Monday, June 14, 2021

The Friends of Eddie Coyle

The 1970s was a fantastic decade for gritty, urban crime dramas. Audiences were treated to fine films like The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, The Seven-Ups, The French ConnectionDirty Harry, and, of course, The Godfather. A lesser-known movie that could be included in that group is Peter Yates' The Friends of Eddie Coyle, featuring Robert Mitchum in his best performance of the '70s (though he's also excellent in The Yakuza).

Richard Jordan as an ATF agent.
Mitchum plays Eddie "Fingers" Coyle, a mid-tier criminal in Boston who's facing a 3-5 year prison sentence for driving a truck of stolen goods. A weary middle-aged thug with a family, Eddie will do almost anything to avoid another jail term. Looking for a way out, he meets with an ambitious ATF agent (Richard Jordan) who promises to "do something" for him if Eddie will turn informant.

There's not a lot of plot to The Friends of Eddie Coyle, which is more concerned with its characters and its portrait of the Boston underworld. Mitchum portrays Eddie as an experienced criminal, aware of his limitations, who operates within his own ethics. For example, Eddie is willing to snitch on a gun dealer, but he won't provide evidence on the man who hired him to drive the truck. You just don't squeal on the guy that gives you a job.

Steven Keats as a gun dealer.
Mitchum receives exceptional support from his castmates, especially Jordan, Peter Boyle, and Steven Keats. Jordan portrays his ATF agent as an opportunist whose morals are marginally better than the bad guys he pursues. While Peter Boyle appears in just a handful of scenes, he commands the screen as the criminal equivalent of a double agent--he sells out his fellow felons to Jordan while concurrently working as a hired killer for clients like "The Man." However, the film's best supporting performance belongs to Steven Keats, who plays a bottom-of-the-heap gun dealer named Jackie Brown. An ambitious hustler, Jackie is smarter than he first appears--though that doesn't save him in the end. Surprisingly, Keats' work didn't further his career in terms of major movies, though he was a busy TV actor. As you may surmised, Quentin Tarantino borrowed the name "Jackie Brown" for his 1997 movie.

Director Peter Yates lovingly captures the bars, dives, bowling alleys, and deserted buildings where Eddie and his fellow criminals operate. He imbues the film with an urban urgency that lingers after the final scene. (My only issue with the settings is one that's not unique to Eddie Coyle--I'm always flummoxed when characters discuss crimes in public places where they could be easily overheard!) Yates also inserts two tense bank robbery sequences that nicely offset the film's more dialogue-driven scenes. Still, it's one of those talky scenes that provides a memorable exchange between Mitchum and Keats, in which Eddie tries to share his experiences with the younger "operator."

The Friends of Eddie Coyle had been on my "watch list" for many years. I only recently discovered a DVD copy at a local library. I was concerned that my expectations would lead to disappointment--but that was not the case. It's a well-written, well-acted crime drama that falls just short of being included among the best of the 1970s. Still, that's high praise considering the quality of crime genre films during that decade.


  1. I'm always amazed that location scouts in the '70's could routinely find so many run down interesting spots. Eddie Coyle may be a high point for location shooting in the '70's. I too recently watched this for the first time. Your take is spot on. Well done!

  2. The Friends of Eddie Coyle is great film, and Robert Mitchum gives a good performance as a complicated Somverville career criminal. Peter Boyle's character Dillon is said to be based on the infamous Whitey Bulger. (Bulger's headquarters was in Somerville, or "Slumerville," not in Boston.) But I digress! Thank you for reminding me about this film.

  3. The 1970s were indeed terrific years for gritty crime dramas. This one has escaped me for some reason, but thanks to your review, I'll be on the lookout.