Monday, December 27, 2010

"The Friends of Eddie Coyle" (1973) Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Director: Peter Yates

Genre: Drama
Eddie 'Fingers' Coyle: "I shoulda known better than to trust a cop. My own goddamn mother coulda told me that."

Treasury Cop Dave Foley: "Everybody oughta listen to his mother."


"The Friends of Eddie Coyle" is an ultra-realistic crime drama from 1973 that recently was released on DVD by Criterion Video. It had been quite a while since I had seen Peter Yates' gritty R-rated "film noir" classic. I first saw it sneaking into a restricted movie theatre as a lad, and at the time I was somewhat confused by the way the story didn't allow for the "hero" to bust loose and take down all his enemies the way that 70's movies featuring Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen usually did. These actors also made gritty urban films, but in Robert Mitchum's case he was playing a character closer to reality, closer to the bone of what it was that goes into a real crime figure. I sensed that about the film but i still wasn't pleased on that first viewing. It was only later that I saw how Peter Yates had taken a realistic novel and shot it free of the romance and the daring and gratuitous action scenes that Hollywood movies usually served up then and now. I was pleased to see this little gem holds up well.

The film is truly a look at the seamy underbelly of urban American life. The films features Mitchum as a two-time loser Eddie Foyle, a small-time gun-runner who looking at a long stretch in prison in New Hampshire for smuggling untaxed whiskey across the border from Canada. He's too old to take prison lightly and is not happy with the idea of his wife and two teen-aged kids having to go on welfare. This leads him to try and bargain with the cocky young Federal cop Foley (Richard Jordan) to put in a good word with him with the District Attorney or the judge to get him off from going down for the whisky job.

The problem is that Eddie is small-time, essentially a middle-class criminal who lacks enough clout with the underworld to get information that would satisfy the Feds. Nor do his "friends" in the underworld cares one way or another about him personally--they want his untraceable guns, and he's reliable. But they also know he's about to be shipped off to a Federal cooler and he's in no position to bargain the way he once did.

Eddie's "friends" are not very friendly, and this prevailing sense of hope ebbing away for this "odd man out" is at the heart of the two threads of storyline that run through the film. The other thread are the three bank robberies depicted in the film---all done with a minimum of dialouge and shown in straight-forward detail. Yates work in the British film "Robbery" (1967) with Stanley Baker and Joanna Pettet and the classic "Bullitt" the next year with Steve McQueen all served to give him to assureance he shows in these scenes.

"Film Noir" movies have been a rich part of American popular cinema, and the Boston area--where all of this film was shot-- has sported some very good crime dramas of late. Ben Afflack's "The Town" and Clint Eastwood's "Mystic River" being the most recent examples. Each of these films I would say owe something to Yates' spare and minimalistic style of film-making. And to the excellent supporting performances by Jordan and Peter Boyle as a rat-fink hit-man who hints that guys like Coyle are "gentlemen" from the past whose time has run out.

The film is also a testament to how underrated Robert Mitchum was to American film critics and those of his peers who voted out awards to their favorites. Despite the fact that Mitchum is off the screen more than half the time in this movie he dominates the proceedings thanks to scenes like this one below. Director Yates (in the DVD commentary) describes show Mitchum inhabits the role of this middle-aged Boston hood, right down to the stillness and the economy of emotion he puts into this scene where he meets for the first time with fellow gun-runner Jackie Brown (Stephen Keats). Warning: this clip has strong language:


  1. This is an incredibly underrated film; one of the best noir-films ever made, IMHO.

    (Have you ever seen "Portland Confidential"? It's not very good - but it holds up as well as it can, with Ed Binns and Jeanne Carmen in the leading roles)....

  2. Glad we are in agreement there, Will. "Eddie Coyle" deserves a bigger audience.

    I'll look for "Portland Confidential". It seems like the "Rose City" is ripe for a movie like that, like they make in LA and Eastern locales.

  3. Well, "Portland Confidential" isn't "L.A. Confidential" by any stretch - it was made in 1957, and shows its age. Still, it's a good film. Loosely based on fact, it's the tale of a businessperson (Binns) who doesn't want to cave in to the "Portland mob".

