All Hail Walter Matthau, Action Star!
Sure, Walter Matthau was a “Grumpy Old Man”, as well as the messy half of the classic “Odd Couple”!
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…
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!
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…
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”:
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.
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…
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!
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!
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.'”
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!”
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!
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