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
Based on The Looters (novel)
by John H. Reese
Starring Walter Matthau
Andrew Robinson
Joe Don Baker
John Vernon
Felicia Farr
Music by Lalo Schifrin
Cinematography Michael C. Butler
Edited by Frank Morriss
Universal Pictures
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release date
  • October 19, 1973 (1973-10-19)
Running time
111 min.
Language English

Charley Varrick (aka The Last of the Independents and Kill 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.


Charley Varrick (Walter Matthau) is a crop-duster and former stunt pilot. In league with his wife Nadine (Jacqueline Scott) and accomplices Al Dutcher (Fred Scheiwiller) and Harman Sullivan (Andrew Robinson), Charley robs a bank in the sleepy rural community of Tres Cruces, New Mexico, but a series of mishaps turn what was planned as a straightforward robbery into a life-and-death drama.

While Nadine waits outside in the getaway car, the heavily disguised Charley enters the bank, where his two accomplices are waiting, and when Charley is taken to the manager to validate a cheque, they draw their guns and the robbery begins. Outside, however, the licence plate of their getaway car is recognised as stolen by one of the officers in a passing police car; when they approach Nadine to question her, she fires on them, killing one instantly and seriously wounding the other, but the second officer returns fire as he falls, wounding Nadine. The melee outside distracts Charley and his accomplices, enabling the bank guard to kill Dutcher. Sensing that the bank manager is concealing something, Charley forces him at gunpoint to reveal what he is trying to hide - two large satchels which, the terrified manager claims, contain bonds and securities, but which prove to be full of cash. Charley, Harman and Nadine make their escape thanks to Nadine's driving skills, but Charley discovers that his wife has been mortally wounded, and she dies soon after. Charley and Harman swap vehicles, and prepare to blow up the getaway car with black powder and gasoline, with Nadine's body inside. Soon after they drive away, they are stopped by another policeman, but before he can search their van, the timed explosion goes off and the officer races away to investigate, allowing Charley and Harman to escape.

Returning to Charley's trailer-park home, they count the stolen money, and Charley is dismayed to discover that the two bags contain a massive haul - $765,118 - vastly more than they expected from such a small bank. After watching a local television news broadcast, which reports that only $2,000 was stolen, Charley realizes the bank must be involved in a mob money laundering operation. He warns Harman that the Mafia will pursue them relentlessly (pointedly saying, "I'd rather have ten FBIs after me") and that their only chance is lying low and not spending the money for the next three to four years, but the young, headstrong Harman will hear none of it, defying his partner.

Mafia financier Maynard Boyle (John Vernon), president of the bank, pretends to cooperate with law enforcement, but he secretly dispatches hitman Molly (Joe Don Baker) to recover the stolen money by any means necessary. The soft-spoken Molly is a pipe-smoking teetotaler, but behind his mundane facade is a ruthless killer.

Realizing that Harman's rashness will doom both of them, Charley decides to double-cross him before Harman can do likewise. Because he, Nadine and Harman have all had dental work done recently at a local dental surgery, Charley breaks into the surgery, stealing his own and Nadine's dental X-rays, but he also prepares for his escape by swapping his own X-rays for those of Harman. To obtain illegal passports, Charley then contacts gun dealer Tom (Tom Tully), an old accomplice of Dutcher's, who directs him to beautiful local photographer Jewell Everett (Sheree North); there he has his photograph taken, but he also gives her Harman's driver's licence (which he had stolen from his sleeping accomplice), thereby ensuring that Molly will find Harman. Tom immediately informs on Charley, and Molly soon arrives. Jewell also willingly betrays Charley, but he has already realised that she cannot be trusted and he never returns for the passports. Soon after, the sadistic Molly turns up at Charley's trailer, brutally beating Harman before torturing him to death while attempting to find the location of Charley and the money.

Boyle meets secretly with Tres Cruces bank manager Harold Young (Woodrow Parfrey), advising Young that his superiors in the Mafia will certainly suspect that the robbery was an inside job, because Charley's gang pulled the heist during the brief period when the money would be there. Boyle asks why Young unwittingly guided Charley to the Mafia's money in the bank's safe instead of letting him leave with just the tellers' money. He suggests that Young will be tortured with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch, and the meek Young is so terrified that he later commits suicide.

