Welcome home, Eddie Coyle: A letter from a friend…

Editor’s Note: Dave Wahlman is a good guy with excellent taste in, and a strong knowledge of, films. So when he recently contacted me about writing a piece on THE FRIENDS OF EDDIE COYLE, I knew I would be a fool to say no.

Dear Eddie,
For years, you were this mythical being that people spoke about in reverential tones. You disappeared long before I got the chance to meet you. When I heard about you, I went looking only to find a cold trail. There were sightings of you on cable channels I couldn’t afford. There were rumors of bootleg videos of your exploits, but nothing tangible. During those years Bigfoot came around more than you did.

My friends and I spoke of you often. Hell, even our parents talked about you. Being from Boston, we were all very curious. We all read the book by George V. Higgins. We thought it was funny that you were created by a guy who went after guys like you for a living. But that’s Boston for you, a city where relationships between cops and criminals and the lines that divide them are very blurry. To break it down even further most families here can count among their ranks a cop, a junkie, a bank robber and a politician. Sometimes families have a member that plays more than one of those roles at the same time.

My friends and I all love crime films from the 70s. Most of them were filmed in New York City and Los Angeles, but you put us on the map. You show Boston in all its gritty 70s glory. You gave us a time capsule filled with places we would never get to see again, the old Boston Garden among them. It’s funny to realize, Eddie, that you were just another drunken Boston sports fan at times. I grew up minutes away from where Jackie Brown made his gun buys at the old Rowe Quarry. I’ve got friends in Quincy and I used to work in Somerville. Boston has never been pretty. But it has charm.

I’ve heard stories that Howie Winter and his crew the Winter Hill Gang were on set while they were filming your tale. Jimmy Scalise was really Alex Rocco, who, before going out to Hollywood to get famous, was a low level Somerville thug who may or may not have helped start the Boston Irish Gang Wars of the ‘60s which claimed over 75 lives. Hell Eddie, you yourself were supposedly based on a guy that Whitey Bulger clipped in 1967.

About 2 years ago my friends and I were getting pissed about all the time we spent searching for you. It seemed like you were getting mentioned more and more. There was a reference to you in the book Paddy Whacked: The History of the Irish Mob in America by T.J. English. When The Departed and Gone Baby Gone were released, there were the inevitable comparisons to you in the reviews. You did pop up once at a screening at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge over Thanksgiving weekend about 4 years ago, but I wasn’t able to make it. I wasn’t happy about that but I was told after that the print sucked so I felt better.

In 2009, word came down that the masters at Criterion Collection were bringing you back on DVD. My friends and I were speechless. We knew you needed to come home, but doing it backed by Criterion Collection was more than we could have ever hoped for; Criterion Collection meant that your homecoming would be done right.

More than anything, we needed you to come back for us. Growing up in Boston means growing up knowing guys like you, Eddie. It means we grew up knowing that being a criminal isn’t always a rich proposition, that more often than not it’s an ugly day-to-day existence with little to no reward. We grew up knowing we sometimes have to put our lives into the hands of people that may sell us out. We grew up knowing prison is one misstep away. Eddie, you were so ahead of the times, it’s fucking scary. Maybe that’s why we put so much effort into looking for you. I think we knew that you were one of us. That is why you are so important to us. You couldn’t have come from anywhere else but Boston.

Tomorrow night you are playing at the Somerville Theater. A special screening of a so-called archival print. My friends and I are going to be there. We want to welcome you home. It’s about time that you come in out of the cold. In a time of Ben Affleck playing a bank robber from Charlestown and Leonardo DiCaprio playing a rat from Southie, your presence is needed to make things right. We need you to show everyone how it’s done, with grit and style.

We are your friends Eddie. It’s good to have you back.
One of your many friends,
Dave Wahlman