Charley Varrick

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Charley Varrick
Film poster
Directed byDon Siegel
Written by
Based onThe Looters (novel)
by John H. Reese
Produced byDon Siegel
CinematographyMichael C. Butler
Edited byFrank Morriss
Music byLalo Schifrin
Color processTechnicolor
Universal Pictures
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • October 19, 1973 (1973-10-19)
Running time
111 minutes
CountryUnited States

Charley Varrick (a.k.a.The Last of the Independents and Kill Charley Varrick) is a 1973 American neo-noir crime film directed by Don Siegel and starring Walter Matthau, Andrew Robinson, Joe Don Baker and John Vernon. Charley Varrick was based on the novel The Looters by John H. Reese and is the first of four consecutive films Matthau appeared in that were not comedies.


Charley Varrick is a crop-duster and former stunt pilot, down on his luck. So he, his wife, and two accomplices, Al and Harman, rob a bank in rural New Mexico. Though the heist results in a big haul, it also claims the lives of Al and Charley's wife. After making their way to a distant trailer park, Charley and Harman discover their take from the bank totals over three-quarters of a million dollars. Later, when a local TV newscast reports that only $2,000 was stolen, Charley concludes that the bank's cover-up of the actual amount can only mean that they've stolen laundered Mafia cash. Thus, Charley and Harman realize their names may soon appear on a gangland hit list.

Though Charley is in mourning over his wife's death, he wastes no time in taking action. First, he breaks into his dentist's office, swapping his x-rays with Harman's. Later, he arranges for passports through a local photographer. While Charley prepares for a quick getaway, however, a Reno, Nevada, gangland associate named Boyle hires a sadistic contract murderer, referred to as "Molly", to return the stolen cash to its owners. Molly's search eventually leads him to Harman in the trailer park. He tortures Harman to get information about the money, then beats him to death. At the same time, Boyle travels to the site of the robbery to meet secretly with the bank manager, Harold Young. Boyle advises Young that his Mafia superiors will suspect the robbery was an inside job because it occurred during a brief period when the money was there. He suggests that Young will be tortured. A terrified Young later commits suicide.

After discovering Harman's corpse in the trailer home, Charley flies his crop-duster to Reno, where he contacts Boyle's secretary. She warns Charley not to trust her boss. Charley then phones Boyle, offering to return the stolen money. He arranges a meeting at a remote junkyard and insists that Boyle come alone. Charley, suspecting betrayal, overflies the wrecking yard and spots Molly's car. After landing, Charley hugs the confounded Boyle, acting overjoyed. From a distance, Molly falls for the ruse and assumes that Boyle is Charley's partner-in-crime, so he runs Boyle down with his car, killing him. Molly then chases Charley, who appears to fly away. Surprisingly, he instead flips over his plane, a stunt he used to perform. Trapped in the wreckage, Charley tells Molly the money is in the trunk of a nearby car. Molly opens the trunk and sees Harman's body, wearing Charley's wedding band, and the bank satchels. An instant later, he is killed by a booby trap. Charley releases himself from the plane's wreckage and throws a wad of hundred-dollar bills toward the burning car. He then gets into another car and drives away, assured that Harman's burnt corpse and dental plates will be mistaken for his own.



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 hit man Molly arrives at Jewell's photo studio and introduces himself, Jewell sarcastically replies, "Yeah, I didn't figure you for Clint Eastwood". The role of Varrick was written for Eastwood, who turned it down, reportedly because he could not find any redeeming features in the character. 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 the film nor understood what it was about. Matthau sent Siegel a note that 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 converted Boeing PT-17 Stearman Kaydet (N53039) crop-duster flown by Hollywood aerial pilot Frank Tallman. The modified crop-duster belonged to a California agricultural spraying business. This same aircraft crashed in Oakdale, California on December 31, 1976, killing the pilot, who was crop dusting. The plane's wing caught an electric wire and crashed.[2]


Director Don Siegel filmed several of his movies in northern Nevada, including Charley Varrick, The Shootist and Jinxed! Charley Varrick was set in New Mexico, but was filmed primarily in two small Nevada towns, Dayton and Genoa. Both towns lay a claim to being the oldest towns in the state. The opening bank robbery exterior scenes were filmed in Genoa, at the old Douglas County court house. The sheriff's chase of Varrick and his gang was filmed nearby on Genoa Lane, and on Nevada State Route 207.

