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Charley Varrick (free)

  • Vilas Hall 821 University Avenue Madison, WI, 53706 United States (map)

Walter Matthau, action hero. Info

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It seems bizarre today, but for a brief time in the 1970s Walter Matthau was an action movie star, and 1973's Charley Varrick is one of his finest performances from that period. Matthau stars as a small-time bank robber who accidentally steals a large amount of money from the mob and has to outsmart the ruthless killer (a menacing Joe Don Baker) on his trail. Director Don Siegel had been a hired gun filming gritty B-movies for 20 years but it wasn't until 1970 that he hit a pop culture nerve with the massive hit Dirty Harry, and his follow-up, Charley Varrick, offers a sort of anti-Harry Callahan. Matthau's hangdog, gum-chewing Varrick is a surprisingly wily adversary who deftly slips through the fingers of organized crime.

A career highlight for both Matthau and Siegel, Charley Varrick also benefits from being filmed on location around Reno, giving the film an authentic small-town-America ambiance. The film also features a number of familiar B-movie character actors in key roles, including Siegel regulars Andrew Robinson (Dirty Harry, Hellraiser) and John Vernon (Dirty Harry, Point Blank). Though the film was mostly ignored in 1973, over the years it's become a highly influential cult classic. A gritty, offbeat thriller, Charley Varrick is truly one of the best crime films of the 1970s. —Ian Adcock