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The Friends of Eddie Coyle: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973) movie poster The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Theatrical Release: June 27, 1973 / Running Time: 102 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Peter Yates / Writers: George V. Higgins (novel), Paul Monash (screenplay)

Cast: Robert Mitchum (Eddie "Fingers" Coyle), Peter Boyle (Dillon), Richard Jordan (Dave Foley), Steven Keats (Jackie Brown), Alex Rocco (Jimmy Scalise), Joe Santos (Artie Van), Mitchell Ryan (Waters), Peter MacLean (Mr. Partridge), Kevin O'Morrison (Manager of Second Bank), Marvin Lichterman (Vernon), Carolyn Pickman (Nancy), James Tolkan (The Man's Contact Man), Margaret Ladd (Andrea), Matthew Cowles (Pete), Helena Carroll (Sheila Coyle), Jack Kehoe (The Beard), Jan Egleson (Pale Kid), Jane House (Wanda), Michael McCleery (The Kid), Alan Koss (Phil), Dennis McMullen (Webber)

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Partly because first impressions are lasting ones I will forever identify Robert Mitchum primarily with Scrooged. The actor has a small role in that comedic update on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, playing network president Preston Rhinelander,
the only person Bill Murray's calloused TV executive can't fire, refuse, or scare off. Rhinelander appears in little more than two scenes, but like most aspects of that eminently rewatchable 1988 film, he is memorable and diverting. In the more than twenty years since Scrooged made its lasting first impression on me, I have since come to realize that the role was basically a footnote coming near the end of Mitchum's very long and fairly extraordinary film career.

After a few busy years of going uncredited in western and war movie bit parts, Connecticut-born Mitchum emerged as a leading man in the 1940s. That is a title he would hold for four decades. At a time when versatility was undervalued, Mitchum largely stuck with the one type he best fit: the heavy. Few actors have mined that type to such iconic results. Mitchum's most significant credits include The Night of the Hunter, the original 1962 Cape Fear, and the classic noir Out of the Past. Those three credits alone were probably enough to land Mitchum in the American Film Institute's lists of 50 greatest screen legends.

Prison-bound teamster Eddie "Fingers" Coyle (Robert Mitchum) meets with a federal agent (Richard Jordan) in "The Friends of Eddie Coyle."

Hollywood was undergoing revolution in the late 1960s and early 1970s, with young directors and actors sparking dramatic change. But Mitchum wasn't going anywhere. Unlike grandiose musicals and stagey performances, his tough guy act was compatible with the business' move towards darker content and realism. Regardless of the era, Mitchum's persona never failed to compel.

Based on the 1970 George V. Higgins novel of the same name, the 1973 drama The Friends of Eddie Coyle casts Mitchum in the title role. Quincy, Massachusetts resident Eddie Coyle, or "Eddie Fingers" as he is sometimes known, is on the verge of welfare.
A career criminal with a wife and three kids, Eddie is looking at doing 3-5 years in a New Hampshire prison. He would rather not, so he asks federal agent Dave Foley (Richard Jordan) to help him out. Foley is willing, so long as Eddie can give him something he can use to make an arrest. Eddie's criminal connections are numerous, but he values his loyalties almost as much as his freedom and ability to support his family.

Adapted and produced by Paul Monash (a television lifer involved in the Stephen King adaptations Carrie and Salem's Lot), Friends of Eddie Coyle divides our attentions between Eddie; Jackie Brown (Steven Keats), a young arms dealer who prudently exhibits caution in his dangerous transactions; and a string of robberies which see bank managers being kidnapped and their families held hostage while vaults are emptied. The relationship between these three threads isn't always clear, but by the end of the film, you understand the structure better.

The film's climax is a Bruins-Blackhawks game at the old Boston Garden, which niftily checks in on NHL legend Bobby Orr at age 24 when players didn't yet wear helmets.

In a series of local crimes, masked gunmen rob a bank with the manager's cooperation. Bartender Dillon (Peter Boyle) takes his friend and associate Eddie (Robert Mitchum) to a Bruins game, but his intentions aren't so pure.

Friends of Eddie Coyle engages with its taut, understated slice of life. The Boston accents of Mitchum and castmates seem to come and go, but nonetheless, we buy the star, prominently billed Peter Boyle (who's not quite a co-lead), and former gangster Alex Rocco (Moe Greene in The Godfather) as criminal types (two of those three do have criminal records). Mitchum is always convincing as a menace, which perhaps accurately reflects his reputation as a hellraiser. Even if his 1948 arrest for marijuana possession and subsequent two months served at a prison farm hardly seem scandalous today, Mitchum never gave off the impression of a glamorous actor putting on airs. Perhaps it speaks to his skill and unconventionality, but you'd be more likely to believe Mitchum as the professions he played than the famous movie actor he truly was.

