‘Bobby Orr, Number 4’: A note on The Friends of Eddie Coyle

Movies work in mysterious ways. I was watching The Friends of Eddie Coyle last night, completely absorbed in the narrative, admiring the way Peter Yates slowly sketches in that corrupt world of small-time hoods tied to the local Irish mafia in Boston. A hard life of two bit gun runners and small time bank robbers who risk time in jail but for dough that can’t stretch to the plumber. As I watched, I wondered if the bank robberies in this film were the inspiration for those in Kathryn Bigelow’s Point Break.

There are beautiful things in the film, the scenes with Eddie (Robert Mitchum) and his wife Sheila (Helena Carrol) are superb and an example of how great stars can convey a whole other person and way of life through and not in spite of what their star personas already represent. When the wife says, ‘have you ever heard me complain?’ and his face crumples into her shoulder, one understand all there is to know about that relationship: they’ve been together a long time, there’s understanding and desire, still. This bond is about the only thing that’s right in his life, and he’s grateful. Mitchum is absolutely magnificent in what must be one of his greatest roles, paunchy now, weary, he’d done time and knows the score; he’s got the knuckles to prove it. But resigned too: it’s the life he’s chosen. Mitchum conveys all of this and more with that deep bored drawl of his and with minimal gestures. A deeply affecting performance.

…and yet. When we arrive at the moment that should be one of the most important in the film, the moment I’ve excerpted above, the film touched on an element of my childhood and my mind exploded into a series of memory madeleines. The scene is supposed to be about Mitchum admiring Bobby Orr, so young, already a great player and with all his future ahead of him. Whereas we know this hockey game is a pretext for his murder. Dillon (Peter Boyle) , who seems to be his best friend, the person who seems to really understand him, has invited him to this game so that he and his young friend can kill him on the way home.


It’s a pivotal scene in the film. And yet, as soon as I heard the name Bobby Orr, I was back to my childhood in Montreal, trading hockey cards, trying to get Bobby Orr’s. Names I haven’t remembered in thirty years came flooding back: Phil and Tony Esposito, Guy Lafleur. In the scene the Bruins are playing the Blackhawks, and the names of all those teams suddenly came to mind  as well: the Leafs, the Rangers, the Red Wings. It sparked thoughts of winter and cozyness, street games and the Mt. Royal hockey rink; and even of spring, skipping school to attend the parade on St. Catherine street when the Canadiens won the Stanley cup, which in memory they seemed to do annually. It’s a series of nostalgic remembrances, very well evoked by the paintings of Carole Spandau (above), that seemed to rush to the fore and completely took me out of what seemed a great film, one with only moments left to go

José Arroyo




3 thoughts on “‘Bobby Orr, Number 4’: A note on The Friends of Eddie Coyle

  1. I wasn’t a hockey fan as a kid but everyone knew the name Bobby Orr and that scene did the same thing to me and took me back to my childhood (I’m 54, so I think I was around 7)
    I also agree that Mitchum is superb. The scene you mentioned with Coyle and his wife really was lovely and did something only the greatest movies do: it made me feel like I was watching a real scene from real lives. I live that they cast the wife with realism in mind. I feel like you hit the nail right on the head with your piece, thanks!
    btw: have you seen Killing Them Softly ?
    It’s based on a novel by the same author and I know that at least one character is in both books/movies. Dillon(Peter Boyle’s character) is played bySam Shepard. It’s a small part, but Shepard nails it. I highly recommend the film!

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