The Friends of Eddie Coyle is a wonderful late-era Robert Mitchum film that I love to death. And this is a great Rolling Stone article picked up by Criterion about a very drunk Mitchum on set.
Mitchum laughs, this time with genuine amusement, and rises to fetch two more cans of beer. Sprawling back on the couch, he rumples a hand through his already tousled hair and lights one Pall Mall from the butt of another.
“I don’t know. I’ve known a lot of cops. When I was in Vietnam, I met a lot of cops—fighting cops. They were humanists—actually humanists. And they died for it, didn’t they? A lot of them died for it. They felt that people really deserved a chance, that everyone deserves to live, and they were going to fight for that. But then they died, a lot of them.
“I went to Nam in ’67, I guess it was. To find out what was happening. Some people in the Defense Department kept nudgin’ me—‘Why don’t you go find out?’ Next thing I knew, I was fallin’ off an airplane at Tan Son Nhut—February 3, and it’s 117 degrees. I went, ‘Waughhh,’ and they said, ‘Wait’ll summertime, man. It gets hot.’ It was hot all the time, and I was very impressed. I was very encouraged, enormously encouraged by what I saw. You get semi-sophisticated or cynical, you know, and it’s quite humbling to find that there are still people of high purpose and straight direction.
“I dealt mostly with Special Forces—the Green Beanie. I saw people teaching people—trying to teach them, oh, the legend about the chicken and the egg, and not to drink out of toilets, all kinds of very basic things. They were truly concerned, totally concerned. They’d come back from long search or battle stretches and immediately check into the village to see how the school was progressing. No, sir, it definitely wasn’t set up for my benefit. No way. No way for my benefit. I came in hot. They didn’t know who was comin’ in. I ended up thinking, Well, they still make good people. Good, honest people who give of themselves for other people. Like somebody’s grandmother, like that.
“Sure, they were over there to fight a war, which is wrong in principle maybe, but that wasn’t their doing, was it? Not their doing at all. There are always the advantagists, the opportunists who make a lot of money out of other people’s misery. Then, of course, there’s that French combine which controls the rights to the rice supply which feeds five-eighths of the whole world, which is the main reason for the whole caper anyway, why everybody’s hassling. And there are all the individual people who wake up in the morning and say, ‘Hey, a war’s on—let’s go get a piece of the action.’ Same way on both sides. Little slant-eyed people wake up and say, ‘Let’s grab something. Why not, as long as it’s happening.’ Get a bicycle or something. And ultimately, of course, there’re all the manufacturers who build battleships and airplanes and stuff like that. All of which is not wasteful, because it employs people—it’s just a different form of commerce. It’s a form that I don’t endorse, but there it is.
“The single thing that I’m grateful for that’s come out of the whole war mess has been some recognition of the need for communication. I’ve gone sometimes on dangerous waters in the interest of communication because I believe in it. I believe that everyone in the world should at least have the privilege of knowing what’s happening all at the same time. One thing I’ve learned is that the greatest fuckin’ slavery is ignorance, and the biggest commodity is ignorance—the dissemination of ignorance, the sale and burgeoning marketing of ignorance.
“Nah, I didn’t bother to vote yesterday. I’m an anarchist, anyway. I haven’t really been interested in voting since they took Norman Thomas off the ticket. I don’t think it makes any difference who has his duke in the till, really. I mean, you can bring on Liberace or somebody simpering about the idealism of the hardworking miners, and ‘My brother George who plays the violin is a Jew,’ and so forth and so on. Well, the idea is marvelous—really marvelous. And as I say, people go out and fight and die for it. But life is life, you know, so the new leader of Bangladesh goes to London to have his gallbladder removed, and takes over a whole floor at Claridge’s, and has a private entourage of two hundred people—two private jets he flies on. His attitude is, fuck those starvers. Fuck those starvers. Wise up, cranapple—right? Take your best shot. Well, what you do about it is do something about it. You put one brick on top of another—make it better. If you come to get it, get it. Like the Incas did to the conquistadores. When the Spaniards came for the Incas’ gold, the Incas pried open the Spaniards’ mouths and poured ’em full of the shit—all the molten gold they could fuckin’ hold.”
Mitchum drains his beer and gets another. . . .
Man after my own heart.