Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Chris 2010 Viewings #13: The Friends of Eddie Coyle

US, 1973. Directed by Peter Yates. Starring Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is the kind of picture that didn't make any particular waves when it was released, but made fans at every step of its journey from first run theatres to revival houses to late night TV to videocassette. It was unavailable on DVD until last year, when Criterion leased it away from its indifferent copyright holder, Paramount.

As someone who was born near the beginning of the 70s, and whose formative years were spent watching the 70s go by, I can testify that this movie is very, very 70s, and I don't mean anything disrespectful by that. The score by Dave Grusin is pure 70s funk-fusion. The haircuts and clothes and cars and houses and decor are the kind of thing you saw everywhere in the 70s. The film stock is the kind you only ever saw in the 70s. The sound recording - with dialogue and background noise at nearly equal volume - was only ever acceptable in the 70s. The changing attitude towards mainstream cinema - with casual cussing and no real central hero to root for - and movie stars - Robert Mitchum as a common hood on his way out - is very 70s.

The supporting cast are great character actors, familiar to those who've spent quality time with 70s TV: Alex Rocco, fresh from his massage with unhappy ending in The Godfather; Joe Santos, James Garner's cop pal from The Rockford Files; Steven Keats, whose IMDb page suggests he guested on every show produced in the 70s, yet I can't place exactly why he's so familiar.

And then there are Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle as two criminals turned stoolie in order to escape prison sentences. The former is the title character, the latter a bartender of his acquaintance, and neither knows the other has turned informant. Both know the same people and so their use to undercover cop Richard Jordan is limited, depending on what information the other has squealed.

The title is ironic, because Eddie Coyle has no friends, only acquaintances; their loyalty to him ends when they find themselves in a jam, and vice versa. It could be a tragedy, were it played out in sentimental fashion, playing up the angle of Eddie as loving family man with the son who wants to know "will ya be at my ball game next week, pa?" and Eddie says "You bet, champ, I wouldn't miss it for the world", knowing that he could be in jail or dead by then. Instead, Peter Yates just observes these characters, none really any more important than the others, in their comings and goings and the inevitable grimy end most of them come to when their loyalties are to cash and saving their own skin. In spite of some killer heist sequences, it's a movie that surprises in a low-key way, and hangs in your mind long after the more flashy enterprises are long gone.

No comments: