Welcome, all and sundry! Taking a few days rest and relaxation before the panic mode month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I decided rarp a bow around my earlier compilations of the career of a well respected and revered actor of the Old School of B&W, Noirs, Westerns. Cops & Robbers. Along with the occasional and memorable war film and comedy.
Filling decades with glimpses of his vast talents. That aged like fine wine, and became as comfortable as a favorite broken in easy chair or pair of jeans. To that end. Allow me to introduce.
Robert Mitchum At His Best: The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
Crime and corruption are nothing new to the state of Massachusetts. Its capital, major cities and outlying burgs. Though, there seems to be no lack of new ideas, ways and means in the quick and dirty task of taking money from bank vaults. Preferably from out of the way suburban banks. By using the branch manager’s family as hostages under the threat of death as the illegal transaction is accomplished.
A bold and new method of crime executed by voices over the telephone and anonymous masked men holding guns. And all the Aces. Also one that is guaranteed to pull in local, state and federal cops, due to its audacity.
Into this mess of bureaucratic screaming and finger-pointing. We find ex-convict, two-time loser and bakery truck delivery driver, Eddie “Fingers” Coyle. Awaiting arraignment on an out of state gun charge and well under the thumb of an up and coming ATF agent, Dave Foley (Richard Jordan, at his most roughshod, “don’t give a damn” best!).
Who holds Eddie’s sentencing recommendation like the Sword of Damocles over his head.
Well aware that options are running out. And wanting whatever is left of his “stand up” reputation behind bars to remain intact. Eddie goes back to what he does best. Moving assorted pistols from smash and grab artists to assorted gangs and crews around Dedham and Quincy. The pistols are nothing fancy. Small in number. Easily disposed of. Yet, cut outs and middlemen from two crews keep Eddie particularly busy.
So busy, that we are introduced to Eddie in mid tale. Seated in the back of an aged, shabby bar striving not to be a dive. Explaining to a repeat client how he had acquired the nickname “Fingers”. Going into great detail as to how and why he has twice as many knuckles than most. Courtesy of a couple of “fixers” and a heavy and stout oaken desk drawer for an overdue loan payment. The tales is also Eddie’s credentials and Bona Fides. For someone who has been around the block a few times. And his not caring or wanting to know where or for what purposes a batch of pistols will be used.Content to be unaware that said batch is needed by the suddenly notorious hostage taking bank heist crew lead by Jimmy Scalise (Remorseless, ice-cold blooded, Alex Rocco) and Artie Van (A slow smoldering Joe Santos). Who destroy their weapons after each job.
Eddie bears the brunt of the cold, raw months of late fall and the beginnings of winter.
Making deliveries between phone calls to Foley and meets with Eddie’s main gun supplier, Jackie Brown (Steven Keats). Who prefers super market parking lots to transact business. As days pass, Eddie hears whispers about some college aged kids wanting some serious weaponry in the form of full auto M-16 “machine guns”. And a more succinct demand for some new pieces for Scalise and Artie Van.
Eddie sends the messages up the chain to Foley. Who, of course wants more! And is caught in a quandary as to which arrest would benefit his career more? The new and “sexy” M-16s. Or putting away some pedigreed robbers and killers?
Reminding Eddie of his less than stellar history as a snitch. And phone calls either immediately before or after a crime has been committed. Eddie is literally “left out in the cold” as he returns to the seedy shambles of a bar run by Dillon (Peter Boyle making up for the lost opportunity of playing “Popeye” Doyle in ‘The French Connection’). As plans and strategies are discussed in Eddie’s typical, roundabout way.
A meet is set with scuzzy, long-haired Pete (Future soap opera pimp, Matthews Coles) at the edge of a park near Pete’s beat to hell van. Money and numbers are discussed, but Pete is about as flaky as radicals get. A time and date are agreed to. And Eddie has just made himself an accomplice to some serious federal charges.
Eddie should be dancing close to the edge of a coronary as he gets with Jackie Brown for a large consignment of pistols. With promises on the rifles. But Eddie keeps it in check as he lumbers about. Hugging his coat close as a protective shield. Going through the motions and returning days later for the M-16s. Only to find that Jackie is a no-show. Due to his being busted on the way to the meet with the rifles.
Eddie finally feels as he is finally in the clear. Unaware that Foley also rounded up Scalise and Van in the commission of another robbery. Making his last-ditch, ill-timed phone call to rat on Scalise useless. And also letting Eddie know that his days may be numbered.
As Dillon has an open air meeting with a representative of “The Man” (James Tolkan. Long before ‘Top Gun’) about taking Eddie out of the picture. “The Man” is adamant, but cheap and sloppy. Dillon offers to handle the situation and make sure it’s done right. With $5000 up front and no questions asked.
I’ll leave it right there for Spoliers’ sake…
Now. What Makes This Film Good?
Paul Monash and Charles Maguire getting together and buying the rights to former Massachusetts DA, George V. Higgins’ novel. Matching locations and basically doing nothing with the novel’s superb and gritty dialogue.
Then handing their ideas over to veteran director, Peter Yates. And giving him a more than worthwhile budget meticulously spent. And hands off, carte blanche on acquiring an excellent stable of supporting actors. While putting the majority of the weight on the broad, slumped shoulders of Robert Mitchum. Who seems to have waited all his life for this role. A weight that works with him and his perpetual loser’s character. Yet, as always making him incredibly real and sympathetic.
Cinematography by Victor Kemper. Which could easily be B&W. Is near flawless, save for a microphone in one scene. And is done in such a way that the background’s bare leafed tree in its outdoor scenes. And there are many. Add to Eddie’s slowly building desperation and let you feel the cold, raw winds around them. Original music by Dave Grushin is moody and sometimes sparse. Letting the actors’ word add depth and suspense in their very abbreviated, criminal ways.
Production and Art Design by Gene Callahan is nearly non-existent. With copious amount of indoor and outdoor location shooting. Which only adds to the drabness of Eddie’s world and surrounding.
What Makes This Film Great?
Everything that makes it good. Plus Robert Mitchum. Who lets his worn out world-weariness fly in the face of slowly mounting odds. Supplied by what would become a good-sized chunk of solidly talented, 1970s, 80s and beyond “go to guys”.
Alex Rocco has never been more cold and quietly psychotic. While Joe Santos shows deep and surprising range as the guy who can control Rocco’s Jimmy Scalise. Peter Boyle walks a fine tightrope as a bartender who knows a lot more than he lets on. And may or may not already be on Foley’s payroll as an informant.
While Richard Jordan delivers more than asked for as the epitome of a “handler”. Smiling and glad handing one minute. Then letting his slimy, career climbing avarice show when not getting his way. Manipulating Eddie as he realizes his usefulness is approaching diminishing returns.
A cast full of hard, tough men bolstering one of cinema’s toughest. Creating an ever closing and slowly claustrophobic atmosphere. In a film that was mercilessly relegated to the shadows. Is satisfyingly more than the sum of its parts. And at a tight and concise 102 minutes is more than worth the efforts of finding and digging up!
Note: Criterion has released a more than decent job of re-mastering and polishing up this only whispered about masterpiece with commentary by Peter Yates. Though it deserves a full blown Blu-Ray treatment!