KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (21)

By: Joshua Glenn
August 21, 2017

One of 25 installments in a series of enthusiastic posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite neo-noir movies from the Sixties (1964–1973).

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CHARLEY VARRICK | d. DON SIEGEL | 1973

It’s not nearly as well-known as Siegel’s earlier neo-noirs of the Sixties era (1964–1973), but thanks to Walter Matthau’s protean performance in the titular role, Charley Varrick is every bit as riveting and memorable as The Killers, Madigan, Coogan’s Bluff, and Dirty Harry. Tarantino may have borrowed a lot — the tough-guy dialogue (“a pair of pliers and blowtorch”); the violence, which is shocking even to contemporary viewers; the plot and elegiac tonality of Jackie Brown — from this oddball movie. But what Matthau pulls off here will never, ever be replicated.

Matthau’s Varrick is harmless and avuncular, yet at the same time utterly hardboiled. In scenes where Varrick changes outfits, we watch his character changing too. Matthau makes us laugh every time he breaks into a run; yet he exudes menace while drinking milk. Varrick doesn’t shed a tear when his wife is killed… but we know that he loves her, and we ache for his loss.

This perplexing figure — “the last of the independents,” a stunt pilot turned crop duster turned bank robber — barnstorms his way into a tough, low-budget heist/chase flick that’s also at the same time somehow a revisionist Western. The tall cowboy in the white hat (Joe Don Baker) who pursues Varrick is a sadistic killer; the New Mexico cops are clueless. We find ourselves rooting for a jerk to succeed against the odds. Which explains why Matthau was so utterly perfect, later, for The Bad News Bears.

Coogan’s Bluff and Dirty Harry con us into viewing this fallen world through the eyes of an Establishment “maverick” who wants to make America great again, one punch to the face at a time. (Joe Don Baker’s character is compared to Clint Eastwood, unfavorably, at one point; like Eastwood, here Baker beats the crap out of Andrew Robinson — who seems to represent America’s psychotic youth.) Matthau’s character in Charley Varrick is stubbornly independent, of any and all “combines” — whether corporate or criminal. He’s smart enough to be scared, canny enough to outfox his foes, and takes no pleasure in pain. He’s a true maverick — he makes us proud to be American.

Early in the movie, Varrick reminisces about feigning drunkenness as part of his barnstorming act. In the movie’s final scene, before performing the Flip of Death one final time, he employs what we might call a drunk-fu combat style against his superior foe — feigning incompetence as he crashes his old biplane around a junkyard. What a schlemiel! What a magnificent bastard.

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KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: Series Introduction | Kio Stark on THE KILLERS | Alix Lambert on BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | Judith Zissman on ALPHAVILLE | Mark Kingwell on HARPER | Lynn Peril on BLOW-UP | Devin McKinney on SECONDS | Drew Daniel on BRANDED TO KILL | Luc Sante on POINT BLANK | Gordon Dahlquist on LE SAMOURAÏ | Alice Boone on LE CERCLE ROUGE | Brian Berger on COTTON COMES TO HARLEM | Adrienne Crewe on PERFORMANCE | David Levine on THE FRENCH CONNECTION | Dan Fox on GET CARTER | Melissa Gira Grant on KLUTE | Brandi Brown on SHAFT | Kaleb Horton on FAT CITY | Peter Doyle on THE GETAWAY | Sarah Weinman on HICKEY & BOGGS | Annie Nocenti on BADLANDS | Josh Glenn on CHARLEY VARRICK | Gary Groth on THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE | Lisa Jane Persky on THE LONG GOODBYE | Mimi Lipson on MEAN STREETS | Sherri Wasserman on SOYLENT GREEN.

MORE MOVIES at HILOBROW: KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM: 25 neo-noirs of the Sixties (1964–1973) | James Parker’s BOURNE VARIATIONS series | Alix Lambert’s SÉRIE NOIRE series | Jacob Mikanowski’s SCREEN TIME series | Josh Glenn’s SHOCKING BLOCKING series | Joanne McNeil’s ALL MY STARS series | MORE: including dozens of HILO HERO items on movie directors and actors.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads | GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other new wave songs. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other fantasy novels from 1934–43. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other old-school hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.

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Codebreaking, Movies

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