Charley Varrick

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Charley Varrick
Charley Varrick.jpg
Film poster
Directed by Don Siegel
Produced by Don Siegel
Written by John H. Reese (novel)
Dean Riesner
Howard Rodman
Starring Walter Matthau
Andrew Robinson
Joe Don Baker
John Vernon
Felicia Farr
Music by Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography Michael C. Butler
Editing by Frank Morriss
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
  • October 19, 1973 (1973-10-19)
Running time 111 min.
Language English

Charley Varrick is a 1973 crime film directed by Don Siegel and starring Walter Matthau, Andrew Robinson, Joe Don Baker and John Vernon. The film was based on the novel The Looters by John H. Reese. Tom Tully had a small part as a shopkeeper in a wheelchair. This was his last film.


Charley Varrick (Matthau) is a crop-duster and former stunt pilot by trade. The aging trailer-park dweller has clearly not been too successful. Together with three others, including his wife Nadine and edgy Harman Sullivan, a heavily disguised Varrick robs a small bank in Tres Cruces, New Mexico. During the robbery, two policemen and the fourth robber are killed and Nadine is mortally wounded.

Varrick and Sullivan find themselves with $765,118 — far more money than they expected. The bank manager, timid Harold Young, reports only $2,000 stolen. Realizing they have stolen the proceeds of a mob money laundering operation, Varrick and Sullivan find themselves in trouble not only with the police but with several shady characters, in particular mob money man Maynard Boyle and an amoral hired killer called Molly.

Also being threatened by his partner Sullivan, who wants to spend the money immediately rather than lying low for years until the heat is off, Varrick decides to double-cross him before Sullivan can do the same to him. He makes a plan to flee the country and puts in a rush order for two fake passports with Jewell Everett, a pretty photographer. She promptly betrays Varrick and puts Molly on his trail. The sadistic Molly catches up with Sullivan at the trailer, brutally beating and killing him while attempting to determine Varrick's whereabouts.

Boyle, meanwhile, terrifies the mousy bank manager Young with the threat that the mob will suspect the robbery to be an inside job. One of the descriptions of torture that Boyle suggests will befall Young involves a pair of pliers and a blowtorch. Rather than submit to such treatment, Young commits suicide by shooting himself.

Varrick flies his plane to Reno, where he surprises and seduces Boyle's secretary, Sybil Fort, who urges Varrick not to trust her boss. Nonetheless, Varrick sets up a meeting with Boyle in a remote automobile wrecking yard back in New Mexico, arriving for it in his crop duster. He greets Boyle so warmly that Molly becomes convinced the men must be partners. Molly angrily runs down Boyle with his car.

Molly then proceeds to stalk Varrick, who tries to escape by plane in an auto junkyard. Molly damages the crop-duster's tail with his car before it can take off. Varrick's crippled plane flips over. Flat on his back in the wreckage, Varrick can do nothing to save himself except tell Molly where the money is hidden.

Seemingly in mortal danger, Varrick has actually set a booby trap for Molly, flipping the plane on purpose, a trick he learned back in his barnstorming days. Varrick tells him the money is in the trunk of an old Chevy parked among the junkers. Molly opens the Chevy's trunk to retrieve the hidden money and is blown up. In the remains of the explosion are a number of hundred-dollar bills and Sullivan's body, to be mistaken for that of Varrick, who had earlier switched dental records. Varrick scoops up the remaining money and makes his getaway.



Charley Varrick was set in New Mexico, but filmed primarily in two Nevada towns, Dayton and Genoa. The opening bank robbery exterior shots were filmed in Genoa at the old court house. The police chase of Varrick and his gang were filmed nearby at Genoa Lane, and U.S. Route 395. The interior bank scenes were filmed in Minden. The trailer park scenes were shot in Dayton at the trailer park near today's Red Hawk Casino (closed in 2008) and the Carson River, near U.S. Route 50, at the corner of Hart and Louie Streets. The closing plane flight scene was filmed at City Auto Wrecking, located at Rt. 1 Mustang Exit, Sparks, near the defunct but now reopened Mustang Ranch brothel, ten miles east of Reno. The Chinese restaurant scene was filmed at 538 S. Virginia St., Reno, Nevada. Today a Starbucks coffee shop and Ceol Irish Pub are at this location in Reno. The photographer's studio and gun store scenes were filmed in Gardnerville. Director Don Siegel filmed several of his movies in northern Nevada, including Charley Varrick, The Shootist and Jinxed! The little boy who tells the sheriff he's got blood on his head and asks if he's gonna die is played by Walter Matthau's real life son, Charles, and the apartment building where Varrick meets Miss Fort is the Arlington Towers in Reno.


British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards — Best Actor, 1974, Walter Matthau

Award nominations[edit]

British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards — Best Editing, 1974, Frank Morriss

DVD release[edit]

The film was released as a Region 1 DVD on December 28, 2004. It has no extras. On February 14, 2008 the film was released as a Region 2 DVD in Europe in Widescreen and some Special Features. Both Versions are uncut.

Production notes[edit]

Director Don Siegel wanted Varrick's company's motto, "Last of the Independents," to be the title of the film. The motto appears on the movie poster and briefly as a subtitle in the film trailer.

Cultural references[edit]

  • In Ray Davies' semi-fictional autobiography, X-Ray, the film Charley Varrick is mentioned approvingly several times, and he claims it is his "favourite video".[1]
  • The song "Last of the Independents" by Rory Gallagher was also inspired by Charley Varrick, according to his long-time bassist Gerry McAvoy in his book, Riding Shotgun'".[2]
  • The line "... go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch ..." is paraphrased in Pulp Fiction.
  • The protagonists of 2 Guns rob a bank in Tres Cruces, New Mexico[3]


  1. ^ Davies, Ray X-Ray New York: The Overlook Press, 1995.
  2. ^ McAvoy, Gerry with Pete Chrisp Riding Shotgun Maidstone, Kent: SPG Triumph, 2005
  3. ^

External links[edit]