Follow TV Tropes


Film / Charley Varrick

Go To

A 1973 crime thriller film 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. Varrick quickly works out that it's actually laundered mafia money, and that they now have to contend not only with the cops but also the mob, who send out a thuggish enforcer named Molly (Joe Don Baker) to exact revenge and recover the money. It soon comes down to a battle of wits between the wily Varrick and the relentless Molly.

The supporting cast includes Andrew Robinson as Varrick's hapless associate Harman and John Vernon as the mob's middleman; both men had appeared in Siegel's Dirty Harry two years earlier.

This film provides examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: Someone accidentally refers to Molly as "Sally". He doesn't take it well.
  • 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 Gun: Near the start of the movie, Charley and Harman have a seemingly irrelevant conversation about them using the same dentist. This becomes important later on, as Charley breaks into the dentist's office after-hours to steal Nadine's dental records, so the police cannot identify her body. He also switches his and Harman's dental records, which will allow him to pass off Harman's dead body as his own.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Varrick being a professional crop duster and former stunt pilot comes in handy during the movie's finale.
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: Charley and his pals robbing a small town bank coincides with the bank being used as a drop-off point for The Mafia's dirty money.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Varrick's gang just happen to rob a small New Mexico bank on the very day that a large amount of dirty mob money was being stashed there. In-universe, the mob do not believe it to be a coincidence and think they have been set up.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • Gender-Blender Name: Molly. It is (presumably) his last name, but he only ever refers to himself as Molly.
  • Identification by Dental Records: Genre Savvy Charley is aware of this, so after the robbery he makes an after hours visit to his dentist's office to remove a few records.
  • Last-Name Basis: Molly. We never find out what his first name is.
  • 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.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Molly, after knocking out a black man who insulted him:
    Molly: I let very few men speak to me in that tone... a few Caucasians, and no negroes at all.
  • 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.
  • What You Are in the Dark: Charley breaks into the dentist's office to remove Nadine's dental records, so the police can't identify her body. He's about to leave, when he recalls his earlier argument with Harman. He decides to switch his and Harman's dental records too. This paves the way for his eventual Batman Gambit to solve his Mafia and police issues by passing off Harman's dead body as his own.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: It pays off for Varrick.