KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (21)
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).
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 the Sixties 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 in both movies represents America’s amoral, psychotic youth.) Matthau’s character in Charley Varrick is stubbornly independent of any and all “combines” — whether corporate or criminal. Smart enough to be scared, and canny enough to outfox his foes, 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 a superior foe — feigning incompetence as he crashes his old biplane around a junkyard. What a schlemiel! What a magnificent bastard.
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.
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