    Thing is, there WAS a Portland mob - it was run by a fellow named Nippy Constantino from the 1940's through the late 1950's (until he was given a .38cal 'headache' on a barstool where the Brasserie Montmartre is now located) - but that's another tale....

  4. I can't remember if I've seen this one or not. However, I will be looking out for it now.

    I've always liked Mitchum, he had a laconic way about him which worked so well. Of course he always played 'Bob Mitchum' andwas far too good not to have honours heaped upon him. Never knew anything about his private life or politics, but that didn't matter one bit unlike John Wayne for instance who's politics seemed to get in the way often.

  5. I really don't know what anyone is talking about, Doug, but didn't want you to see me 'peeking' at your blog without making a comment.

    From the picture of Robert Mitchum, I think I saw a black & white with him in it, but don't remember what it was. My husband collected old movies. I've still got an antique shipping trunk full of them & it seems inappropriate to throw them away.....even now.

  6. Also looking at your sidebar. I love this quote:
    "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others." - Groucho Marx" :)

  7. Sounds fascinating, Will, especially since the idea of seeing Portland back inthe late fifties when my dad was living there just before he met my mom and they went suburban is very appealing.

    Nippy Castantino, eh? Sounds like a shortstop my father used to talk about...played for the Portland Beavers in the PCL before he went to th majors for a quick "cup of coffee" with the St. Louis Browns. Couldn't be the same guy, right?

    Seriously, why shouldn't Portland have had a mob?...the hoity-toity Seattle crowd probably bragged about its mob being bigger and having better raincoats for the capos to wear, like they always brag about everything being better up there...except their lousy Mariners.

    Is the Brasserie Montmarte still around, or did they turn that into a Starbucks too?

  8. You're always welcome Lucija...many blogs I visit I have no idea what everybody is talking about--even some of those I wrote myself! :-)

    Next to Humphrey Bogart, Mitchum is one of my favorite actors in these type of urban movies. Some of the film noir flims the younger actor did at RKO in the forties and fifties were quite good, like "Out of the Past" (1947) , "The Racket" (1950) and "His Kind of Woman" (1951) with Jane Russell. It's tough to let go of those memories. For me, just the older movies themselves have sentimental value becasue I enjoyed them so much as a teenager even if they no longer seem so special in a few cases.

  9. It's a very good film Jim. Yates brought a lot of that understated and reality-based British style you saw from fellow filmmakers who broke into features in the sixties like Tony Richardson, Karel Reitz and John Schlesinger.

    "Laconic" fits Mitchum quite well. I think his natural style of acting and off-hand manner threw a lot of people into thinking he wasn't "really acting". How else to explain his being ignored for certain honors lesser lights had accorded to them?

    Mitchum was a hard-drinker and a bit of a ladies man, not unlike certain British actors of his era that cross my mind. (When he made films in England and Ireland, he held his own in the pubs with some of them!) Mitchum cultivated this "tough gorilla" persona, but those who knew him said he was quite well read and chose scripts more carefully than he even let on. In the DVD commentary, Yates makes a point of how he was carefully prepared and well-studied before he went before the cameras or took any direction.

    I know what you mean about John Wayne--always spouting off about racial matters, liberals who were semi-communists to him and flag-waving about the Vietnam War. My father flat refused to pay to see or even watch a John Wayne movie for years. He was hardly alone in that sentiment, at least where I lived in northern California.

    On the other hand, my dad enjoyed watching moviesand televison shows with James Stewart or Henry Fonda, for instance, as actors. This I think was simply because they were not lofty in interviews and didn't try and wave the "red, white and blue" in the face of their audiences.

  10. It's one of my favorite quotes, period, Lucija. Some of the others he's famous for Groucho actually said---and others were of course taken from his movies.

  11. I had a quote I liked VERY MUCH, on my site, but when I added another, it disappeared. I've never set up a 'Page' since I've been on Multiply. I've been so busy learning & doing other things,
    How do you get quotes under all the other things on your bar, please?

  12. You should be able to do it by going into "Customize My Site", then the sidebar should pop up with a "edit" box in the upper corner of the sidebar.