Charley Varrick (Walter Matthau) heads a group of four thieves who target a small-town bank in rural New Mexico. Although Charley’s theft was a success, the escape is hindered when two local police officers become suspicious of the gang’s getaway car. The result is a shoot out with the police that left three people dead, including the gang’s driver, and Charley’s wife, Nadine (Jacqueline Scott).
Charley and the sole remaining member of his gang, Harman Sullivan’s (Andrew Robinson) use Charley’s company van from his legit crop-dusting business to slip past the police. Now at Charley’s home, he knows something is up after counting the take. The pot is way bigger than he was expecting. $700, 000 bigger. Charley suspects the mob is using the bank to house dirty money until it can be shipped overseas for laundering. He is confirmed right after the local evening news reports only $2,000 is missing.
The bank’s local manager, Harold Young (Woodrow Parfey) and president, Maynard Boyle (John Vernon) are also in hot water with the mob. They are the ones who allowed the mob’s money to overstay, and the random occurrence of a bank robbery when the pile was at its peak seems fishy. “The mob doesn’t believe in coincidences.” – Boyle
As careful as Charley is, he has to take some risks to attempt to get himself and Harman to Mexico. He puts his trust into a couple of people he shouldn’t have which places Molly (Joe Don Baker), a no-nonsense hitman hired by the mob to track Charley down, right onto his trail.
Charley Varrick was director Don Seigel’s follow up to Dirty Harry and it delivers. There are fewer action scenes than your average Dirty Harry film, but this is a tight and well-paced crime thriller. This is a great vehicle for Matthau too as he effectively uses his expertise as a deadpan straight man against all of the crazy that is happening around him.
Joe Don Baker (Walking Tall, Joystick) as Molly, is not only a nasty antagonist but an eccentric one as well, which adds a nice layer of creepy on top of his menacing stature. So you know he is going to be an extra challenge for Charley for whenever the two will meet. Star Trek fans will be happy to see how Andrew Robinson (Dirty Harry, Hellraiser) has a big role in this film too. His character in Deep Space Nine, Garak was always a bright spot on that show and seeing him excel with a different character here confirms that he has the acting chops.
If I can shave a few points off of the perfect score, it is the final chase sequence between a crop-dusting plane and a big ’67 Chrysler Imperial. This is where the limitations of the film’s budget are exposed as it is strung together with fast edits of the two vehicles spinning back and forth on a dirt airstrip. It’s the sort of finale you would expect from the A-Team or Knight Rider. The film’s opening getaway chase was more exciting, by far.
But, just as Charley does, the movie relies on its wits rather than its brawn. Even though the action might be a little weak at times, I had fun watching Charley outsmart all of the bad guys. The ending was a wee bit predictable, but it was still fun to watch. And really, I can’t ask for too much more than that. #MarsApproved