Directed by Don Siegel in 1973, two years after his 1971 film Dirty Harry struck box office gold, Charley Varrick, based on the novel by John Reese and featuring a screenplay by Howard Rodman, opens when a trio of criminals rob a bank located in a small New Mexico town. Two of the men, Charley Varrick (Walther Matthau) and Harman Sullivan (Andy Robsinson), are lucky enough to escape with the money, the third in their party, Charley's wife Nadine (Jacqueline Scott), is not. Or at least it seems like they're lucky. Eventually Charley deduces that they might have a bigger problem they first thought when it turns out that a whole lot of the cash they've made off with is mob money.
Soon enough, the cops are looking for Charley, a former stunt pilot/crop duster, and Harman, but so too is Molly (Joe Dan Baker), a mafia hitman contracted by a mobster named Maynard Boyle (John Vernon) with ties to the joint they hit to take care of this problem. Molly doesn't really care how he resolves this problem, only that he does and Charley is right to be nervous about this. As the cops close in and Molly gets ever nearer, Charley is able to pull a few tricks out of his sleeve but the tensions are growing between Charley and Harman and the stakes are running increasingly high for all involved.
Charley Varrick is a ridiculously tight film, a rare picture where everything comes together. Siegel directs with just enough style and flair to keep things interesting, but is more concerned with getting good performances out of his cast than anything else. And on that level? He succeeds. Andy Robinson and especially the perpetually weathered looking Walter Matthau are both at the top of their game here. Each man delivers believable work and creates his own unique character, taking the intricately written bank robbers they've been cast as and really fleshing them out and making them seem human. Every bit their equal is Joe Don Baker, and while it's easy to snicker at him in a post Mystery Science Theatre 3000 world, this movie serves as proof that the man really could act when he was given the right part. As the redneck hitman, he's quite intimidating and it's hard to imagine anyone else doing a better job than he does in this part. Supporting work from Jacqueline Scott and particularly John Vernon, who had a way to make every character he ever played unique, is also admirable while Norman Fell, Felicia Farr and William Schallert as the Sheriff also score top marks.
Siegel had a knack for staging action set pieces and, just as he did in classics like Dirty Harry and The Killers he stages some good ones here. The movie has an energy to it that keeps us engaged with the characters and the storyline and that makes us want to see how this is all going to play out. And as it does play out, the movie just builds on what it laid down in earlier sequences and watching Varrick's attempts to outwit his pursuers as things start to tighten up around him proves ridiculously entertaining.
As good as Seigel's direction is, credit is also due to Lalo Schifrin who composed a fantastic score for the film. Like a good movie score should, the music here moves the film along and gives the picture its own unique rhythm. This is complimented by Frank Morriss' editing and by Michael C. Butler's excellent cinematography.
Kino brings Charley Varrick to Blu-ray by way of a new 4k scan of the original negative framed at 1.85.1 widescreen and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc. The picture quality here is excellent, rich in detail and texture and nicely cleaned up, retaining the expected film grain but showing no print damage at all. Skin tones look nice and natural and colors are very well reproduced. Black levels are also very good and there are no noticeable issues with compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction problems.
The English language 16-bit DTS-HD Mono track on the disc is clean and nicely balanced. Schifrin's score sounds quite good here and the dialogue is always easy to understand and to follow. The levels are nicely balanced and there are no problems with any hiss, distortion or sibilance.
Extras start off with an audio commentary by film historian Toby Roan who speaks about how and why it's one of his favorite movies while also offering up plenty of info about the picture. He starts off by talking about the Nevada locations used in the film and what it was like on set, how camera test footage wound up being used in the opening credits, how Matthau's son Charles shows up in the film (in some scenes that were directed by Matthau rather than Siegel), the tenderness of the final scene between Charley and Nadine, biographical details and other credits for pretty much every member of the cast and crew, Siegel's own cameo in the film, the details of some of the vehicles that are used in the film, the uniqueness of the way some scenes are staged (think Vernon at the playground), the precision of the film's pacing and editing, the influence of film noir on the picture and quite a bit more. It's a good track, there's a bit of dead air here and there but Roan knows his stuff and is easy to listen to here.
The disc also contains Refracted Personae: Iconography And Abstraction In Don Siegel's American Purgatory which is a look at Don Siegel's directorial style and the themes explored in Charley Varrick that comes courtesy of film historian Howard S. Berger which runs thirty-five-minutes in length. He traces Siegel's work at a low level for Warner Brothers as he climbed the ladder doing work here and there, directing his first feature in 1946, the storytelling skills that the director showed even this early in his career, his penchant for low budget (and often times violent) genre material, and how all this came to develop into Varrick's work. From there, we learn about the themes that are evident on the surface as well as some that aren't so obvious unless you start to dig a bit. A good example of this is the self-reflection that Berger sees in the film, the dual nature of every character in the film, the use of the American flag in the film and lots more. It's quite interesting.
Also found here is the seventy-two-minute featurette The Last Of The Independents: The Making Of Charley Varrick documentary that is made up of interviews with Kristoffer Tabori (Don Siegel's son), cast members Andy Robinson and Jacqueline Scott, stunt driver and actor Craig R. Baxley, composer Lalo Schifrin and Howard A. Rodman (screenwriter, Howard Rodman's son). Titled after Siegel's originally intended title for the film, this is an excellent look back at the making of the picture that also includes plenty of insight into where Siegel's career was at this point, how his style evolved over the years and some of the themes that it explores. They also cover Matthau's involvement in the picture and what he was able to bring to the production (and it wasn't all positive!) as well as scoring the picture, what it was like on set, taking direction from Siegel on this feature and quite a bit more.
Finishing up the extras on the disc are two trailers for the film as well as the Trailers From Hell version featuring Josh Olson and Howard Redman, a few bonus trailers (The Taking Of Pelham 123, The Laughing Policeman, Madigan, The Black Windmill), menus and chapter selection.
Included inside the case along with the disc is a full-color limited edition booklet containing an essay on the film by film critic Nick Pinkerton entitled Charley Varrick: The Last Of The Independents as well as cast and crew information for the feature.
Charley Varrick is one of Don Siegel's crowning achievements, a pitch-perfect seventies thriller highlighted by some great performances, fantastic cinematography and a tight, engaging script. Kino Lorber has done a very nice job indeed bringing this one to Blu-ray transferred from a new 4k scan and loaded up with some pretty choice extra features as well. Highly recommended.