Movies get shot in and around Boston all the time now, but in 1973, a movie shot in the Bay State was a rarity. Based on the awesome George V. Higgins novel of the same name, The Friends of Eddie Coyle was steeped in Boston lore and language, and it’s a crucible of clunker goodness.
Peter Yates might be the greatest car movie director this side of Hal Needham. He was responsible for the under-appreciated Bill Cosby-Harvey Keitel-Rachel Welch vehicle (yeah, I know) Mother, Jugs & Speed, the largely forgotten Robert Redford film The Hot Rock with some great stunts, and — of course — Bullitt.
In the director’s commentary, Yates calls The Friends of Eddie Coyle one of three movies he considers his favorites, largely because of the amazing hospitality afforded by Boston and the surrounding communities. At that time, the only major films that had been filmed around the city were The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968, and 1970’s horrible Love Story, shot largely in Cambridge.
The difference was that Yates shot EVERY SCENE in New England, even inside Alex Rocco’s trailer in New Hampshire. (The great Alex Rocco’s accent is perfect. He grew up in Boston before launching his acting career in New York.)
The cars are great. Eddie “Fingers” Coyle, played masterfully by Robert Mitchum in one of his best roles, cruises around in a beat-to-shit 1962 Cadillac DeVille.
Steven Keats — the Dodge-driving “Kandinsky” in The Gumball Rally — pilots a 1970s-perfect 1971 Plymouth Road Runner. The only sour note is that he misidentifies the engine under the hood:
Pete: “I always wanted to see what these things can do. You get the Magnum mill?”
Jackie Brown: “No I got the Hemi. 383 Hemi”
The chase sequence takes place at the commuter rail station on Route 27 in the quiet suburban town of Sharon, Massachusetts. The cops arrive undercover in a clapped out ’65 Chevy C-10.
Since it’s all shot on location, a lot of the background cars are just cars driven by regular folk in and around Boston, and you get a sense of what it was like in that era. There’s a Triumph GT-6 buzzing around, and in one of the scenes, you catch a glimpse of a 1970 Saab wagon.
In one quick scene, you even get a shot of a Nissan Patrol. I can’t think there were more than four of those in all of New England by 1973.
There’s even a nod to Boston’s early 1970s economic decline in the exchange between Jackie Brown and his gun-supplying buddy, who has to suffer the indignity of driving a Karmann-Ghia:
Jackie Brown: I wouldn’t have figured you for this. What happened to the 396?
Buddy: Bills were eating me up. It went like a bird with a flame up its ass though.
I loved the US-spec 1972 Mercedes 280SE 4.5 driven by the South Shore Bank president Mr. Partridge. There’s an interesting half-second of film where Partridge backs out of his garage in — in the book, anyway — Wayland, Massachusetts, and you catch a glimpse of the inside of his garage. Next to where he parks his car — one of the most expensive sedans you could purchase in 1972 — is a snow shovel.
The idea that a guy who today would drive a top-of-the-line S600 would (gasp) shovel his own driveway is indicative of where we were, and where we’re heading.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a pretty well forgotten movie that everybody interested in what things used to look like in Boston should see. It goes along perfectly with the cars of the Whitey Bulger trial I wrote about a few months ago.