Wed 8 Aug 2012
THE NICKEL RIDE. 20th Century Fox, 1974. Jason Miller, Linda Haynes, Victor French, John Hillerman, Bo Hopkins, Richard Evans, Bart Burns, Lou Frizzell. Screenplay: Eric Roth. Director: Robert Mulligan.
There is a lot of similarity between The Nickel Ride and The Friends of Eddie Coyle (reviewed here ), but one of the differences is that the former takes place in LA and the latter in Boston. That’s only in terms of the weather: almost always sunny and warm in LA vs. crisp and chilly in Boston in the fall.
But other than that, the lives of the lower and mid-level echelons of the underworld are very nearly the same. Not knowing when their lives are going to be cut out from under them at the whims of anyone at a higher level, for example, or pressured from all sides to close a deal and make the next one; pressures sometimes strong, others only subtle.
Another big difference is that Jason Miller as Cooper, the man with the keys in The Nickel Ride, while extremely effective, is no Robert Mitchum, the lugubrious star of Eddie Coyle. As a much younger man, Miller has to work harder at it. To Mitchum, by the time he made Coyle, it seemed to come naturally.
Miller’s career began with The Exorcist, the movie he made just before this one, in which he played Father Damian Karras. He won an Oscar nomination for that particular film, but his career faded badly, and I doubt that even the most ardent of movie fans know his name today.
I’ll end any other comparisons between the two films here. Cooper is trying to make a deal involving a block of warehouses where stolen goods can be stored, and as hard as he tries, he can’t seem to get the other side to agree to terms, which keep changing. Cooper’s superior, John Hillerman (pre-Magnum) brings in a garrulous rowdy in a buckskin shirt (Bo Hopkins) to keep an eye on him, while Cooper has to keep his cool with his wife and close buddies, including a small-time boxing promoter who can’t follow through and make his protege take a dive.
The plot seems to have confused a lot of people, basing that statement on the various online reviews and comments on IMDB that I’ve read. It’d true that it’s never quite clear what started Cooper’s downward spiral, you (the viewer) can sense it’s happening just as well as he can.
This is neo-noir at its finest. Beautifully photographed by Jordan Cronenweth, who later worked on Blade Runner, which is the finest accolade I can give him, and directed by Robert Mulligan, of To Kill a Mockingbird fame, there is a lot to watch and see, and I know I’ll see more the next time I watch this movie.
PostScript: Thanks to IMDB, I can tell you something interesting. I’ve been watching episodes of Mike Hammer, the 1950s series with Darren McGavin, and while I didn’t recognize him, Bart Burns, the guy who Cooper is trying to negotiate with, also played Captain Pat Chambers on the Hammer show.
PPS. For an excellent analysis of The Nickel Ride, including details you never see by watching a movie only once, you might want to read Mike Grost’s comments on the film, found online here.