Bank Robbers And Bus Massacres! Charley Varrick! The Laughing Policeman! Walter Matthau, Action Star!

All Hail Walter Matthau, Action Star!

Action Star Walter Matthau

Sure, Walter Matthau was a “Grumpy Old Man”, as well as the messy half of the classic “Odd Couple”!

classic Walter Matthau performances

He was also the coach of the original “Bad News Bears”, where he coached a ragtag team of misfits, including Tatum O’ Neal…Walter Matthau was one of our great comic Actors…

classic sports movies

Walter Matthau, Action Hero!

No matter how much we all loved his comedic genius, it’s easy to forget that he also starred in a number of GREAT action films in the 70’s…


I’ve written about the classic thriller “The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3”, starring Matthau and Robert Shaw, a terrific action thriller from the 70’s. But here are two more great 70’s action thrillers that Matthau headlined – both now on DVD and worth finding!

cult action movies

These films showcase great character actors, tight plots and great action sequences…they also highlight an era in film when leading men could be, well, “grumpier” – they didn’t flex their muscles, they just used their brains – and a gun or two – to persevere…

Charley Varrick

Charley Varrick!

Let’s start with an obscure action film that delivers the goods. What happens when you rob a bank that happens to be laundering all of the Mob’s money? The answer is the trailer for “Charley Varrick”:

Walter Matthau movies

That’s right, Charley Varrick, dressed like an old man, and his friends rob a small town bank. Expecting a small sum to divvy up, they are surprised to discover a very LARGE amount of money. It’s the Mob’s money, and they want it back – and they want Charley and his buddies DEAD.

best action movies of the 70's

The film was based on the novel “The Looters” by John H. Reese. The plot is straightforward, but the reason this film is so good is that it’s directed by Don Siegel, the legendary Director of “Dirty Harry”! It also stars Joe Don Baker, who is perfect as the Mob muscle out to track down the bank robbers…

Joe Don Baker action movies

Hey, It’s Dean Wormer!

Like I said, there are great character actors in the film – such as John Vernon…yes, “Dean Wormer” from “Animal House” can also kick ass!

great action films

The “Pulp Fiction” Connection!

Quentin Tarantino is well known to include “homages” to some of his favorite film…well, you can add “Charley Varrick” to the list!

Character Maynard Boyle’s line, “They’re gonna strip you naked and go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch,” is paraphrased in “Pulp Fiction” by Marsellus Wallace!

movie massacres

“Charley Varrick” is anchored by a great Walter Matthau performance. He is smart, and he is ruthless when he needs to be…a great performance by this veteran actor…


I love this vintage newspaper ad as well – “Charley Varrick” is a pure 70’s action thriller, and it delivers! Speaking of that, here comes Matthau again!

The Laughing Policeman

The Laughing Policeman.

First of all, look at the tagline on the poster above:

“This movie is so real it makes every other movie in this town look like a movie.”

“The Laughing Policeman” was sold as a gritty thriller torn from the mood of the times…here is the trailer:


By the mid-seventies, the world was a dirty, crime-ridden place, and in San Francisco, Detective Walter Matthau has to find the guy who boarded a city bus late one night and opened fire on the passengers.

cult action movies

In keeping with the world-weary feel of the movie, Walter Matthau is terrific as a cop who’s seen too much…and he is finding it hard to make sense of a world gone wild…


Matthau isn’t helped by his partner, the very caustic Bruce Dern, who has a way of inflaming every situation he’s in.

Bruce Dern acting roles

This is an America that has seen the death in Vietnam, the massacre at Kent State, and the type of cop in “Dirty Harry” was an enemy, not a friend. It’s an America where the citizens hate the cops – almost as much as the cops hate them.

classic 70's police thrillers

Iconic Dialogue!

The script is tight, gritty and in your face. Here’s a great line of dialogue: Bruce Dern explaining how good his lawyer is:

“He could get a sodomy charge reduced to ‘following too close.'”

cult action movies

More Great Bruce Dern Lines!

As I said, Dern has a field day with one-liners like this:

[to the pimp he has just pushed to the floor]

“What ever you are reaching for better be a sandwich coz you’re gonna have to eat it!”

classic movie lines

Bruce Dern is great in the film, as is Lou Gossett Jr. And of course, it is anchored by Walter Matthau. This is the world weary, grimly determined Matthau, a much better Actor than he was given credit for…and an action star to boot!

Action Star Walter Matthau

Let me know how many of these you’ve seen!

Categories: 70's Cinema, Academy Awards, Action Films, Awards, Books / Media, Exploitation films, Film Noir, Great Films, Grindhouse, Independent Cinema, Movies, Obscure Movies, Revenge Movies, Talent/Celebrities, Uncategorized

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11 replies

  1. The Laughing Policeman is not a very good adaptation of the book – not because it’s been transposed to San Francisco, but because the script strips out all the detail, the ways in which the investigators have to dig back through the identities and backgrounds of the victims of a mass murder on a city bus, leading back to another crime (in the book, committed sixteen years previous; in the film, only two). In the book, Beck has to solve the old cold case in order to understand the motive for the bus murders; in the film, the old case was already his and he had a suspect, but simply couldn’t pin the crime on him. So, very little detecting, all leading to an implausible action finale rather than the book’s sad exposure of pathetic human behaviour.


  2. Great Movies John, especially the Laughing Policeman. Never forgot Dern’s line about the woman who found out her husband was gay and didn’t knoww whch way to turn…



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  3. A MASSIVE List Of “L” Movies! My “Movies A-Z” Hits The Cinema Motherlode! – johnrieber
  4. Movies With A “C”! Classic “C”inema! From “Catch-22” To “Cast Away!” My Ten Favorites! – johnrieber
  5. “The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3!” This “Cult Movie Monday” Has A Great Hijacking Thrill Ride Under New York City! – johnrieber
  6. “The Late Show!” Brilliant Film Noir! Art Carney And Lily Tomlin Are Perfect In This 70’s Gem! – johnrieber
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  8. Christina Hart Was A “Stewardess” And Played “Girl Games!” My “2021 Sex Kitten Countdown Has Her Wild Cult Films! – JR-Sploitation!

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