A Review by Mike Dennis


   If it had been anyone but Criterion putting out the DVD of The Friends Of Eddie Coyle, I might not have purchased it. But Criterion has so firmly established itself as the premium purveyor of quality movies onto quality DVDs, that I couldn’t resist.

   When I opened the handsome package, I was a little disappointed to find only one DVD inside. This usually means they didn’t go to too much trouble to put the whole thing together, and they weren’t interested in slipping in a lot of bonus features.

   What is included is a digitally-restored, high-definition version of the film itself, an audio commentary by director Peter Yates, stills, and a 44-page booklet on the film and its star Robert Mitchum.

   When you click “Play Movie,” the film surprisingly begins with only the Criterion logo, followed by the Paramount logo, then scene one. None of that annoying crap about FBI warnings and studio disclaimers. It looks and sounds terrific on my big screen HDTV from beginning to end. The color is crisp and the dialogue, which of course carries the whole story, is clear at all times. David Grusin’s restrained jazz soundtrack is a big plus.

   The commentary was only okay, though. I was expecting a lot more, I guess, from Yates. Something along the lines of what I got from Jules Dassin in Criterion’s outstanding release of his classic 1950 film noir, Night And The City. Dassin, who only did an interview and not the commentary on that DVD, went into the deepest details of that film and its making, while film scholar Glenn Erickson did a very creditable job on the commentary.


   Yates, in his commentary, talked about the things you might expect: shooting in Boston, how great all the actors were, and so on. But apart from his explanations on how they shot the hockey game scene and why George V. Higgins failed to get a screen credit for the script, I didn’t get too aroused. I felt he tended to drift off a little too often into talking about his other films. You know, if I’m watching The Friends Of Eddie Coyle, I don’t want to hear anything about Barbra Streisand movies.

   The booklet, however, is terrific. It begins with an essay by Kent Jones called “They Were Expendable” (no relation to the John Wayne movie), which offers far more insight into the making of the film than Yates’ commentary.

   For example, prior to shooting, Mitchum hung out with Whitey Bulger, notorious Boston gangster and the prototype for Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed. Mitchum apparently took some heat for consorting with someone like Bulger, but he defended it, according to Jones, by saying that Bulger was himself associating with a “known criminal” in talking to Mitchum.


   The second essay is a profile on Mitchum called “The Last Celluloid Desperado.” Written by Grover Lewis, it includes contributions by co-stars Peter Boyle and Richard Jordan. It’s really all about Mitchum, though, and is a captivating look at his remarkable life, both in and out of films.

   One fact which jumped out at me was that Alex Rocco, who plays Jimmy Scalise, was a former member of the Boston Teamsters, who were continually linked to killings ordered by Bulger and his Winter Hill Gang. In fact, Rocco himself was indicted for murder, only to have the charges dropped through aggressive actions by his attorney, F Lee Bailey. He then made his way to Los Angeles, where he soon landed the role of Moe Greene in 1972’s The Godfather.

   Safe to say the booklet helps to make up for Yates’ lackluster commentary.

   Criterion, which has given us top-shelf DVD releases of seldom-seen films such as Straw Dogs, The Long Good Friday, and Lord Of The Flies, has scored again with The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. And like Yates says in the conclusion of his commentary, I hope this will expose the film to a whole new generation of viewers.

Copyright © 2010 by Mike Dennis.

Editorial Comment:   For my review of the film itself, written nearly two years ago, before the DVD came out, you’ll have to go way back here on the blog.