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Charley Varrick is a small-time crook who outfoxes the Mob in this fast-paced offbeat thriller directed by Don Siegel. Academy Award winner Walter Matthau stars in a rare dramatic role, along with the powerful Joe Don Baker, as a tough Mafia hitman. Charley robs small banks with small payrolls. That keeps him out of trouble until he stumbles onto the Mob's secret stash. The chase is on as the Big Boys go after the "Last of the Independents." It's a heart-pounding ride that builds to a fiery airborne climax as Charley makes his last desperate run for the Mexican border and safety.
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He realizes it must be a 'drop'. Money left there by the mafia for a later pick-up. Varrick knows that giving it back isn't an option. "Nobody takes the mob for that kind of money and lives to tell about it", to paraphrase his words. The only partner of his to survive the caper (Andy Robinson, who played the psychopathic sniper in 'Dirty Harry') is a tightly wound, volatile mess of a man intent on spending his share of the loot right away, instead of sitting on it for the four or five years that Varrick recommends. Charley pretends to acquiesce, but secretly makes plans to make sure his hard-drinking partner never spends a dime of the money.
All this, and Joe Don Baker as a sociopathic sledge-hammer of a man contracted by the mob to get back their money. Charley Varrick has to use every bit of his cunning to stay one step ahead of a grim fate.
I happened across this movie one night on a cable channel, and was so glad I did. Knew I had to have it on DVD someday. No classic Walter Matthau humor in this one. Well, except maybe for the scene with Sheree north who plays a woman forging very expensive illegal passports for Varrick and his partner, and then tries to charge him another five hundred dollars for a sucker on his way out!
Great movie, with a very satisfying ending. They don't make 'em like this anymore.
The movie itself is a masterpiece of construction which meets the highest expectations of poetic justice. For instance, how does Charley know that Molly suspects Maynard Boyle? Because Charley was hiding outside the trailer when Molly was torturing Harman Sullivan and heard Molly say "Young doesn't have the ___ for a deal like this. It was Boyle, wasn't it?"
Early in the story, when Harman insists on spending the money now, Charley instantly gives him up for dead. This is why Charley switches Harman's dental records with Nadine's at the dentist's office. Charley goes to Tom's gun shop and indiscreetly tells Tom he has some money to fence -- why? So he can draw fire to Harman in the trailer. Molly soon arrives and kills Harman.
The final scene is perhaps a bit too ingenious. Charley lures Boyle to a remote air strip, assuming that Molly will be there watching. He puts on a pantomime of hugging Boyle, congratulating Boyle on the caper they have pulled off together. Molly kills Boyle with his car and then pursues Charley's plane around the field. Charley, taking advantage of his training as a rodeo stunt pilot, overturns the plane and tells Molly he is injured. He points to an abandoned car. "The money is in there." When Molly opens the trunk, he finds Harman, some of the money, and a stash of dynamite. The dynamite explodes, Molly is killed. Charlie takes the money out of the overturned plane, burns his flying suit in the car so the mafia will believe both he and Harman are dead, and drives off with the money.
A subtle, perfectionistic piece, well worth seeing for those who like thrillers.