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
Edited 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.


Charley Varrick (Matthau) is a crop-duster and former stunt pilot. The aging trailer-park dweller has clearly not been too successful. Together with his wife Nadine and co-conspirators Al Dutcher and Harman Sullivan (Andrew Robinson), a heavily disguised Varrick robs a bank in the rural crossroads community of Tres Cruces, New Mexico. During the robbery, two policemen and Dutcher are killed. Nadine drives the get-away car and eludes the police, but she, too, has been mortally wounded and dies shortly thereafter. Varrick distracts the police from their chase of him by blowing up the getaway car with black powder and gasoline, with his wife's body inside. The ploy works, and Varrick and Sullivan escape.

When they count the stolen money that evening, Varrick and Sullivan find themselves with $765,118 — it is far more money than they expected at a small county bank. A television news broadcast reports that only $2,000 was stolen, according to the bank. Varrick explains to Sullivan that the bank must have been involved in a mob money laundering operation and that the mafia will pursue them more relentlessly than the police. Varrick tells Sullivan that they can only evade the mafia by laying low and not spending the money for the next three to four years. The young, headstrong Sullivan will hear none of it, argues with Varrick, and plans to spend the money on the luxuries he craves.

Soon, Mafia financier Maynard Boyle (John Vernon) dispatches hitman Molly (Joe Don Baker) to find the robbers and recover the stolen money by any means necessary.

Realizing that Sullivan's rashness endangers both of them, 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 (Sheree North), a pretty photographer. She promptly betrays Varrick and puts Molly on his trail. The sadistic Molly catches up with Sullivan at Charley's trailer, brutally beating, and then killing him, while attempting to determine Varrick's whereabouts.

Boyle, meanwhile, tells bank manager Harold Young (Woodrow Parfrey) that his superiors in the mob suspect that the robbery was an inside job, as Varrick's gang robbed the bank during the brief period the money would be there. Boyle also asks why Young unwittingly guided Varrick 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 until he provides a satisfactory answer. The meek Young is so terrified that he commits suicide by shooting himself to avoid the interrogation.

Varrick then flies his plane to Reno, where he buys flowers from a young street vendor and pays the boy to deliver it to Boyle's pretty secretary, Sybil Fort (Felicia Farr), when she exits Boyle's office building so Varrick can identify her and follow her home, where he surprises and seduces her at her high-rise apartment. Later she warns Varrick not to trust her boss. Nonetheless, Varrick sets up a meeting with Boyle to return the money in a remote automobile wrecking yard situated east of Reese, NM. After arriving in his crop duster, Varrick ostentatiously hugs Boyle and proclaims they've gotten away with stealing the money. Molly, surveilling the meeting in his car, 500 yards away, is convinced that the two must have been co-conspirators in the robbery. He then runs down and kills Boyle with his car.

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

Seemingly in mortal danger, Varrick has set a booby trap for Molly; he had flipped the plane on purpose, a trick he learned in his barnstorming days. Varrick tells Molly the money is in the trunk of an old Chevy parked among the junkers. When Molly opens the car's trunk to retrieve the hidden money, he is killed in an explosion, landing 50 feet away on another upside down wrecked car. In the remains of the explosion is Sullivan's body wearing Charley's wedding ring. Sullivan's body is to be mistaken for that of Varrick, who earlier had switched their dental records, while removing his wife's and Harmon's records. Varrick throws a thick wad of hundred-dollar bills into the burning flames and tosses his logo-embroidered jumpsuit into the trunk on top of Sullivan's body where it too starts to burn. He then transfers the rest of the money to another supposedly junked car and makes his getaway.


Production notes[edit]

Director Don Siegel wanted Charley 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.

Tom Tully had a small part as a shopkeeper in a wheelchair. 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.


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, Nevada and Genoa, Nevada. Both Dayton and Genoa lay claim to being the oldest towns in Nevada. 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. 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, near U.S. Route 50, at the corner of Hart and Louie Streets. The photographer's studio and gun store scenes were filmed in Gardnerville. The plane flight scene in the film's ending 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. Reno locations include the Chinese restaurant at 538 S. Virginia St. and the Arlington Towers apartment building where Varrick meets Miss Fort.


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. The DVD has no extras. On February 14, 2008 "Charley Varrick" was released as a Region 2 DVD in Europe in Widescreen and some Special Features. Both DVD Versions are uncut.

Cultural impact[edit]

  • The 1978 song "Last of the Independents" by Rory Gallagher was inspired by Charley Varrick, according to his long-time bassist Gerry McAvoy in his book, Riding Shotgun.[1]
  • John Vernon's line "... go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch ..." is paraphrased in the 1994 film, Pulp Fiction.
  • In Ray Davies' 1995 semi-fictional autobiography, X-Ray, the film Charley Varrick is mentioned approvingly several times, and he claims it is his "favourite video."[2]
  • The protagonists of the 2013 film 2 Guns rob a bank in Tres Cruces, New Mexico. While not strictly a "remake", the film also has the same basic premise that a far larger than expected amount of money is found in the vault, as a result of money laundering.[3]


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

External links[edit]