1 February 2005 | BrandtSponseller
Towards the top of the list for both Walter Matthau and director Don Siegel
Charley Varrick (Walter Matthau) is a former stunt pilot turned independent crop duster who is on the low end of the socio-economic scale. He lives in a trailer park with his girlfriend, Nadine (Jacqueline Scott). He decides to supplement his income by robbing a small bank in a backwater New Mexican town. Unfortunately, not everything goes as planned.
I watched Charley Varrick (in a fine widescreen transfer by the way; at present only a bad pan and scan version appears to exist on DVD) during a TCM channel marathon of director Don Siegel's films. I had just finished Madigan (1968), which I didn't care that much for (although I thought the limited action sequences were good and the direction fine), and was about to finally shut off the television and go to sleep. However, Walter Matthau is one of my favorite actors, and Charley Varrick was starting almost immediately after the end of Madigan, so I figured I'd at least "peek" at the first few minutes. That was a long peek, because this is one excellent film. Charley Varrick ended up with a 10 out of 10 from me.
It probably wouldn't be quite so good without Matthau as the lead. He's had a plethora of fantastic performances, but none are better than Charley Varrick (many are just as good). Matthau was perfectly cast--he had exactly the right age, the right look, and the right disposition for this role. His understated, intelligent manner makes the character and his actions eminently believable within the context of the film. As this is a film that hinges on a fairly complex, logically intricate plot, believability within the context of the film is very important.
Not that the other elements aren't laudable. Siegel's direction--most of it imbued with a great, gritty, early 1970s "feel"--is impeccable, and ranges from a series of beautiful shots of the countryside during the opening credits to elaborately staged, underhanded "clues" as to the "plot beneath the plot"--during most of the middle section, Varrick makes a number of moves that would seem bizarre if taken at their surface value, but he's really hatching a scheme to extricate himself from the mire he's sunken into. None of this is explicitly stated, but Siegel easily conveys it with his direction. There is even one point--right after a character named Molly (Joe Don Baker) visits Jewell Everett (Sheree North), that it seems like maybe Siegel made a fatal misstep, and a scene or two are missing, but I retained faith that it would work out in the end, and it did, seamlessly.
The rest of the cast is fantastic, as well, and of course a film like this wouldn't succeed without a great script, in this case written by Dean Riesner and Howard Rodman from a John Reese novel. This is a too-little-known gem that deserves wider recognition and better treatment, such as a good DVD transfer with lots of extras.