For our younger readers, the sad truth is that the name Walter Matthau may only conjure up images of an ageing actor going through the motions in the likes of Grumpy Old Men, Dennis The Menace or The Odd Couple 2.

But the now sadly-departed Matthau was a whole let better than that, and one of the best examples of the grizzled star at the top of his game is crime classic Charley Varrick (1973).

Directed by Don Siegel, so you know you are in safe hands, the film charts the thrilling story of crop-duster-cum-bank-robber Varrick, a small-time hood who never indulges in anything likely to appear on the national radar.

In a tense opening sequence, Varrick, along with partner Harman Sullivan (played with bug-eyed relish by Andrew Robinson) and lover Nadine (Jacqueline Scott) roll into a no-name town and stage a heist that goes horribly wrong thanks to some trigger-happy antics.

Nadine is fatally wounded, but Varrick and Sullivan escape only to find the job that was simply expected to bring them a few thousand bucks actually turns up a haul close to $750,000.

Unbeknownst to them the bank was a front for the mafia, and what follows is a chase movie of sorts as Varrick and Sullivan go on the run with all manner of heavies on their tail.

The first thing that hits you about this movie is the sheer quality of the cast – with Matthau and Robinson, along with Joe Don Baker and John Vernon in more sinister roles, the line-up is a veritable who’s who of 70s Hollywood crime cinema.

Based on John Reeses’ novel, the script positively crackles with quality dialogue and is extremely clever to boot, with numerous seemingly throwaway moments during the film falling neatly into place to tie the whole thing up.

But despite all of the added bonuses, this is very much Matthau’s show, and boy does he deliver.

Whether it be issuing a sardonic put down, indulging in some gun-play, or even charming a young blonde into bed, this is the veteran star at his gum-chewing best, oozing charisma.

Such is the quality of the performance that you are desperate for Varrick to get away with it all, and I am not about to spoil the movie by giving away the conclusion.

Charley Varrick comes with a hearty thumbs-up from the Movie Ramblings crew – after seeing the flick on TV I went out and tracked it down on DVD, and there are few better recommendations than that.

About The Author

Simon Fitzjohn

Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written two books, one on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014) and the other on the history of the character Norman Bates (2015). His third book, on the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker, is due in 2017.