My recent observation on Facebook about two crime movies
turned into a symposium on movies, books, style, history, and other interesting subjects with comments from some of the sharpest crime fiction minds I know. The movies were Underworld, U.S.A.
and The Friends of Eddie Coyle
. I called the former superior because it wastes fewer words. Here are highlights of what ensued:
Michael Carlson attributed my observation to the writing style of the novel on which Eddie Coyle
was based. "That's [George V. ] Higgins," he wrote. "There's more words, but I wouldn't call them wasted." Fair point, except that the movie isn't Higgins, or at least not just Higgins. It's also Peter Yates, who directed the movie, and Robert Mitchum, who starred. among others.
Mike Dennis, commenting in his Don Donovan persona, called the movie version of Eddie Coyle
"IMHO, one of the greatest noirs of all time ... without question, Robert Mitchum's finest hour." He's half-right. Mitchum does what words on a page cannot: His physical eloquence and facial expressions alone make the character. As good as the rest of the movie is, nothing else in it comes close to doing what movies alone can do. The rest of the movie is at best a good adaptation of a good or great or seminal crime novel.
, on the other hand, is full of cinematic touches: shots lingering on nervous eyes, atmospheric lighting, and such. Scott Adlerberg, a novelist who lectures regularly on movies, understood this when he wrote:
"I like the Eddie Coyle film, but Underworld, U.S.A. is definitely the better film, in my view. But Sam Fuller is indeed a great director, one of the best crime/action directors of them all, and solid as Peter Yates is, he's no Fuller when it comes to packing a cinematic punch. Still, those two movies are hard to compare because their styles are so different. Fuller's the master of pulpy tabloid style, very kinetic crime stories, and Eddie Coyle is, as said here, the flip side, to all that."
I take Scott's comment as supporting my position for two reasons: One is that he speaks more knowledgeably than I can about Samuel Fuller's superiority as a director. The other is that with the exception of Scott's comments and, to a lesser extent, Mike Dennis/Don Donovan's, the commenters replied to my (perceived) slight of Eddie Coyle
the movie by defending Eddie Coyle
the book. What does that tell you about the movie?
And that gets to my problem with Higgins and, to a lesser extent, Elmore Leonard. I love any number of crime writers who swear allegiance to Higgins and Leonard -- Charlie Stella, Garbhan Downey, John McFetridge, and Declan Burke, to name a few -- but I've never warmed to Higgins' crime novels, and I don't know why. Have I grown so accustomed to working-stiff gangsters who can crack a joke without necessarily knowing they're being funny that I fail to appreciate the writer who created the type? Has Higgins perhaps not aged as well as he night have?
Your thoughts on the matter are welcome.
In the meantime, here's some of what Stella posted on Facebook:
"You know where I stand on Higgins (you fucking communist!) :) but to be fair, there are a number of his other works I had (to quote William Buckley discussing Atlas Shrugged) “to flog myself” to finish (and some never were finished). That said (you fucking communist!), I’ll have to read the other author you mentioned. The musings on the Boston common, if I’m thinking about the same scene, I’m pretty sure is Dillon (not Doyle) … I read a bio on Higgins last summer (I think) … the guy had issues, no doubt, and he probably would’ve hated me and my politics, but I remain a sycophant to his dialogue and ability to portray what the real world of organized crime was like (very different from the horseshit in The Godfather, for instance)."
And here's what he has to see about Higgins, in a guest post at The Rap Sheet
© Peter Rozovsky 2017
Labels: George V. Higgins, movies, Samuel Fuller, The Friends of Eddie Coyle