With Molly still hot on his trail, Charley purchases a supply of dynamite from an Albuquerque shop. He then flies his aircraft to Reno, where he buys flowers and pays a boy to deliver them to Boyle's secretary, Sybil Fort (Felicia Farr), so he can identify her and follow her home. He surprises and seduces Fort at her high-rise apartment, and Fort warns Charley not to trust her boss.

Charley then contacts Boyle, offering to return the money. He arranges a meeting at a remote automobile wrecking yard, and insists that Boyle come alone, but Charley's suspicion of Boyle is confirmed on his approach - when he overflies the wrecking yard before landing, he spots Molly's car concealed some distance away. After landing, Charley ostentatiously hugs the confounded Boyle, acting overjoyed; Molly, watching the meeting from his car, falls for the ruse and assumes that Boyle is Charley's co-conspirator in the robbery, so he runs down Boyle with his car, killing him. Molly then chases Charley, who apparently tries to escape in his aircraft, but Molly damages the crop-duster's tail with his car before it can take off, and Charley's crippled aircraft finally flips over on the runway. Trapped upside down in the wreckage, Charley 'confesses' to Molly that the money is hidden in the trunk of a nearby wrecked Chevrolet.

However, the wily Charley ultimately outwits his enemies - he has flipped his aircraft on purpose (a trick he learned in his barnstorming days) and when Molly opens the trunk he sees the body of Harman, wearing Charley's wedding ring, and the bank satchels - and an instant later Molly is killed by the dynamite booby trap that Charley has rigged in the old car. As the car burns, Charley retrieves the rest of the money, which is stashed in his wrecked plane; he throws a thick wad of hundred-dollar bills toward the burning car, making it seem that the money has been destroyed, and finally tosses in his logo-embroidered jumpsuit, which also starts to burn. Charley gets into another car and makes his getaway.


In the latter years of his career, Don Siegel often cast actors he liked in multiple films - most famously working with Clint Eastwood on five occasions - and with the notable exception of Matthau, nearly all of the principal cast of Charley Varrick worked with Siegel on at least one of his other feature films:

Charley Varrick also features several notable cameo appearances:

  • veteran actor Tom Tully, plays Tom, the wheelchair-bound gun shop owner who puts Varrick in touch with photographer Jewell and is later roughed-up by Molly; Tully was an amputee in real life, having lost his leg several years earlier, due a parasitical infection he contracted while entertaining US troops during the Vietnam War; Charley Varrick was his last film;
  • the little boy who tells the sheriff he has blood on his head is played by Walter Matthau's son, Charles;
  • Nevada brothel operator Joe Conforte, owner of the famous Mustang Ranch, appears as himself in the scene in which Molly (Joe Don Baker) arrives at the brothel, which was filmed at the real Mustang Ranch;
  • director Don Siegel makes a cameo appearance as the ping-pong player who complains about being bested by Honest John;
  • Felicia Farr, who plays Boyle's secretary, Miss Fort, was the wife of Walter Matthau's longtime friend Jack Lemmon, with whom he co-starred in 10 films.


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 film poster and briefly as a subtitle in the film trailer.

When the hitman Molly arrives at Jewell's photo studio and introduces himself, Jewell sarcastically replies, "Yeah, I didn't figure you for Clint Eastwood." - a sly in-joke that refers to the fact that the role of Varrick was written for Eastwood, who turned it down, reportedly because he said he could not find any redeeming features in the character. Despite his well-reviewed performance, Matthau was also reported to have been unimpressed by the film, and Siegel later claimed that Matthau hurt the film's box-office by publicly stating that he neither liked nor understood it. Matthau is also reported to have sent Siegel a note which said, "I have seen it three times, and am of slightly better than average intelligence (IQ 120) but I still don't quite understand what's going on. Is there a device we can use to explain to people what they're seeing?"[1]

Varrick's aircraft is a Boeing PT-17 Stearman Kaydet (N53039) flown by noted Hollywood aerial pilot Frank Tallman. The modified crop duster belonged to a California agricultural spraying business.[2]


