Guest Post » Robert Mitchum At His Best: The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
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!
29 Responses to “Guest Post » Robert Mitchum At His Best: The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)”
Never saw this one. But Mitchem’s voice and Boyle’s facial expressions–I bet this would be great as your review indicates. Nice review 🙂
No one did weary like Robert Mitchum. Boyle’s acting, as usual, was stellar. Kevin did another great review, for sure. Thanks, Cindy.
Oh, it wasn’t you. Why do I always miss this? Well, you are nice to give claim where credit is due. Kevin/JackDeth. Good grief. I admire his work all over the place. Just read Ruth’s post. 🙂
Thanks very much!
A great start to the conversation.
‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’ kind of flew into and out of theaters over too unannounced and under hyped weeks. Which is a crying shame. The film excels in drab dreariness which adds immensely to the tale.
Mitchum was never better in his patented world weariness as a man with few options.
Sigh. You are the artful dodger. Just commended your post over at Ruth’s blog and complimented your choice over here at Michael’s. For some reason, it doesn’t show who writes the review. Anyway, Kevin. Will put this on my list to watch. Cheers 🙂
Ruth and I use her film strip banner as the lead image for Kevin’s guest posts. But, I’ve been known to miss them myself when over at Flixchatter. 🙂
Excellent write-up. It’s such a grungy, unglamorous movie and Mitchum simply becomes Eddie. A terrific performance in a terrific film.
I’m in total agreement with you, Colin. Many thanks.
The backgrounds and small, constricted on location shots and sets seem to become characters that only enhance everyone’s superb efforts. Giving Michum a Golem-like appearance as the walls slowly close in.
Thank you very much for the splendid contribution, Kevin. One of the great crime gems from the 70s, and a classic by Peter Yates and Robert Mitchum.
This film has been a favorite of mine since catching it at Air Force base theater. Where many forgotten films breathe their last breaths before expiring. And I wanted to get it just right without tipping my hand and revealing too much.
One of those rare films where all the supporting cast delivers as much as the lead. And make the overall result effortless.
Can’t understand why this film “disappeared” for more than a decade. But I am glad to see that has not lost any of its punch!
Fantastic write-up Jack, but then again I don’t expect anything less from you. This sounds excellent, I really like the sound of it and I like a good crime thriller. Look at how young Richard Jordan is here, I remember him from The Secret of My Succe$s, ahah. Thanks for hosting this great post Michael! 😀
It is, isn’t it? Fine write-up by Kevin for a real gem of a film. Thank you very much, Ruth.
I was wondering when you’d add your unique perspective.
I cheated a little and read and was mightily impressed with Mr. Higgins’ raw and incredibly gritty, “no frills, no slack” novel. And was even more pleased when the film stuck so faithfully to those written words and atmosphere.
Nothing is shiny or pretty to look at or see. Very much like John leCarre’s ‘The Spy Who cane In From The Cold’. But there is a wealth of how two enterprises go about their daily business. On both sides of the law.
And Richard Jordan does shine! Showing all kinds of potential for future, kind of bent and slimy roles.
This was Richard Jordan’s first co-starring role with Mitchum, and he made it auspicious, for sure — his second team-up, the underrated The Yakuza, is almost as good. I always thought his star would rise further up than it did. But, he was more than solid in just about everything he did onscreen (TV and film).
Richard Jordan seemed destined for greater things early on. He rocked as up and comer, Dave Foley. And was quite good with Michum in ‘The Yakuza’.
The film that should have “made” him, but failed miserably was Run Run Keng’s, ‘Raise The Titanic’. Though the film had excellent model work. It moved very slowly and Jordan’s being NUMA’s hero, Dirk Pitt didn’t move it along any more quickly.
He did great work replacing Edward Woodward for a season on CBS’s ‘The Equalizer. And as a real estate developer in ‘A Flash of Green’.
I remember his stint on The Equalizer. I missed Edward, but thought him a solid replacement. I need to see Raise the Titanic. Thanks.
A Blu-ray really would be wonderful Michael – great review chum, well done.
I have this Crit Col DVD, but I’d really want to have it on BD. Thank you very much, Sergio, but it was my wonderful guest contributor Kevin (aka Jack Deth) who wrote this fine piece.
Nicely done Kev (sorry about that)
Glad you enjoyed it!
Peter Yates seemed still riding high from ‘Bullitt’ and his “sit back and watch it happen” style allowed Mitchum’s and others reach to exceed their grasps.
And deserves new and full blown ad campaigns for newer DVD and Blu-Ray releases!
Many were disappointed but I was actually a fan of another George V. Higgins’ story – Killing them Softly. As a result, this I was recommended this film. I seen it a few months ago and absolutely loved it. Great work Jack!
I have this and Coogan’s Trade, the source novel for Killing Them Softly, on the TBR stack. Always heard great things about George V. Higgins writing. Thanks, Mark.
Thank you for the compliment, Mark:
Not every second novel is received as well as the first. And Mr. Higgins knocked it out of the park with his groundbreaking ‘The Friends of Eddie Coyle’. A paperback I completed in two days. And kept paging back on, because it was written so well!
Great piece Jack. Not a film I’m familiar with but sounds interesting.
This is a 70s crime gem well worth catching, Chris. Now that Kevin has highlighted it, I plan on re-screening it once more. Thanks, my friend.
I’m glad you liked it!
This is a film definitely worth seeking out and reveling it. Proven director riding herd on an exceptional cast and lead in a suspenseful, no frills tale.
Don’t remember it having a big ad and trailer campaign. And by the time word of mouth started spreading. It was relegated into obscurity. More’s the pity.
As my wife and I are rewatching this film tonight, I meant to add, as you stated, that Dave Grusin’s score was another of his that complimented the film wonderfully. Much like another of the jazz composer’s that came out two years later, Three Days of the Condor.
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