The Friends Of Eddie Coyle gives a late-career Robert Mitchum an extra set of knuckles
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Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: Snitch has us thinking about other movies featuring snitches.
The Friends Of Eddie Coyle (1973)
There’s a monologue in The Friends Of Eddie Coyle where Robert Mitchum, a career criminal edging toward the other side of middle age, talks about the “extra four knuckles” on this left hand, a speech that unmistakably recalls Mitchum’s famous “right hand/left hand” spiel in The Night Of The Hunter. But the differences between the two oratories are telling: In The Night Of The Hunter, Mitchum, a vicious thief masquerading as a righteous preacher, speaks from a position of thunderous power. But here, those marks on his knuckles are the scars of a misspent life, one where his “friends” are not really friends and new allies offer another form of treachery. Facing another five years up river, he can’t really be blamed for ratting out other lowlifes to the police, because more time in jail would smother what’s left of his spirit.
Directed by Peter Yates (Bullitt) from a novel by George V. Higgins—whose book Coogan’s Trade was recently adapted into Killing Them Softly—The Friends Of Eddie Coyle gave Mitchum an ideal late-career role, allowing him to show the weariness and age behind a screen persona built on scoundrels and tough guys. It’s also exceptionally suspenseful: Yates isn’t as celebrated as the flashier auteurs of the period, but there are a pair of masterful robbery scenes that develop with a quiet rigor and matter-of-factness that recall the famed jewel heist in Rififi. And they’re tied to an overall dedication to getting the small details right, from the protocol for negotiating and handing off a gun shipment to the way vague promises can be used to squeeze informants like a vise. The consequences of a criminal life have taken many forms in the movies, most of them violent, but The Friends Of Eddie Coyle is haunted by the deep pull of regret.
Availability: Criterion released a DVD version in 2009 that’s not part of its collection on Hulu Plus, but it’s available for digital rental and purchase elsewhere.