The Friends of Eddie Coyle: Jackie Brown’s Gun-Running Road Runner and Rollnecks
Steven Keats as Jackie Brown, swaggering street-level arms dealer
Boston, Fall 1972
Film: The Friends of Eddie Coyle
Release Date: June 26, 1973
Director: Peter Yates
Costume Designer: Eric Seelig
WARNING! Spoilers ahead!
A year after The Godfather introduced the cinematic world to the prestigious “honor among thieves” world of the Corleone crime family, The Friends of Eddie Coyle shined a gritty spotlight on the other side of the criminal spectrum: the unscrupulous robbers, rats, and gun-runners who would just as soon double-cross an erstwhile partner-in-crime if it meant an extra twenty bucks in their pocket.
There are no wood-paneled mansions, dramatic monologues, or swanky long-wheelbase limousines in Eddie Coyle’s world, a polluted Boston where our profane crooks conduct their business in dive bars and out of the trunks of the latest Detroit gas guzzler. At the surprising epicenter of these enterprises sits Eddie “Fingers” Coyle (Robert Mitchum), a long-in-the-tooth three-time loser far more at home warming his favorite saloon stool than helming an ambitious heist.
Enter Jackie Brown, an opportunistic twentysomething arms dealer motoring through the Beantown suburbs in a Plymouth Road Runner, dropping platitudes of “wisdom” about how hard life is to any of the scumbag suppliers or customers who will buy his guns. He prides himself on his caution but doesn’t recognize the irony of touting his illegal wares from his hardly unobtrusive electric green muscle car while boasting about his success to crooks all just one pinch away from spilling the proverbial beans to Boston’s finest.
Jackie’s the kind of guy who undoubtedly watched Bullitt a few too many times, styling himself as a lower-rent Steve McQueen in cheaper clothes, a cheaper car, and an arguably less reputable profession.
“He’s another Bullitt fan, but thought the movie would have been better if McQueen was a crook,” writes Joe Mazel in his excellent review of The Friends of Eddie Coyle. “For all Brown’s swagger, his connections are a pair of inept Patti Hearst-style revolutionaries (who live in the back of a van), wash-up Eddie Coyle, and his two gun-suppliers: a heroin addict and a group of idiot kids who can’t even remember to bring ammunition to gun trade. Yet he concocts these elaborate, multi-step systems for gun exchanges, something he probably picked up from the movies.”
Had any other director been helming The Friends of Eddie Coyle, we might worry that Jackie’s short attempts to emulate McQueen were the result of the filmmakers and not a flaw of the character. However, it was Peter Yates who had framed the King of Cool as he hardly broke a sweat beneath his rollneck while behind the wheel of that hunter green Mustang, and thus it’s Yates we can trust with adequately adapting the character from George V. Higgins’ novel into a wannabe who styles himself after Yates’ own most enduring cinematic output.
What’d He Wear?
In Jackie’s mind, the film we’re enjoying is The Friends of Jackie Brown, as there’s no way the narrative could resist his fashionable brilliance. He no doubt pictures his “life is hard” platitudes stenciled on a Bill Gold-designed poster above a stylized illustration of himself posing with a .45, his eyes shielded by those tinted specs as he tilts his head against the cowl of one of many off-the-rack turtlenecks.
What Jackie missed when putting together his “Bullitt-on-a-budget” wardrobe was the timeless factor that established Steve McQueen as the reigning King of Cool whose style would remain aspirational for many more than a half-century after his chase through the City by the Bay. On the other hand, Jackie opts for the latest threads that would relegate his closet to a time capsule within a decade.
Jackie’s approach to dressing is established when he makes his on-screen introduction, stepping out of his Road Runner in a burnt tan leather jacket laden with a half-dozen pockets and plenty of straps, worn unzipped over the first of a trio of turtlenecks. This first turtleneck (or rollneck) is slate blue in ribbed-knit wool, worn with dark brown woolen flannel flat front trousers.
The hip-length jacket has three pockets flanking each side of the zip front, almost completely covering the front of the jacket from armpits to hem. The lowest row of pockets are large patch pockets the size of a small purse with flaps secured in place by a vertical strap that closes through a gold-toned single-prong buckle; above that is a row of slightly smaller patch pockets, these ones each detailed with an inverted box pleat and another gently pointed flap; at the top, placed just ahead of the armpits, are the small patch pockets open at the top.
In his blog The Art of Leather Jackets, Spencer Stewart wrote that this six-pocket style was made famous by East West Leathers and has been widely reproduced by outfitters on both sides of the pond, including UK brands like Aero Leathers (as the “Hippie Jacket”) and Ibex of England and in the United States by Levi’s Vintage Clothing as the “Scorched Up” jacket.
Selecting a leather jacket may suggest less refinement than McQueen’s tweed, but Jackie could have found a more timeless approach—and another King of Cool homage—with a classic bomber like the A-2 flight jacket. Instead, Jackie chooses a blouson that could have only trended during the Nixon era, its burnt orange-hued steerhide shell worn to a softly napped patina due to spending his 40-hour workweek in the cramped cockpit of his Plymouth.
