Color, 1973, 110 mins. 35 secs.
Directed by Don Siegel
Starring Walter Matthau, Joe Don Baker, Felicia Farr, Andrew Robinson, Sheree North, Norman Fell, John Vernon
Indicator (Blu-ray) (UK RB HD), Koch Media (Germany (Blu-ray & DVD) (Germany RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)

Starting Charley Varrickwith his violent Charley Varrick1964 version of The Killers, expert crime film director Don Siegel found a solid home at Universal Pictures where he cranked out a string of excellent but eccentric Clint Eastwood vehicles along with other solid titles like Madigan and The Black Windmill. Made at the height of Siegel's Universal run is Charley Varrick, a rare non-comedic starring turn for Walter Matthau that kicked off a brief run of good thrillers including The Taking of Pelham One Two Three and The Laughing Policeman. Somehow the film also squeaked by with a PG rating (despite numerous bloody bullet squibs including a cop getting shot directly in the face in the first ten minutes!), showing how much more lenient the system was at the time. Matthau is an unexpected but perfect choice for the film, playing a wily and cheer-worthy antihero who guides the viewer through a memorable rogue's gallery on both sides of the law.

Based on John Reese's crime novel The Looters, our story begins with Charley (Matthau) and Herman (Dirty Harry's Robinson) barely escaping a tricky New Mexico bank robbery that leaves two of their cohorts and several security guards dead. A master of disguise now keeping a low profile as a crop duster, Charley realizes Charley Varrickthey're in far more trouble than they realized when their haul turns out to be exponentially larger than expected -- three quarters of a million dollars -- because the bank also Charley Varrickoperates as a laundering front for Vegas mob money. Herman turns out to be less than reliable as Charley is forced to rely on his wits when he becomes a target for a dogged mob enforcer (Baker) who rolls into town at the behest of the crooked bank owner (Vernon).

For some reason Universal has treated this film very poorly in the U.S., offering only a mediocre full frame DVD in 2010 as part of its notorious, short-lived Studio Selections line (which seemed to have an aversion to presenting films in their correct aspect ratio, most egregiously with Colossus: The Forbin Project). A very nice widescreen Germany Blu-ray (with a separate DVD edition) appeared in 2015 from Koch Media, taken from a pleasing HD scan that actually looked more healthy than the average print you're likely to run into at a repertory screening. Also included on that release is a slightly condensed version of the film's Super 8 version, the very spoiler-laden U.S. and German theatrical trailers (which give away the entire ending!), and most substantially, Fiction Factory's "Last of the Independents: Don Siegel and the Making of Charley Varrick" (75m19s), a feature-length retrospective Charley Varrickdocumentary whose title comes from Siegel's preferred title for the film. Robinson, composer Lalo Schifrin (whose fun score has yet to be commercially released), Kristoffer Charley VarrickTabori (Siegel's son), actress Jacqueline Scott (who has a small but pivotal role at the beginning), stunt driver and actor Craig R. Baxley, and Howard A. Rodman, son of the film's co-writer (who also wrote the earlier Madigan and Coogan's Bluff for Siegel). It's an excellent, thorough doc, obviously focusing mainly on a portrait of the director (including a ton on Dirty Harry) from the perspectives of those who worked with him on multiple projects.

In 2018, UK label Indicator brought Charley Varrick to Blu-ray as one of the first titles in its new licensing arrangement with Universal. The existing HD transfer was already pretty much immaculate, so the only real difference here is that it's a small tick darker (with slightly richer shadows) and flesh tones are very slightly more rosy. The LPCM English mono audio is in excellent shape, with optional English SDH subtitles provided. Also playable with the film is a Charley Varrick1973 John Player Lecture with Siegel or The Guardian Lecture with Matthau from 1988, both of which run less than 90 minutes but cover a lot of ground of their careers. Audio quality on the Siegel interview is a little muddier, but it's worth it for the content as he goes into his early studio career (both on the big and small screens) and discusses how genre constraints evolved over the years, including the acceptance of humor in films where it normally wouldn't be Charley Varrickaccepted. (His analogy about Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a real keeper and sheds a different light on the usual left/right political interpretations.) The Matthau one is a lot funnier and raunchier, not surprisingly, with lots of Hollywood anecdotes including everyone from Jamie Lee Curtis to Vincente Minnelli. The great Fiction Factory doc is carried over here (a good thing as it's essential), and the full Super 8 version (17m34s) is included as well (from the "Universal Nights" line sold to consumers) so you can see it try to crams in every bit of violence from the film. The usual U.S. trailer is included either by itself or with an intro and commentary by Josh Olson and Rodman, including a discussion of the far more dark, extreme nature of the original script when it was intended for Donald Sutherland. An image gallery of 86 shots is comprised of numerous stills and promotional material, while the limited 3,000-unit edition also includes an insert booklet with a new Richard Combs essay and a selection of archival reviews and press coverage.

Reviewed on January 30, 2018.