Eddie Coyle is directed by Peter Yates, the British helmer of Bullitt who would go on to success with the Best Picture nominees Breaking Away (1979) and The Dresser (1983). Though not widely known or celebrated, Eddie Coyle entered the Criterion Collection in 2009 and this week was treated to its first Blu-ray Disc.

The Friends of Eddie Coyle: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
1.0 LPCM Mono (English)
Subtitles: English
Extras Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Clear Keepcase
Still available on DVD ($29.95 SRP; May 19, 2009) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Friends of Eddie Coyle appears to occupy the 1.66:1 aspect ratio in its opening titles, but it eventually settles on something closer to its listed and standard 1.85:1. While low budget 1970s cinema often ages worse than film from other eras, rest assured Criterion makes this old movie look new, without betraying its original, intended look. The element exhibits an appropriate amount of fine grain, but apart from minimal imperfections you won't notice without scrutiny, it remains sharp, spotless, and satisfying. The lossless 1.0 LPCM mono soundtrack is nothing to write home about, but it gets the job done in a way that seems true to original theatrical presentation. There is quite a bit of looped dialogue; in multiple instances, it looks like F-words have been cleaned up into something else. I'm certain this can be traced back to the original release, which required looping on some scenes.

Robert Mitchum poses with young twins who evidently adore him on the set of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. The Criterion Blu-ray's understated menu suits the film well.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

For a Criterion release, The Friends of Eddie Coyle's Blu-ray is unusually light on bonus features. Like the 2009 DVD, it includes just two on-disc extras.

First up is an audio commentary recorded by director Peter Yates two years before his 2011 death. Though he sounds kind of weak,

Yates takes obvious pleasure in revisiting the film he calls one of the three favorites of his own (the other two being his aforementioned Best Picture nominees). He vividly recalls specifics of filming including Boston area locations and his collaborations with Mitchum and other actors. He also touches on technical aspects and the perks of shooting a real NHL game in a full track that fans of the film should value.

The other inclusion is a stills gallery (now HD) consisting of 22 images. A mix of black and white and color, the photos offer behind-the-scenes looks at production, glimpses of a few deleted scenes, and shots of Mitchum with the adoring public. Each picture is preceded by a caption and comments by Yates' submitted in 2009.

The scored menu is a static shot of Mitchum. Of course, Criterion kindly authors the Blu-ray to resume playback and to allow you to set bookmarks on the film as well.

The final supplement is found inside the clear keepcase. Criterion always supplies a booklet, but at 48 pages, this one is about as big as they come. The thick staple-bound insert reprints "They Were Expendable", an essay by filmmaker-author Kent Jones offering thoughtful analysis of the film's melancholy world and how it could only have existed in the 1970s.

The booklet follows that up with "The Last Celluloid Desperado", Grover Lewis' frank account of production, originally published in Rolling Stone in 1973. The article paints a fascinating portrait of boozy womanizer Robert Mitchum and castmates. Whether he's talking about the Vietnam War, his writing, his infamous marijuana bust and other legal run-ins, or urinating on David O. Selznick's rug, the foul-mouthed Mitchum is simultaneously captivating and appalling.

Eddie Coyle (Robert Mitchum) pays Jimmy Scalise (Alex Rocco) a visit in a nicely composed shot from "The Friends of Eddie Coyle."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a movie that many people have not even heard of, let alone seen. If you've made it this far in the review, though, you've clearly got enough interest to discover this minor gem, a compelling serving of 1970s understatement. Criterion brings this gritty crime drama to Blu-ray with few bonus features, but the commentary and thick booklet have as much value as any supplements. Do give this one a look.

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Related Reviews:
Robert Mitchum: Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison Scrooged Dead Man | Peter Boyle: Taxi Driver The Santa Clause 1-3
Richard Jordan: The Murder of Mary Phagan | Alex Rocco: The Godfather Magic City: The Complete First Season
Directed by Peter Yates: Breaking Away | Adapted from George V. Higgins: Killing Them Softly
The Anderson Tapes Thief Thunderbolt and Lightfoot Jackie Brown The Killer Elite
Massachusetts: Gone Baby Gone The Fighter The Verdict Jesse Stone: No Remorse Hocus Pocus
New: Odd Man Out Kidnapping Mr. Heineken Inherent Vice U Turn The Gambler Cries and Whispers

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Reviewed May 2, 2015.



Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1973 Paramount Pictures and 2015 The Criterion Collection. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.