The back is detailed with a proto-Western pointed yoke across the shoulders. A short, gently slanted strap connects each side seam of the jacket with a short dart on the back; three holes on each of these pointed straps connect to a gold-toned single-prong buckle to adjust the jacket’s fit around the waist. A long brass zipper along the inside of each forearm adjusts the fit of the sleeves, expanding the sleeve as it opens.
Jackie wears the tan East West-style jacket again for his second on-screen transaction, this time brokering the sale of M16 rifles to a group of scrappy radicals planning their revolution from the back of a panel truck. This time, his ribbed rollneck is black, echoing his black leather gloves. He also dresses down with a pair of medium blue denim jeans with patch pockets in the front and back.
For the second half of Jackie Brown’s on-screen misadventures in arms trading, he wears a fashion-forward motorcycle jacket in chocolate brown suede. Though it lacks the many snaps, flaps, and straps characteristic of a classic Schott Perfecto, this soft moto jacket has broad lapels, asymmetrical front zip, and zip-up sleeves on the outside of each cuff that create open vents as they’re opened. The zip hardware is all silver-toned rather than the gold of his previous jacket.
Jackie deviates from his preferred turtlenecks for a few indoor meetings with Eddie, both times wearing vibrantly patterned shirts with the massive point collars that were so trendy during this era. The first shirt is a chaotic geometric print in shades of burgundy, beige, and black, followed by a large-scaled paisley in scarlet red, blue, silver, and gold.
Once Jackie’s nefarious duties bring him back to the relative comfort of his Road Runner’s black leather upholstery, he layers this second darker brown moto jacket over another ribbed turtleneck, this one tonally coordinated in a light tan with sets of three brown stripes ringed around the neck, body, and sleeves.
Jackie’s brown woolen trousers appear to be the same flannel flat front pants from his first scene, detailed with “frogmouth”-style front pockets and plain-hemmed bottoms with enough of a flare to coordinate with the rest of his disco-era duds. The trousers have belt loops, though Jackie foregoes a belt, perhaps to avoid a stiff obstruction against his waistline during hours spent crouching behind the wheel of his Road Runner.
Though both the jacket and trousers are a textured dark brown, there is a slight contrast between the warmer, slight russet tones of his suede jacket against his cooler brown flannel trousers.
Men’s boots had perhaps reached their zenith in the 1970s when men were wearing boots of every shade, shape, and size were worn with outfits in a wide range of formality, from ankle boots with suits and ties to cowboy boots in the city. Jackie is no exception, though his russet brown leather ankle boots with their inside zip closure are a neatly coordinated choice with the rest of this casual outfit.
Throughout this dealings, Jackie wears a set of gold-framed aviator sunglasses with yellow tinted lenses. This latter detail that serves form as well as function as yellow lenses are said to provide clearer vision for driving at night, a frequent part of Jackie’s work. The acetate brow bar suggests that Jackie wears the Ray-Ban Outdoorsman aviator model, which had been introduced in 1939 with that reinforced bar over the bridge to keep sweat from clouding a pilot’s vision.
Ray-Ban’s current run of Outdoorsman and Outdoorsman II models tend to feature the standard green or gray lenses so buyers hoping for new Ray-Bans with yellow lenses will have to catch the leather-wrapped Outdoorsman Craft when it’s back in stock or settle for a pair of black-framed Aviator Washed Evolve sunglasses with their yellow photochromic lenses. Of course, you could also seek out vintage Ray-Bans with the signature Ambermatic yellow lenses they touted would “cut the haze” in overcast weather while sharpening contrast for increased depth perception, certainly an asset for an arms dealer out of his depth in the Athens of America.
Jackie wear a gold wristwatch with a round off-white dial, secured to his left wrist on a brown leather bund strap. This wide strap is detailed with ornate orange-filled etching and two short leather tabs with gold-toned snaps that hold the watch lugs in place.
Like the way he dresses and drives, Jackie Brown’s choice of armament says plenty about his character and professionalism. A respected and reliable handgun like the M1911A1 indicates that Jackie—who makes his living selling guns—is understandably aware and likely appreciative of the virtues of this .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol, which had served as his own country’s service sidearm for nearly sixty years at the time.
However, as Jackie’s electric green whip and trendy clothes inform us, a blued or parkerized service pistol just would be a bit too subtle for our friendly neighborhood gun dealer, who springs for a pearl-gripped, nickel-plated M1911A1 with a mirrored finish that shines in the moonlight.
“Hold it! I got a .45 on ya,” Jackie shouts to the two brokers he’s buying M16 rifles from. The bore suggests that Jackie’s pistol actually is chambered in the substantial .45 ACP round, unlike the Spanish-made Star Model B copies in 9mm that were used for scenes in contemporary films like The Wild Bunch, The Getaway, Dillinger, and Three Days of the Condor that required a 1911-type pistol to be fired on screen. Occasionally, these other films used .45-caliber 1911s as stand-ins until the firing was needed, but—as Jackie doesn’t discharge his weapon on screen—Steven Keats indeed carries a genuine .45-caliber M1911A1 in The Friends of Eddie Coyle.
