Friday, July 16, 2021

Neo-Noir Mitchum Watch: The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973)

Watched:  07/16/2021
Format:  TCM on DVR
Viewing:  First
Decade:  1970's
Director:  Peter Yates

I've been hearing about this one for a while, and I can see why.  Mitchum was in a weird period here where he was far older than in his prime two decades earlier, but his age and everything he'd done to himself for his adult life comes with him when he shows up in a role.  Add in his bona fides as part of the noir movement and his already naturalistic (if swaggerish) acting style, and he fits into the era well.  That said, I've not seen his outings as Marlowe, so that's soon, I think.

It's funny, I've definitely had the same thoughts that I saw reflected in this article from The Ringer that I read yesterday about the 1990's neo-noir movement.  Particularly the thought that resonated was that the 1990's noir movement had as much or more to do with filmmakers of the 1990's wanting to make movies like they grew up with in the 1970's than it had to do with anyone wanting to remake Kiss of Death (which they did, and is not the original, but it's fine).  And, likewise, the filmmakers of the 1970's using noir tropes to say something about the same world that insisted on Donnie and Marie.

But, yeah, right now TCM is running a neo-noir series on Fridays (now's the time to set your DVR), there's a sister series on The Criterion Channel and I've suddenly seen a surge of neo-noir reconsideration.  And, people, that's awesome!  But it also makes me realize... hey, noir never really ended.  

I'll say the following:  I agree that there was an initial phase of noir from the end of WWII to the late 1950's, and the films of even the mid-60's are markedly different for a variety of reasons than the initial push by directors like Siodmak, Lang and dozens more.  The look is gone as film was lit for television, and color comes in, eventually getting recaptured in movies like Body Heat.  But I think noir these days is seen as multi-part cable shows like Mare of Easttown more than at the cinema.  And every decade has done something different with it.  Right now we're using noir as cover to tell personal stories of trauma rather than letting it work as a twisted morality play in and of itself.

But in the 1970's, the bumpers were off and filmmakers were given way the hell more latitude to bring non-censored stories of crime to the screen.  So you get Mean Streets and you get the less seen Friends of Eddie Coyle.  Eventually you get the epics of the Godfather films, which are quasi-noir.

It also wears it's 70's-ness on its sleeve beyond the wardrobe and awesome automobile selection - there's also plenty of 70's cinematography at it's grungiest - everything is startlingly unpolished, working in houses that are clearly very real and diners and bars that couldn't feel more lived in.

The plot of Friends of Eddie Coyle is not overly complex - it's a "it's not the story, but the way the story is told" sort of thing.  And it's a case-study in how you can do both exposition, plot and character all in one.  There's a few choice scenes, such as Eddie's few moments with his wife and then when Richard Jordan and he are talking deals that are just extraordinary.  Co-starring Peter Boyle has some fantastic scenes as well.

It's a movie with a ton of "that guy!" actors, including Richard Jordan, but also:  Alex Rocco, Steven Keats, Joe Santos, Mitchell Ryan, and James Tolkan.  

It's the 1970's, so don't expect an ending that's sunshine and roses, and I'll leave it to film scholars to discuss whatever they want to apply from the 1970's zeitgeist that's why neo-noir got so dark at this time, but I'll put it out there:  this was always noir.  The studios and censors just quit forcing the hand of filmmakers to tacked on happy endings and law and order winning the day (which it often did not in noir, when they were clever about it).  

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