"All I wanted was a small take--in and out quick, no big deal"
Charley Varrick has no passion for crime. He doesn't have the temperament for it—he's calm and unassuming, not one to stand out in the crowd or flash a wad of cash. Charley Varrick in this eponymous film is played by Walter Matthau, the perfect embodiment of weary efficiency. When Charley and his wife Nadine got into robbing banks it was just a little something to supplement their crop dusting business and to help make ends meet. Charley doesn't dream of the big score or live for the thrill of the chase, he's a robber who loathes the necessity of guns and violence.
Things go sideways during a routine robbery in the New Mexican small town of Tres Cruces. Nadine is shot along with a handful of police officers, and Charley and his new assistant Harman are on the run. Their troubles grow when they learn that they didn't come away with a few thousand bucks, but over $500K. Charley figures the only way a small bank like that is carrying that much cash is if they're part of a money laundering scheme for the mob. "The problem with the mafia," Charley warns Harman, "Is that they never stop looking for you unless they think you're dead. I'd rather have ten FBIs after me!" Harman, played by Andy Robinson (with the trademark weaselly nastiness he perfected in Dirty Harry), doesn't see the big problem—more money, more fun right? But Charley has lived long enough to know that you can't outrun the mob, and you can't enjoy your take when you're six feet under.
Sure enough, it's mob money. What ensues is an exciting escape plan hatched by Charley to clear himself with the mafia without getting dead first. Hot on his trail is the mob's desert cowboy Molly (played by Joe Don Baker), the stock issue bad guy in a ten-gallon hat. Charley manages to stay one step ahead of the cops, the gangsters, and the audience. We're along for the ride as he fashions passports, fakes dental records, and buys crates of TNT, but without a clear picture of how he's going to steer clear out of this mess.
Although he's responsible for everything that's gone wrong in the film, you're rooting for Matthau from the first scene to the last. Charley Varrick is calm and methodical; you can't fault him for the half-dozen bodies that stack up because he's just a guy who's looking for a place of his own in the world. He's anxious for the time when the danger has cleared and he can go back to blending into the background. Don Siegel's first film after the success of Dirty Harry, Charley Varrick is a terrific thriller chock full of 1970s character actors and long-gone desert Americana locations.
Charley Varrick is only available on a pan-and-scan DVD from Universal