Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Steven Keats, Alex Rocco, Joe Santos, Mitchell Ryan, Peter MacLean, Margaret Ladd, Kevin O'Morrisson
Written by: Paul Monash, based on a novel by George V. Higgins
Directed by: Peter Yates
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 102
Date: 06/26/1973

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

This Mortal 'Coyle'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Friends of Eddie Coyle has earned a kind of legendary status, simply because in the span of thirty years it has never been available on home video (at least to the best of my knowledge). In truth, though the picture doesn't really establish itself as any kind of masterpiece, it's a very, very good example of gritty 1970s Hollywood filmmaking. And star Robert Mitchum is a huge reason for the film's success.

He plays the title character, also known as "Eddie Fingers," because he was once caught on the wrong side of a deal and had his fingers slammed in a drawer. (He calls his injury an "extra set of knuckles.") Eddie has worked his entire life in crime, doing a lot of little jobs, and his current work has him selling black market guns.

His new supplier is just a kid and Eddie feels the need to pass down some of his hard-earned wisdom ("never ask a guy why he's in a hurry.") But Eddie's biggest concern is his upcoming jail sentence. As a middle-aged guy with a wife and kids, he can't afford to go to jail, and the thought of his family going on welfare is too much. So, much to his disgust, he agrees to turn over some of his contacts to the cops in exchange for his freedom.

Based on a novel by George V. Higgins and directed by Peter Yates, the film is more of an ensemble piece, and we follow the young gun runner (Steven Keats), some bank robbers led by Jimmy Scalise (Alex Rocco), a treasury agent (Richard Jordan) and a guy who may be Eddie's best friend, if he even has one: Dillon (Peter Boyle), who tends bar by day and works as a hit man by night.

To tell the truth, spreading the movie around these characters only takes potential focus and depth away from Mitchum (though Boyle is easily his equal). This is especially true given that Yates' focus isn't particularly on thrills and violence, but rather mood and behavior. But that's a small quibble, and there's still so much here to chew on. The film captures the specific mood of Boston, and Dave Grusin's great score enhances the carefully observed pace.

DVD Details: The Criterion Collection has unearthed this much-desired film on a beautiful 2009 DVD. Yates approved the transfer. There's a commentary track and a stills gallery, but the best extras are in the thick liner notes: a new essay by Kent Jones and a reprint of a 1973 Rolling Stone profile on Mitchum.

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