Friday, November 29, 2019

Tonight's Movie: Charley Varrick (1973) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

The top-notch heist film CHARLEY VARRICK (1973), directed by Don Siegel, is now available on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber.

I first saw this film, which stars Walter Matthau in the title role, at the 2017 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival. For various reasons I hadn't been sure going in whether or not I'd like it, and as it turned out I found the movie mesmerizing. My reaction on revisiting it today, two and a half years later, was the same. It's a terrific film, with intricate plotting and a top-notch cast.

Charley and his gang, including wife Nadine (Jacqueline Scott) and younger Harman Sullivan (Andrew "Andy" Robinson), regularly replenish their funds hitting up small-town banks. A robbery in sleepy Tres Cruces, New Mexico, goes awry when people start shooting.

(A fun note guest Andrew Robinson shared with the audience at the Lyons Festival: The car hood popping open during the getaway was not in the plans, but the cameras kept rolling and they improvised.)

Charley and Harman make their getaway, discovering they have miraculously stolen three quarters of a million dollars. Harman is overjoyed, but Charley quickly deduces it's actually bad news; that kind of money shouldn't have been in a bank that small, and it's very possibly "off the books" money stashed away by the Mafia.

Charley's guess is correct, and hit man Molly (Joe Don Baker) is quickly on the trail of the money and the people who have it. Charley, meanwhile, coolly maps out a survival strategy, setting up an elaborate chess game with his mob pursuer, who presents a much bigger problem than law enforcement.

I think I actually liked the film even more the second time around, as I better understood the payoffs for Charley's different moves, including some of the red herrings he throws onto the trail.

I'm not particularly a Matthau fan, but he's simply perfect for this role. (I also really enjoyed him this year in another Kino release, the 1965 film MIRAGE.) Matthau carries the majority of the film, and it's a lot of fun watching him do his thing. As the story develops, the movie gradually flips how Charley is viewed by the audience; he starts out as murderous robber but becomes an antihero as he goes up against crooks who are even more lethal than he is. The audience ends up rooting for Charley because Molly is such a nasty piece of work.

The cast is filled with terrific faces, starting with Robinson as Charley's hapless, none-too-smart sidekick. Robinson also shared in his 2017 interview that he received stunt pay working on Siegel's films -- he was also in DIRTY HARRY (1971) -- and that a rough sequence he filmed with Baker was not one of his favorite acting experiences. The interview may be seen in two parts at the Film Noir Foundation website.

The wonderful William Schallert is the Las Cruces sheriff, and Marjorie Bennett plays the trailer park busybody. Monica Lewis, Sheree North, and Felicia Farr are a trio of ladies affiliated with the mob. That's Kathleen O'Malley (Prudence in John Ford's WAGON MASTER) playing Jessie, the sheriff's dispatcher early in the film.

Also on hand are Benson Fong, Bob Steele, Woodrow Parfrey, John Vernon, Norman Fell, Rudy Diaz, and Tom Tully, in his last feature film.

CHARLEY VARRICK runs 111 minutes. It was written by Howard Rodman and Dean Riesner, based on a novel by John Reese, THE LOOTERS. It was filmed by Michael C. Butler.

Kino Lorber didn't stint on the extras for this release. In addition to a commentary track by the always-worthwhile Toby Roan, there's a recent 72-minute documentary, THE LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS (2015), which includes interviews with Andrew Robinson, Jacqueline Scott, and Don Siegel's son, actor-director Kristoffer Tabori.

There are additional featurettes, TV spots, the trailer, and a glossy eight-page booklet with an essay by Nick Pinkerton.

Kino Lorber has also released CHARLEY VARRICK on DVD.

Fans of heist films will enjoy this very entertaining film and Kino Lorber's excellent release.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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