Monday, June 29, 2009

Yates, Mitchum & ensemble suggest a revisit to THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE

Just how difficult is it to lead a life of crime? Three adjectives from Thomas Hobbes -- nasty, brutish and short (to which I'd add just a little bit boring) -- pretty much sum up the answer provided by THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, a 1973 film directed by Peter Yates (shown below) and adapted by Paul Monash, journeyman writer for TV and screen, from the best-selling novel by attorney-turned-writer George V. Higgins.

When TrustMovies first saw the film the year it was released, he was disappointed but not dismayed. Seeing it a second time, 36 years later, he finds it holds up better than expected. Eddie Coyle is dialog-heavy (which is likely to send the younger set toward nap-time or the eject/stop button), but this dialog -- for which Higgins was primarily noted -- is generally first-rate and Monash seems to have kept as much of it intact as the movie will bear. Occasionally, however, the film's visuals betray its talk. On the page, where our imagination is creating these visuals in a secondary manner while our concentration is on the conversation (as it should be), this works well. But when, in the movie, two characters are unloading weapons into the trunk of a car in the middle of shopping mall parking lot -- while one character blithely babbles on about married life and how his younger cohort wouldn't understand it -- the dialog becomes problematic. As with real estate, so with film: Location is important, and for the visual equivalent of the novel, I might have chosen a more private place to stage this scene.

Yates is probably best remembered for the Steve McQueen action film Bullitt (or the Dustin Hoffman/Mia Farrow flop John and Mary) but he was a generally decent director in almost every type of film genre (fantasy: Krull; coming-of-age: Breaking Away; drama: The Dresser). He tended not to go with current styles and tropes, instead making use of whatever worked. Eddie Coyle is among Yates' better efforts, and it's probably one of Monash's best, as well. But because it flopped upon release, although Higgins published a number of other successful novels (this was his first-published, though not his first-written), Hollywood never came calling on the novelist again.

As the titular Eddie, the aging but still sloe-eyed, big-lug Robert Mitchum (above) plays a third-rate criminal trying to fend off going back to prison by dropping a dime for the Feds. Mitchum is excellent, as he often was (and, as was just as often the case, under-appreciated). Not too bright -- though he imagines he is, which is part of his lack of smarts -- he's at least a loving husband, if not a very good friend.

The "friends" of the title (an ironic usage indeed!) make up the ensemble cast, which is first-rate and includes the likes of Peter Boyle (above), as a bartender you'd probably want to leave alone; Richard Jordan (at left) as the primary Fed; Mitchell Ryan as Jordan's boss; Alex Rocco as one of the major criminals; Matthew Cowles as a would-be purchaser of guns; and a very young Steven Keats, he of the gap-toothed smile shown below, as the primary gun runner. Keats, who died an apparent suicide at age 50, is especially good in this, his first film role: Young, naive and rather likable, he attempts to please everyone from the seller to the end consumer, while still protecting his own posterior.

I should also mention the fine, jazzy and nicely unobtrusive score by Dave Grusin and the you-are-there cinematography of Victor J. Kemper. Although Criterion has recently given the film one of its first-rate transfers (Criterion's classier box art appears below, while art for one of the original posters is shown at top), I watched The Friends of Eddie Coyle as my first experience with "streaming movies" -- via a fairly new company called ireel. For $2.99 I piped in a good quality image which displayed nicely on my new wide-screen desktop monitor -- with decent sound quality, too.

In general, the "stream-
ing" experience was a good one, at a good price, so I'll probably try ireel again. The company seems to have a decent selection -- at least of Paramount films, at this point. One important note: Do not watch the trailer for Eddie Coyle until you have seen the film itself, because this "preview" stupidly spills the beans about the movie's biggest and final surprise.

No comments: