Director: Don Siegel
Screenplay: Howard Rodman, Dean Riesner
Based on a Novel by: John Reese
Starring: Walter Matthau, Joe Don Baker, Andrew Robinson, John Vernon
Running Time: 111 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
I often decide to review films offered to me due to their critical acclaim, but it’s always nice to be offered a title that not only has been well received by the critics, but has been personally recommended to me. Such is the case with Don Siegel’s Charley Varrick, which my friend and fellow Blueprint: Review writer Andrew Skeates said I should seek out a long time ago. The title stuck in my mind for a while, but I never seemed to come across it in the shops and it was always overpriced online, so I never got around to picking it up. I’m hugely grateful for Indicator then for giving Charley Varrick their usual top-level treatment and offering me a copy to review.
Walter Matthau plays the titular character, who robs a bank along with his wife Nadine (Jacqueline Scott) and two accomplices, including Harman Sullivan (Andrew Robinson). The job goes rather pear-shaped as a few people are killed, including a police officer and one of the accomplices. Nadine also dies later of a gunshot wound she got during the heist. To make matters worse, although Charley and Harman end up with much more money than they expected, it turns out most of it belongs to the mob. So they have to stay one step ahead of them, on top of the police. As we watch the level-headed Charley cleverly cover his tracks and prepare to leave the state/country, we also regularly cut to Molly (Joe Don Baker), a hitman hired by bank executive Maynard Boyle (John Vernon) to bring back his money and tie up the loose ends.
As I recently mentioned in my review of Logan Lucky, I do love a good heist movie and this is up there with the best. Like Logan Lucky and many classic crime films, Charley Varrick has a wonderfully clever script to work from (based on a novel by John Reese). Although Molly is hard on Charley’s tail, Charley is smart and has always thought ahead. These twists and turns are masterfully controlled, with the audience fed enough information to understand how they work out, but not enough to see them coming a mile off. If I ever figured out one of Charley’s tricks, it was only ever at the last minute, just before they happened. This is the best method of showing as it makes the audience feel clever about figuring it out rather than having something blatantly signposted early on so they’re simply waiting for something they know is going to happen from the start.
As well as enjoying a good heist movie, I also love the handful of Don Siegel’s films I’ve seen. I’m a big Dirty Harry and Invasion of the Body Snatchers fan In particular. I’ve always been impressed by the tight construction of his films and Charley Varrick is no different. Although there’s a loose 70s feel to the presentation at times, the film is deceptively taut. Barely a frame is wasted in telling its story. A couple of scenes or lines of dialogue that feel unnecessary all come to play before the end. There’s only one sequence that didn’t fit the puzzle and provided the only weak point in the film for me and that’s when Charley randomly talks a woman into bed not long after meeting her and threatening her life. It’s totally unnecessary, not to mention implausible. I mean, Matthau is a talented actor, but he’s hardly the most handsome man in the world and his character isn’t shown to be particularly charming either.
This is an isolated sour note in an otherwise perfect film though. Gripping, taut, wonderfully performed (Matthau, Baker and Vernon in particular) and entertaining from start to finish, it’s a film I’d recommend to anyone as highly as it was recommended to me.
Charley Varrick is out now, released by Powerhouse Films on Blu-Ray as part of their Indicator label in the UK. The picture is clean, the grain looks natural and colours and textures are rich and detailed. The sound is strong too.
There are plenty of special features included:
- Last of the Independents: Don Siegel and the Making of ‘Charley Varrick’ (2015, 72 mins): a feature-length documentary on the making of the film
- The Guardian Lecture with Don Siegel (1973): archival audio recording of an interview conducted by Tony Sloman at London's National Film Theatre - The Guardian Lecture with Walther Matthau (1988): archival audio recording of an interview at London's National Film Theatre
- Super 8 version: original cut-down home cinema presentation - Original theatrical trailer
- Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
- Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by author and critic Richard Combs, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and historic articles on the film
This is an impressive array of features for what is a relatively obscure film these days. I must admit I haven’t had chance to work my way through it all yet, but when I do I’ll report back here.