THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE. Paramount, 1973. Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, Steven Keats, Alex Rocco, Joe Santos. Based on the novel by George V. Higgins. Screenwriter/director: Peter Yates.

   My wife and I upgraded our cable boxes last month, two of them, and part of the package (at an additional ten dollars a month) were all of the Cinemax channels, while the HBO ones came free, if you don’t include the cost of the high-definition box we converted to downstairs.

ROBERT MITCHUM Eddie Coyle

   You don’t need to know all of this, but as far as I am concerned the extra $10 Cimemax surcharge was paid for in one swoop, when I taped this movie late one night last week. For some reason — no one seems to know why — The Friends of Eddie Coyle has never been released commercially, on either video or DVD, but right now it’s strong in the running as the best Robert Mitchum movie I’ve ever seen.

   And that’s saying some, as Robert Mitchum has always been one of my favorite movie actors, bar almost none. His sleepy-eyed facade belies some of the most complex and interesting characters ever portrayed on film. I don’t know if he and I would get along in person, but on the screen, he’s a giant, as far as I’m concerned.

   Until yesterday, I’d have said that Farewell My Lovely, which came a couple of years later and was the first time around that he played Philip Marlowe, was my favorite Mitchum role, but no more. (Of course, if I were see Farewell, My Lovely again right now, I might change my mind.)

ROBERT MITCHUM Eddie Coyle

   As usual, I’ve not read the book that The Friends of Eddie Coyle is based on, so I’m not reviewing that, only the movie. It takes place in and around Boston, where Eddie Coyle (that’s Mitchum) is doing the best he can to stay out of jail for a job he did, got caught for, didn’t rat out on the guy who hired him, but is thinking of making a deal with the Feds (Ă  la Richard Jordan) on some of the other criminal activities going on that he knows about, including a gang of professional robbers hitting suburban banks.

   Obviously — isn’t it? — the title of the movie is a misnomer. Eddie Coyle has no friends. The life of a criminal is hard. You get old, and even if you don’t, you never know whom to trust, not even the guys you’ve always though were your best pals. Eddie Coyle is tough but wearing out.

   If you thought that noir movies were never made after 1960 or that noir movies could never be made in color, you’d be wrong on both counts. The bright brisk color of Boston and environs in the late autumn are in a not-so-subtle contrast with the quiet desperate of Eddie and his acquaintances as they try to scrap up a buck here and there, and the dingy bars, diners, bowling alleys and shopping malls where they transact most of their business.

ROBERT MITCHUM Eddie Coyle

   I’ve looked but I’ve not come up with scenes from the movie that are in color. Black and white will have to do. It’s appropriate enough, but if you see the film, you have to see it in color. The movie exists, but you’ll have to do some scrambling around to get it.

   And when you do, don’t be distracted and put off by the lack of straightforward storytelling. You’ll see for a while what seems to be two movies going on at the same time and in the same place, switching back and forth from one to the other, small snippets of Eddie’s life here, the gang of bank robbers pulling off their jobs there, and in between Stephen Keats as Jackie Brown, plying his trade as a young but experienced dealer in illegal guns (or so he thinks).

ROBERT MITCHUM Eddie Coyle

   I didn’t mention any women in the credits I listed up above. There are none. None that have more than three minutes on the screen. This is a man’s movie, and while women are in the film, they have no say in what happens. Not that the men in it have much say, either.

   Have I gotten you interested but not convinced? Here’s a link to a three-minute trailer for the film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WtR-mi6VtU. That ought to do it …

   … but if not, watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MR-_m4CLzM8&feature=related.

   Perfect!