All Hail Walter Matthau, Action Star!
Wait, WHAT? We all know Walter Matthau as a “Grumpy Old Man”, or the legendarily messy half of the classic duo “The Odd Couple”, alongside Jack Lemmon.
However, even with his legendary comedic chops, Matthau also starred in a number of great action films in the 70’s as well…
The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3 is a classic 1974 thriller starring Matthau and Robert Shaw, about a group of notorious criminals who hijack a New York subway train. It’s a great action drama, which Quentin Tarantino paid homage to in Reservoir Dogs. Yes, this is the film where the terrorists went by names such as Mr. Blue, Mr. White, etc.
Matthau also starred in two less known action thrillers that are equally worthy of attention, and both are now on DVD.
Charley Varrick is a fairly obscure action film from 1973, directed by Don Siegel, the legendary Director of Dirty Harry. What happens when you rob a bank that happens to be laundering the Mob’s money?
Joe Don Baker plays the hitman who tracks Varrick down, and Siegel’s direction is tight, with tense action sequences and great performances. Here is the trailer:
The “Pulp Fiction” Connection
As I pointed out already, Quentin Tarantino is well known to include “homages” to some of his favorite films…well, you can add Charley Varrick to the list.
In the film, one character says:
“They’re gonna strip you naked and go to work on you with a pair of pliers and a blowtorch.”
Sound familiar? That’s because here is what Marsellus Wallace says in Pulp Fiction:
“I’ma call a coupla hard, pipe-hittin’ n****rs, who’ll go to work on the homes here with a pair of pliers and a blow torch.”
Here is Matthau’s other crime drama from 1973. The Laughing Policeman has a great tagline:
“This movie is so real it makes every other movie in this town look like a movie.”
By the early seventies, America’s cities were dirty and crime-ridden, and in San Francisco, Detective Walter Matthau has to find the guy who boards a city bus late one night and opens fire on the passengers.
Matthau is joined by Bruce Dern as his very caustic police partner. Here’s how Dern describes his Attorney’s prowess in the courtroom:
“He could get a sodomy charge reduced to ‘following too close.'”
Bruce Dern is great in the film, but it’s anchored by Walter Matthau’s world-weary cop. Check out the trailer:
Even if you love Matthau’s comedic films, make sure to give his gritty 70’s action films a chance as well.