 1950s through the 1970s.