Blu-ray Review: Charley Varrick

Based on the novel The Looters, by John Reese, Charley Varrick was directed by Don Siegel from a script by Howard Rodman. Walter Matthau stars in the title role; a former trick pilot and crop duster, Charley is reduced to robbing banks with his wife Nadine (Jacqueline Scott), and his young, hot-headed partner, Harman Sullivan (Andy Robinson). Charley and Harman successfully rob a small-town New Mexico bank of more than $750,000 in a heist that claims the life of Charley’s wife/getaway driver. Harman’s excitement is tempered by Charley’s grim realization that the cash from the bank is mob money. The mob isn’t likely to let them take their money without a fight.

Charley is right. The mob dispatches a cool-as-ice hitman (Joe Don Baker) to recover the mobs stolen money and kill anyone who gets in his way. Charley though, won’t be easy for any one of them to catch. They underestimate his resourcefulness. Charley methodically anticipates their every move. A prototypical anti-hero, his crimes are driven by a poor economy. Charley isn’t a killer, though he indirectly leads the hitman to Harman after realizing the younger man has become a liability. Charley’s no saint, but he’s a “better” man than Mr. Molly the mob hit man and the corrupt bank officials.

Walter Matthau makes for the perfect anti-hero. He comes across as both curmudgeonly and cold. Most importantly, despite his significant moral flaws, it’s easy to root for Charley because we admire his ingenuity–and because, no matter his mood, Walter Matthau is so darned likable. On the other side is a tremendous performance from Joe Don Baker. A brute of a man, he oozes malevolent magnetism. Whatever their differences, both Varrick and Molly exhibit a quiet professionalism when doing their jobs. Whether robbing banks or setting out to kill a man, their lives have no room for anything resembling sentimentality. Understanding that, when Charley mourns his wife, cut down on the job–kissing her lightly on the lips and sliding her wedding ring from her finger onto his own, it’s the most emotional of gestures.

A first-rate action film, Don Siegel directed Charley Varrick with a remarkable efficiency. Like Dirty Harry two years earlier, he doesn’t waste a minute of screen time with unnecessary exposition, gets first rate performances from his actors and knows how to stage some excellent action set pieces. The energy never wanes and keeps the audience engaged from start to finish. I’ve always felt that Don Siegel’s work was a bit underrated. Perhaps this new Blu-ray release of Charley Varrick will give people cause to reevaluate his work and his place as an significant figure in American cinema.

Kino brings Charley Varrick to Blu-ray via a new 4K scan of the original negative presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The results are excellent, with a clean image that exhibits an impressive level of detail throughout. Though a nice level of grain allows the film to maintain a natural appearance. Black levels are very good and there are no noticeable issues with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or digital noise reduction.

The DTS- MA Mono soundtrack is clear, clean and well balanced. Lalo Schifrin’s sounds slightly boxy, but that’s to be expected given the mono origins of the track. Dialogue is always clean, clear and concise. There are no distortion issues to speak of.

English SDH subtitles are included.

The following extras are available:

  • Audio Commentary with Film Historian Toby Roan
  • Refracted Personae: Iconography and Abstraction in Don Siegel’s American Purgatory (HD, 35:00) Howard S. Berger examines Don Siegel’s directorial style and the themes in Charley Varrick.
  • The Last of the Independents: The Making of Charley Varrick (HD, 72:00) An excellent feature-length documentary on the making of the film. Highly recommended.
  • Trailers (HD) Three Trailers for the film.
  • Booklet: A full color limited edition booklet containing an essay by film critic Nick Pinkerton, “Charley Varrick: The Last of the Independents.”

Charley Varrick (1973)
Charley Varrick

Movie title: Charley Varrick

Director(s): Don Siegel

Actor(s): Walter Matthau, Joe Don Baker , Andrew Robinson , John Vernon , Sheree North , Felicia Farr

Genre: Drama, Thriller, Crime

  • Movie
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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