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Film / Charley Varrick

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A 1973 crime thriller directed by Don Siegel and starring Walter Matthau in the title role, adapted from the novel The Looters by John Reese.

Following their bungled robbery of a small town bank, Charley Varrick and his friends are surprised to find that they stole considerably more money than they'd anticipated. Charley quickly works out that it is laundered mafia money, and that they now not only have to contend with the police, but also the mob, who send a thuggish enforcer named Molly (Joe Don Baker) to exact revenge and recover the money. It comes down to a battle of wits between the wily Varrick and the relentless Molly.

Also stars John Vernon as the mob's middle man, and Andy Robinson as Varrick's hapless associate Harman; both men had appeared in Siegel's Dirty Harry two years earlier. Features one of Matthau's best performances (though he reputedly disliked the film) and is now considered a Cult Classic.


This film provides examples of:

  • Batman Gambit: Charley's final plan to extricate himself from the mess he's in. He arranges to meet Boyle and makes him promise that Molly will not be with him (knowing that either Boyle will double cross him or Molly will come anyway). He then makes it seem as if he and Boyle are in cahoots, knowing Molly will think Boyle has betrayed him. Molly sees this and does as expected by killing Boyle. Fleeing from Molly, Charley is seemingly injured when his plane flips over. He knows Molly won't kill him until he learns where the stolen money is, so he offers to tell him in return for Molly letting him go. Molly agrees and Charley directs him to the trunk of his car, which is rigged with dynamite.
    • Also in the trunk is the body of Charley's partner Harman, who Molly had killed earlier (and whose dental records Charley had swapped his own with). After the explosion kills Molly, Charley strips off his coveralls and tosses it and some of the money into the fire, making it look like he died in the explosion along with Molly.
  • Book-Ends: The movie starts and ends with Charley Varrick's personalized overalls being burned.
  • Casting Gag: The secretary Varrick sleeps with is played by Felicia Farr, wife of Matthau's friend and frequent costar Jack Lemmon.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Varrick being a professional crop duster and former stunt pilot comes in handy during the movie's finale.
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies
  • Driven to Suicide: The bank manager.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: By the end of the movie, Varrick's three fellow robbers are dead, as are Molly and Maynard, leaving Charley as the Sole Survivor.
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  • Evil Gloating: Molly does this when he finally has Varrick cornered.
  • Exact Words: Varrick has just bought dynamite and detonators from a store.
    Clerk: May I ask what that's for?
    Varrick: You certainly may. [walks out]
  • Foreshadowing: Varrick tells Harman that the mob will never stop looking for them, "unless they think you're dead".
  • Last-Name Basis: Molly.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Both the passport forger and the man who sent Charley to her inform on him to Molly.
  • Noodle Implements: Maynard warns the bank manager that the mob will "go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch". See Driven to Suicide.
  • Nosy Neighbor: Varrick has one at his trailer park. She also doubles as a Cranky Neighbor.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Varrick walks into the bank wearing a fake plaster cast over his foot.
  • Oh, Crap!: Molly, when he opens the trunk of Varrick's car, which has been rigged with TNT.
  • Plethora of Mistakes: The opening robbery is botched, leading to the deaths of two gang members and a police officer.
  • Police are Useless: The police never come close to catching Varrick and his gang. The mob do.
  • Psycho for Hire: Molly.
  • Robbing the Mob Bank: The film's premise and one of the best cinematic examples.
  • Shout-Out: When Molly shows up at Jewell Everett's place and introduces himself, she sarcastically replies, "Yeah, I didn't figure you for Clint Eastwood."
  • There Are No Coincidences: Boyle explains that the mob will never believe it was a mere coincidence that Varrick's gang robbed the bank on the exact same day that a large amount of mob money was stashed there.
    Harold Young: Why couldn't it be just a coincidence?
    Maynard Boyle: Because they don't believe in coincidence!
  • Villain Protagonist: Varrick is a criminal who robs a bank in his first scene, as a result of which several people die. He is nevertheless easy to root for, as the people pursuing him are worse.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: It pays off for Varrick.

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