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. Varrick distracts the police by blowing up the getaway car with black powder and gasoline, with his wife's body inside. He and Sullivan escape.

When they count the stolen money, Varrick and Sullivan find themselves with $765,118 — it is far more money than they expected from such a small bank. A television news broadcast reports that only $2,000 was stolen, according to the bank. Varrick realizes the bank must have been involved in a mob money laundering operation and that the Mafia will pursue them more relentlessly than the police. He tells Sullivan their only chance is laying low and not spending the money for the next three to four years. The young, headstrong Sullivan will hear none of it, defying his partner.

Mafia financier Maynard Boyle (John Vernon) runs the bank and pretends to cooperate with law enforcement. In private, he 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 that dignified facade is a ruthless killer.

Realizing that Sullivan's rashness endangers both of them, Varrick decides to double-cross him before Sullivan can do likewise. He puts in a rush order for fake passports with Jewell Everett (Sheree North), a pretty photographer. She promptly betrays Varrick and puts Molly on his trail. The sadistic Molly turns up at Varrick's trailer, brutally beating Sullivan, then killing him while attempting to determine Varrick's whereabouts.

Boyle 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 pulled the heist during a brief period when the money would be there. Boyle 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. The meek Young is so terrified that he commits suicide to avoid the interrogation.

Varrick purchases a supply of dynamite from an Albuquerque shop. He then flies his plane to Reno, where he buys flowers and pays a boy to deliver them to Boyle's secretary, Sybil Fort (Felicia Farr), before she leaves work so Varrick can identify her and follow her home. He surprises and seduces Fort at her high-rise apartment. After becoming lovers, she warns Varrick not to trust her boss.

On the phone, Varrick arranges a meeting with Boyle to return the money in a remote automobile wrecking yard, asking that Boyle call off Molly from the hit. Upon arriving in New Mexico in his crop duster, Varrick ostentatiously hugs a confounded Boyle, acting overjoyed that they've gotten away with stealing the money. Molly, surveilling the meeting from a distance, is enraged that Boyle obviously was a co-conspirator in the robbery. He then runs down Boyle with his car, killing him.

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, there is nothing Varrick can do now to save himself except tell Molly where the money is hidden.

Varrick has set a booby trap; he flipped the plane on purpose, a trick he learned in his barnstorming days. He tells Molly the money is in the trunk of an old Chevy parked among the junkers. Molly opens the trunk and is killed in an explosion, landing 50 feet away on another wrecked car. In the remains is Sullivan's corpse, wearing Charley's wedding ring. Sullivan's body is to be mistaken for that of Varrick, who earlier had switched their dental records. Varrick throws a thick wad of hundred-dollar bills into the flames and tosses in his logo-embroidered jumpsuit, where it too starts to burn. He 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]

See also[edit]


  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]