The Friends of Eddie Coyle

I almost tossed this into a comment on the Bronson/Majestyk post, as this is another gritty, casually-paced exemplar of a ’70s crime film. However, while that film certainly works, this film carefully, slyly sneaks into classic territory. You may think its depiction of a few subplots of Boston hoodlum subculture is simply on the same back-alley route, attentive to the grime and tough talk, en route to a few bang-up chases or gunfights. But we’re thrown into events, never given the narrative road-map: it’s like we’ve plopped down into a few late-fall, slate-grey days in the life of a shitty little cul-de-sac of criminal subculture in Boston, 1973. Everybody here seems to be nursing a hangover, the action is rarely overt (and even during a couple of heists, the emphasis is on unease rather than suspense), and all the violence is sublimated in dialogue that pops and pisses and moans and snarls without really ever taking the easy path to patter.

And the performances…. damn. Robert Mitchum is the heart of the film, but his Eddie Coyle–a sad sack tagged for a booze-truck heist, looking to avoid leaving his family for even that short stretch–is wandering around, doing a job here, having a drink there, unsure what’s what. Richard Jordan plays a slimy, sort of self-satisfied Treasury agent running a few informants; Peter Boyle is a barkeep hooked deeply into the crowd; the many lowlifes circling around are each perfect, particularly Alex Rocco and Steven Keats.

Without spoiling anything, I’ll note that the film ends with a short, opaque bit of dialogue–ostensibly some kind of philosophy-of-crime analogy that only sort of makes sense, but serves the purpose of all the conversations in the film: each guy wants something from the other guy, and they talk as if they’re really exchanging and transacting, even as they each carefully try to avoid giving anything away, grasping to get as much as they can. It’s a helluva good film.

3 thoughts on “The Friends of Eddie Coyle

  1. I post this here because Criterion just put out a DVD of this title. If you like their neat little packages, with the booklets and extra features, you should know that Criterion is having a 50% sale through Barnes and Noble. Now, B+N is typically 15-20 dollars more expensive than Amazon, but in this case I think there will be savings over Amazon, particularly since you can avoid shipping by just stopping at one of the innumerable and evil B+N stores. In my obsessive glee I purchased The Furies (yeah, Barbara Stanwyck!), The Leopard , Vampyr and The Battle of Algiers . I only regret that a small remnant of restraint prevented me from getting the Cassavetes boxed set..but even now I feel the pull of the Fassbinder trilogy.

  2. What a wonderful little gem of a movie. I don’t have the knowledge of film to explain why early 1970s movies have such a distinctive and comforting feel to them. But this movie just feels… right. Cameras follow cars, and locate those cars in their neighborhoods: diners, thrift stores, railroad stations. The grittiness seems effortless.

    And Mitchum: I don’t know where he lies in the pantheon of movie stars. Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster — to whom, for some reason, I compare Mitchum — have a clear epic aura. But Mitchum always seems rumpled. I have always loved his version of “The Big Sleep” because no one does world weary like him. And his Eddie Coyle is Marlowe with a few remaining illusions.

  3. A great pair of early Mitchum: Out of the Past and Angel Face . Out of the Past has the advantage of contrasting a cool sleek angry Kirk Douglas against Mitchum’s rumpled ease.

Leave a Reply