Charley Varrick is a 1973 crime film directed by Don Siegel. Things don’t go according to plan when a small-time robber, Charley (Walter Matthau), and his wife Nadine (Jacqueline Scott) accidentally rob a bank that belongs to a mafia gang. While Nadine waits outside in the getaway car, the heavily disguised Charley enters the bank, where his two partners are waiting. Outside, when two police officers approach Nadine to question her, she fires on them, killing one instantly and seriously wounding the other, but the second officer returns fire as he falls, wounding Nadine. She ends up dying later. Charley and his partner Harman (Andy Robinson) set up an explosive charge to destroy the stolen car with Nadine in it. Charley later realises that the money they stole is actually mob money and the bank was a drop spot. Harman doesn’t care, but Charley knows they’ll have to lay low and not spend any of the money for at least 2 or 3 years. Things begin to get really messy when the mob sends an eccentric hitman named Molly (Joe Don Baker) to the area to find out who stole the money.
The fun in Charley Varrick is not sadistic, though there are cruel moments in it, but in watching Charley attempt to outwit both the cops and the Mafia. The casting of Matthau in this key role helps tremendously. Though Charley is tough enough to walk away from his wife’s death without showing much emotion, the character is inhabited—maybe even transformed—by Matthau’s wit and sensitivity as an actor. But the film’s real revelation comes from Joe Don Baker,whose racist, sexist, ass-kicking brute of a henchman oozes malicious magnetism. Charley Varrick is informed by a quiet professionalism that suits a film about feds and criminals doing their jobs, whether that means laundering money, making fake passports, or robbing banks. Siegel’s direction–most of it permeated with a great, gritty, early 1970s “feel”–is impeccable, and ranges from a series of beautiful shots of the countryside during the opening credits to elaborately staged, underhanded “clues” as to the “plot beneath the plot”–during most of the middle section.