Every once in a great while a movie comes along with which I can find no fault, This is one. Former barnstormer and current crop-duster Walter Matthau has resorted to bank robberies to stay afloat. He, his wife, and two men take on a small bank in the Southwest, and it goes horribly wrong when local cops just happen to stop by. There is a shoot-out and his wife, one of the others, and two cops are killed. Almost as bad, at least from Charley’s point of view, is that the haul is $700,000. There is no good reason for that kind of money to be in such a penny-ante bank, except that it has been laundering Mafia money. They will have to stay quiet for years before the heat dies down. His surviving henchman, brilliantly played by Andrew Robinson, who was so great as the psycho killer in Dirty Harry, doesn’t see it that way. He’s gonna roar! Booze, women, fine cars and clothes … Charley immediately sees there’s no hope for the moron, and abandons him to his fate, which arrives quickly and fatally in the form of Molly (no explanation; he’s just Molly), another brilliant supporting performance by Joe Don Baker.
The rest of the movie is a cat-and-mouse game as Charley maneuvers to avoid death at the hands of the killer. And he never makes a bad move. He is always one step ahead, always thinking it through. It is all totally believable, from breaking into a dentist’s office to switch x-rays, to playing one bad guy off against another. Charley flies off into the blue with most of the money, except for a few handfuls he had to partially burn to convince the mob it was all gone. I don’t think that’s really a spoiler, you knew he would get away, the fun is in seeing how he does it.
If there is anything that’s a little hard to swallow it is when hound-dog-homely Matthau breaks into the apartment of a stunning secretary, and ends up in bed with her. And even that is mostly justified because she is doing it at least partially because she is contemptuous of her awful boss and quickly throws him under the bus. Why not fuck Charley, who is calm and courteous, and treats her gently? I can’t recommend this one too highly.