Wednesday, July 15, 2009


On tap for last week was a double bill of Bob Mitchum, the lazy-eyed leading man who talked tough and had an alleged weakness for the holy herb.

First up was one of his later (and possibly greatest) performances as low-level Boston gunrunner turned Federal snitch Eddie Coyle. Here Mitchum gets to do the Willy Loman thing (call it "Death of a Small-Time Snub-Nose Salesman"), and he does it to the fullest. Coyle is a hopeless sad-sack whose allegiance to the local boys has netted him nothing over the years except a string of jail terms, a crumbling apartment and a mountain of bills and bad debt. He's got a code, but it's waning fast. Even that, it turns out, can be sold.

The only problem is there's someone out there already better at playing canary...a wonderfully slimy barman played by Peter Boyle. And when the guns supplied in a string of successful local robberies start to turn up, it's only a matter of time before the chickens come home to roost and one canary has to get popped. The irony's right there in the title..."friends" indeed.

This is a fantastic small-time crime film, one I'm surprised I've never seen before. Mitchum is at the top of his game as a Boston bottom-feeder past his prime. And Yates' direction, admirably spare, leaves wide berth for some fantastic hood-life details, guy-on-the-corner dialogue and other great performances by Alex Rocco, Steven Keats and Richard Jordan. The string of robberies in Coyle are masterful in their simplicity and suspense. And the scene with Mitchum and Boyle at the hockey game (and right after) packs the punch of an Act V Shakespeare tragedy. Like Mean Streets of the same year and even, say, Laws of Gravity years later, Coyle is film about the small-time players tangential to a big numbers game. But by no means is Coyle a small film.

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