Siegel filmed several of his movies in northern Nevada, including Charley Varrick, The Shootist and Jinxed! Charley Varrick was set in New Mexico, but filmed primarily in two small Nevada towns, Dayton and Genoa. Both lay claim to being the oldest towns in the state. The opening bank robbery exterior shots were filmed in Genoa at the old Douglas County court house. The sheriff's chase of Varrick and his gang was filmed nearby at Genoa Lane, and on U.S. Route 395.[3]

The interior bank scenes were filmed in Minden. The trailer park scenes were shot in Dayton at the trailer park near Red Hawk Casino (closed in 2008) and the Carson River, at the corner of Hart and Louie Streets. The photographer's studio and gun store scenes were filmed in Gardnerville. The aircraft flight scene at the end was shot at City Auto Wrecking in Sparks. Reno locations include the Chinese restaurant at 538 South Virginia Street and the Arlington Towers apartment building where Varrick meets Miss Fort.[3]


Although very well received critically, it was a disappointment at the box office. Reviewer Paul Tatara described Charley Varrick as "intelligent, commercial filmmaking at its finest. They rarely make them like this anymore."[4]

Vincent Canby in his review for The New York Times considered Charley Varrick as both an action film and a mystery:

An intelligent action melodrama is probably one of the most difficult kinds of film to make. Intelligence in this case has nothing to do with being literate, poetic, or even reasonable. It has to do with movement, suspense, and sudden changes in fortune that are plausible enough to entertain without challenging you to question basic premises. If you start asking whether such-and-such could really have happened, or if so-and-so would have acted in a certain way, the action film falls apart.[5]

While not strictly a "remake," 2 Guns (2013) has many of the same film elements as Charley Varrick. The protagonists of the film also rob a bank in Tres Cruces, New Mexico, and make off with a far larger than expected amount of money.[6]


Matthau won the 1974 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards for Best Actor in Charley Varrick. In addition, Frank Morriss was nominated for the 1974 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards for Best Editing.[7]

DVD and Blu-ray release[edit]

Charley Varrick was released as a Region 1 DVD with no extras on December 28, 2004. On February 14, 2008, the film was released as a Region 2 DVD in Europe in widescreen with some special features. Both DVD versions are uncut.[8] On March 19, 2015, the film was released in a Region B locked Blu-ray in Germany. This edition included a 72 minutes documentary on the making of the film, " Last of the independents: Don Siegel and the making of Charley Varrick."

Cultural impact[edit]

According to Rory Gallagher's long-time bassist Gerry McAvoy, in his book Riding Shotgun: 35 Years on the Road with Rory Gallagher and 'Nine Below Zero', Gallagher's 1978 song "Last of the Independents" was inspired by Charley Varrick.[9][10]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ George Anastasia & Glen Macnow, The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies (Running Press, 2011), Chapter 78
  2. ^ Santoir, Christian. "Charley Varrick". Aeromovies. Retrieved: December 1, 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Locations: 'Charley Varrick' (1973)." IMDb. Retrieved: December 1, 2015.
  4. ^ Tatara, Paul. "Articles: 'Charley Varrick' (1973)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: December 1, 2015.
  5. ^ Canby, Vincent. "Movie Review: 'Charley Varrick' (1973)." The New York Times, October 20, 1973.
  6. ^ Bierly, Mandy. "'2 Guns': Bill Paxton explains how he became one of summer's best scene-stealers." Entertainment Weekly, August 2, 2014. Retrieved: December 1, 2015.
  7. ^ "Awards: 'Charley Varrick' (1973)." IMDb. Retrieved: December 1, 2015.
  8. ^ Erickson, Glenn. "Review: 'Charley Varrick'." DVD Savant, February 6, 2005. Retrieved: December 1, 2015.
  9. ^ McAvoy and Chrisp 2005[page needed]
  10. ^ "The last of the Independents." Retrieved: December 1, 2015.


  • Davies, Ray. X-Ray: The Unauthorized Autobiography. New York: The Overlook Press, 1995. ISBN 978-0-8795-1664-2.
  • McAvoy, Gerry with Pete Chrisp. Riding Shotgun: 35 Years on the Road with Rory Gallagher and 'Nine Below Zero'. Maidstone, Kent, UK: SPG Triumph, 2005. ISBN 978-0-9550-3200-4.
  • Siegel, Don. A Siegel Film: An Autobiography. New York: Faber & Faber, 1996. ISBN 978-0-5711-6270-3.

External links[edit]