Published on June 26th, 1973 | by Padraic Coffey0
The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)
The ‘heist-goes-wrong’ subgenre of crime cinema has been perennial favourite of filmmakers, from John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle and Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing in the 1950s, to Quentin Tarantino’s hugely influential, chronology-shuffling 1992 debut, Reservoir Dogs.
What separates 1973’s little-seen The Friends of Eddie Coyle from most other examples is that the crime itself is not the film’s centrepiece. Even Dogs, which opts to leave the robbery off-screen, is driven by the repercussions and fallouts of the event. Instead, Eddie Coyle focuses on the eponymous truck driver (Robert Mitchum), an ageing, low-level gun smuggler with little desire to continue in his line of work. Coyle wants nothing more than to leave Boston and his underachieving criminal lifestyle, but is facing a debilitating prison sentence. Reluctantly, he acts as informer in an effort to save himself.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle was directed by Peter Yates, who only a few years earlier delivered perhaps the definitive onscreen car chase with 1968’s Bullitt. There are action sequences in the film – a violent bank robbery in which an alarm-triggering teller is shot, a botched escape-attempt made by a gun-smuggler associate of Mitchum’s – but these are almost ancillary to the films main focus, Mitchum’s weary performance as the remorseful Coyle. Though superficially similar to the likes of Joseph Sargent’s The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, Eddie Coyle is closer in tone to works such as John Cassavettes The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Mitchum’s opening diner-set speech on the origin of his nickname, ‘Fingers’, pre-empts James Caan’s confessional outpouring to Tuesday Weld in Michael Mann’s 1981 debut, Thief.
Stylistically, the film features a jazzy musical score from Dave Grusin. In addition to Mitchum, who had been active on screen since the 1940s, the stellar cast includes Peter Boyle and Alex Rocco, the latter perhaps best known as the ill-fated Moe Greene in The Godfather. The film’s downbeat conclusion – very much in keeping with the tone of Seventies American cinema – might frustrate some, but its cruel irony is in many ways consistent with the rest of the picture.
Strangely, despite strong critical acclaim – it made Roger Ebert’s Top Ten for 1973 – The Friends of Eddie Coyle was never even released on VHS in Yates’ native Britain. In America, a Criterion Collection DVD emerged in 2009. Perhaps a Region Two equivalent could lead to the rediscovery of this distinctive crime thriller.