The interior bank scenes were filmed in Minden. The trailer park scenes were filmed in Dayton by Hwy 50, at the trailer park, located near the Red Hawk Casino, which was 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 crop duster flight scenes at the conclusion were filmed at the now-closed City Auto Wrecking east of Sparks, near Lockwood Nevada, by Canyon Way Road. The Reno, Nevada filming locations included the Chinese restaurant scenes, filmed at 538 South Virginia Street, and the Arlington Towers condominium building at 100 N. Arlington Avenue. This condo tower is where Varrick meets Miss Fort.[3]


“The ‘normal’ world—the terrain Seigel usually works in— is depicted by him as not at all normal…the characters are counterpoised against an environment which is as deranged as they are. The straight world is as phony, dishonest and evil as the criminal’s, without the one qualification which may be an improvement on the normal: they [the criminals] are honest about their lawlessness…”—Biographer Judith M. Kass in Don Seigel: The Hollywood Professionals, Vol. 4 (1975)[4]

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."[5]

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.[6]

John Simon said Charley Varrick was one of the more accomplished specimens of the gangster genre.[7]

While not strictly a "remake", 2 Guns (2013) has many of its film elements lifted from Charley Varrick.[8]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 81% from 27 reviews with the consensus: "With Walter Matthau adding hangdog soul to Don Siegel's propulsive direction, Charley Varrick is a crime thriller that really scores."[9]


Matthau won the 1974 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards for Best Actor in Charley Varrick.[10] In addition, Frank Morriss was nominated for the 1974 British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards for Best Editing.[11]

Home media[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.[12] 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." On November 12, 2019, the film was released in a Region A locked Blu-ray by Kino Lorber with an exclusive new 4K remaster. This edition includes the "Last of the Independents" documentary, "Refracted Personae", a new video essay with critic Howard S Berger, an archival episode of Trailers from Hell, and a new audio commentary with critic Toby Roan.

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.[13][14] The logo 'Last of The Independents' appears on the back of Varrick's leather jacket at the beginning of the film when he works as an independent aerial crop sprayer.

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. ^ "Locations: 'Charley Varrick' (1973)." IMDb. Retrieved: December 1, 2015.
  4. ^ Kass, 1975 p. 127
  5. ^ Tatara, Paul. "Articles: 'Charley Varrick' (1973)." Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved: December 1, 2015.
  6. ^ Canby, Vincent. "Movie Review: 'Charley Varrick' (1973)." The New York Times, October 20, 1973.
  7. ^ Simon, John (1982). Reverse Angle: A Decade of American Film. Crown Publishers Inc. p. 129. ISBN 9780517544716.
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ "Charley Varrick". Rotten Tomatoes.
  10. ^ "Film | Actor in 1974". BAFTA. Retrieved 27 April 2020.
  11. ^ "Awards: 'Charley Varrick' (1973)." IMDb. Retrieved: December 1, 2015.
  12. ^ Erickson, Glenn. "Review: 'Charley Varrick'." DVD Savant, February 6, 2005. Retrieved: December 1, 2015.
  13. ^ McAvoy and Chrisp 2005[page needed]
  14. ^ "The last of the Independents." Retrieved: December 1, 2015.


  • Kass, Judith M. (1975). Don Seigel: The Hollywood Professionals, Volume 4 (1975 ed.). New York: Tanvity Press. p. 207. ISBN 0-498-01665-X.* 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]