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Video interlude: Boston Noir and "The Friends of Eddie Coyle"


I was about ten minutes into the Criterion DVD of "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" (1974 | $29.95 | it will be coming out tomorrow) when  it occurred to me that every film about Boston worth seeing involves crime, the mob or neighborhood gangs. Is that the city I live in? What happened to the Freedom Trail, the Red Sox, stuffy Brahmins, Henry James, the Kennedys, the Blue Laws or "Make Way For Ducklings?"

It would be easy to blame Peter Yates adaptation of the George Higgins novel for this trend, but, as Paul Sherman notes in his indespensible guide "Big Screen Boston," it has been going on since "Mystery Street" (1950) , a  kind of "CSI: Boston" directed by John Sturges, which Sherman identifies as the first Hollywood feature shot here on location. Since then, unless you include the likes of last year's "Bride Wars," the Best of Boston flicks would involve grim, sour little noirs, thrillers and melodramas like "The Boston Strangler" (1968), "The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)," "The Brinks Job " (1978),"The Verdict" (1982),  "Good Will Hunting" (1997), "Monument Ave." (1998) " and the recent spate of Dennis Lehane-ish tales like "Mystic River" (2003),  "The Departed" (2006) and  "Gone Baby Gone" (2007) . Meanwhile, Ben Affleck's "The Town," an adaptation of Chuck Hogan's "Prince of Thieves," a noirish, truish story about a Charlestown bank heist, starts shooting locally in a couple of weeks.

And, of course, there is the "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," which is the template for all of the above.

Had you lived in the city in the period in which it takes place, watching the film is like time traveling: everything comes back, the sideburns, the leather jackets, the hardened little neighborhood punks, the flyblown bowling alleys, the vomit-streaked second balcony of the old Garden, the sad and dark and treacherous "bahs."

Despite the erratic accent, Mitchum is near perfect (he kind of looks like the Bear in the Bruins commercials on NESN during their late playoff run)

as the fifty-ish mob gofer and thug desperate to avoid jail time. Richard Jordan as the double dealing Federal agent  Foley is baby-faced and creepy (is he inspired by convicted real life FBI agent John Connolly? ). Peter Boyle as the dicey bar owner Dillon  presides over a joint that once graced the now tony corner of Newbury Street and Mass Av. Steven Keats as the gap-toothed gun dealer Jackie Brown (he looks a little like a weary Ben Stiller) has one of the best of the film's many great Higgins lines ("This life's hard, man, but it's harder if you're stupid.")  And could those college kid bank robbers Brown is selling M-16s to be the Weather Underground?

Watching that brought me back to the  early 80s and the days when I was a furniture mover for Marakesh Express and did a job with this guy who a few days later narrowly escaped being arrested by the FBI; he was alleged to have been a member of a leftwing terrorist group accused of shooting a New Jersey State Trooper and was on the Ten Most Wanted list. Who knew? He was a good mover, though he did talk a lot about his attack dogs.  And when Coyle and Dillon are watching Bobby Orr and the Bruins battle the Black Hawks they are sitting in what looked like the same section in the Garden where I got stomped by drunken, brawling college students when I worked as a security guard at the 1977 Beanpot Tournament.

Ah, memories. So I guess these films are about the Boston that I know and lived in after all.

  • Jon Garelick said:

    Glad "Eddie Coyle" is back in circulation -- I actually thought Mitchum did one of the few credible Hollywood Boston accents I've heard, especially when he described having his fingers broken by thugs: "Hurt like a BA-stid!"

    May 19, 2009 5:07 PM

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Peter Keough tosses away all pretenses of objectivity, good taste and sanity and writes what he damn well pleases under the guise of a film blog.

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