(director: Peter Yates; screenwriters: from book by George V., Higgins/Paul Monash; cinematographer: Victor J. Kemper; editor: Patricia Jaffe; cast: Robert Mitchum (Eddie Coyle), Peter Boyle (Dillon), Richard Jordan (Foley), Steven Keats (Jackie Brown), Alex Rocco (Scalise), Joe Santos (Artie Van), Michael McCleery (The Kid), Peter MacLean (Partridge), Mitchell Ryan (Waters); Runtime: 102; Paramount; 1973)

“A bleak look at how the Boston underworld operates.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A bleak look at how the Boston underworld operates. It’s based on the best-seller by George V., Higgins, and is seen through the world-weary eyes of a 51-year-old, small-time hood, Eddie “Fingers” Coyle (Mitchum). Eddie got the nickname when a mob boss in his underworld element shut the draw on his hand as a punishment. Eddie’s current dilemma is that he got caught running illegal booze and faces a 3-5 year stretch in New Hampshire, something he feels will be a life sentence since he doesn’t think he could survive prison at his age. Eddie is also concerned that his wife and three kids will have to go on welfare. He could have cut a deal and gotten off if he turned his boss over to the D.A., but he figured he would never live if he did that.

Eddie is currently gun-running for a gang of very successful bank robbers, led by Scalise (Rocco). The masked bank robbers operate by always first going to the bank manager’s house and holding his family hostage and then they go to the bank and force the manager to open the vault or else his family gets it. On one of the heists, they kill a bank officer who pushes the alarm.

Eddie’s best friend is Dillon (Boyle), a hit man for the mob who is currently working as a bartender. Dillon is secretly a stoolie for an aggressive young Treasury Agent named Foley (Jordan), who likes to be called uncle. Foley gives Dillon breathing room to operate some of his low-level crime activities and to work the bar even though he has a prison record, as long as he keeps getting valuable info from him.

With the sentencing date closing in, the already convicted Eddie is out on bail and looking for an angle to cut his jail time. Eddie contacts agent Foley and gives him a few inconsequential tips and then decides to do something that goes against his grain. Thinking he made an iron-clad deal with Foley to get his sentenced squashed in New Hampshire, he gives him the place where a sale of machine guns is going down, knowing full-well the young hustler (Keats) selling the guns will be facing a life sentence.

But Foley tells him after he arrests the gun-dealer that New Hampshire wants more before they take away his jail sentence, they want him to be a full-time informer.

Warning: spoiler follows in next paragraph.

The bank robbers are setup and caught in the act and the mob boss is convinced Eddie did it and they give Dillon the contract to take care of his friend. The contemptuous Dillon befriends Eddie and treats him to a steak dinner and takes him to a Bruin hockey game while getting him boozed up. Eddie takes a look at the young Bruin star Bobby Orr from his upper deck seat and says “To be young like that and have his future, he’s the greatest hockey player in the world.” Dillon then takes the drunken Eddie for a long drive and executes him mob-style, having a kid who works for him dump the body down some side street.

This is a great atmospheric film noir. The gangsters are shown to be capable of any action to defend their own interests, whether it is betrayal or murder. There is a fatalism about them, something Robert Mitchum wears as easily as others put on a hat. Mitchum gives this film all the intensity and purpose it needs. He makes you see his character without any false sympathy. In the end, the Mitchum character even loses the respect he had among his underworld friends as a standup guy.