Friday, September 28, 2012

With Friends Like Eddie's...: "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" (1973)

Robert Mitchum's best performance is in this gritty crime drama about a Boston hood turned informant. Why he didn't win an Oscar is beyond me, although the Best Actor nominees for 1973 were little-known bit players like Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford, Marlon Brando, and winner Jack Lemmon.

Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) is a small time go-between. He is the middle man between a group of bank robbers led by Scalise (Alex Rocco) and a gun seller, Jackie Brown (!) (Steven Keats). Coyle is getting ready to serve a couple of years in a New Hampshire prison for running some booze across state lines, and is worried about his wife and young children. Looking to get out of doing time, Coyle approaches Treasury agent Foley (Richard Jordan), looking to trade information for freedom. The problem is Foley already has another snitch- Dillon (Peter Boyle), who gives Foley enticing tidbits and runs in the same circles as Coyle. As Jackie continues to sell guns, Scalise continues to rob banks, and Coyle prepares for prison, Foley begins stretching his law enforcement muscles, and now everyone seems to blame Eddie.

The many plot points come together as best they can. Peter Yates takes Paul Monash's screenplay and turns the talky script into an interesting piece. Aside from one very brief car chase, and a couple of shootings, the action here is very minimal. Yates does give the proceedings some dread, and can thank his mostly male cast for hooking the viewer.

Mitchum has rarely been better. His slightly racist Eddie isn't quite a hang-dog schlub, but he is no Al Capone, either. Mitchum is sympathetic, but never turns Coyle into a "good guy." He is a criminal, and his likability is balanced by his more seedy qualities. Dillon is the guy you love to hate, and it is hard to believe Boyle is still better known for his comedy than for his dramatic work. Steven Keats is an actor I was not familiar with, but given his screen presence here, you will feel he should have gone on to bigger and better things (he died in the mid-1990's). He is a smart and arrogant gun runner, rarely capitulating to Coyle. His role is another one missed by Oscar voters.

There are a lot of plots in the air, but the seemingly hasty conclusion is a letdown. Yates and Monash do an outstanding job of switching between Coyle, TWO sets of bank robbers, Foley, and Dillon, but suddenly it's all over. Mitchell Ryan gets one scene, and I'm still asking why he was even credited! This was filmed on location in Boston, and features an appropriate score by Dave Grusin. Some scenes go on for quite a while (Scalise's ingenious first bank robbery, Jackie's delivery to the second gang of bank robbers), but you can't help but watch some of these characters dig their own graves...metaphorically. Monash captures the slang dialogue perfectly. It may sound dated today, but you will completely understand what is going on.

Aside from a few glitches, "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" is a nice addition to the crime dramas of the 1970's, ranking right up there with "The French Connection" and "The Seven-Ups." (* * * *) out of five stars.