We’re introduced to Jackie’s work as he takes a deal to secure revolvers for a gang of bank robbers led by Jimmy Scalise (Alex Rocco), brokered by “The Beard” (Jack Kehoe). The order for thirty guns includes an array of Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers, mostly chambered in .38 Special though the Smith & Wesson Model 27 that Scalise would eventually carry for himself during a bank job would also take the longer .357 Magnum cartridge.
The Model 27 originated as the Smith & Wesson Registered Magnum when it was introduced alongside the powerful new cartridge in 1935. When Smith & Wesson began numbering its models in the 1950s, the Registered Magnum was redubbed the Model 27, sharing its large N-frame platform with the lower-cost Model 28 Highway Patrolman. Aside from the Model 28’s matte finish as opposed to the Model 27’s polished carbon steel, there was little difference in performance between the two weapons.
A popular law enforcement weapon, as its name implies, the Model 27 double-action revolver was produced in a range of barrel lengths from 3½” up to the ungainly 105⁄8“, though the classic four-inch service revolver configuration was likely among the most popular. As Eddie Coyle himself would state, “I’ve never been able to understand a man that wanted to use a machine gun… the best all-around item is the four-inch Smith. You can lift it; she goes where you point it.”
What got Eddie talking about machine guns in the first place? A driving plot point of The Friends of Eddie Coyle is Jackie’s arranged sale of M16 service rifles for Pete (Matthew Cowles) and Andrea (Margaret Ladd), a young couple of ex-hippies seeking to rob a bank.
Look, I got two problems sellin’ machine guns to people like you. The first is sellin’ machine guns, that’s life in this state! The second is sellin’ to people like you; you’re not honest.
Despite his well-deserved hesitations, Jackie can’t help but to continue the deal: “I can get you five machine guns by Friday. M16s, $350 a piece. You want ammo, it’s extra… $250 for 500 rounds.”
Firearms enthusiasts may wince each time a character refers to the M16 as a “machine gun” as it’s technically a selective-fire battle rifle, though it may as well be an M60 as far as Jackie’s concerned as the ATF had identified all selective-fire M16 rifles to fall under the purview of Title II of the Gun Control Act of 1968, which reinforced terms stipulated by the National Firearms Act enacted in 1934.
Following years of development, the M16 was first authorized for U.S. military service in 1963 and would continue to be issued in various patterns and iterations, all chambered for the 5.56x45mm NATO round derived from the .223 Remington. At the time The Friends of Eddie Coyle was written, produced, and set, the M16A1 service rifle was still the standard weapon fielded by American troops fighting in Vietnam. The weapons Jackie secured for his sale to Pete and Andrea appear to be the older-pattern M16 (rather than the M16A1), as evident by the slickside upper receivers, slabside lower receivers, and triple-prong flash hiders.
Jackie Brown deals his dangerous trade from the trunk of a 1971 Plymouth Road Runner with a black vinyl roof and a body painted in an electric shade of lime green that Chrysler designated “curious yellow” which, if I’m not mistaken, makes it one of the few mainstream American cars whose official marketing materials associated it with Swedish erotic drama.
While I may be more forgiving of the Road Runner’s appearance than blogger Joe Mazel, I absolutely love his contextualization of Jackie’s car, particularly when compared to the King of Cool:
Bullitt‘s claim to fame is McQueen’s Mustang and the car chase through San Francisco. The Friends of Eddie Coyle has its own car and subsequent chase but done in a style befitting this ode to failure. While the Bullitt Mustang is impressive, that car blends in—Bullitt has a sense of dignity. Jackie Brown’s Road Runner is an eyesore. Its near-neon shade attracts attention wherever it goes, and (much to Brown’s ire) where it goes are spots like a grocery store parking lot. As for the chase itself: the police at a MBTA station’s parking lot surround Brown. Instead of the citywide chase of Bullitt, Brown doesn’t even make it out of the parking lot before being stopped by the cops. In the world of Eddie Coyle, reality does not bend to self-image.
“Muscle cars had evolved from mainstream models with expensive special engines to expensive special models with expensive special engines,” wrote the auto editors of Consumer Guide in Kings of the Street. “What the youth of America needed was an inexpensive mainstream model with an inexpensive special engine. In ’68, Plymouth gave it to them.”
Plymouth’s new mid-size, entry-level model hit auto showrooms the previous fall with the 1968 Road Runner, built on the same B-body platform as Plymouth’s Belvedere, GTX, and Satellite models as well as its Mopar cousins, the Dodge Charger and Coronet. The new car’s name no doubt sounded familiar to Looney Tunes fans. “Plymouth paid Warner Bros. $50,000 for rights to decorate the new model with the name and likeness of a cartoon bird,” explains Kings of the Street. “It was just the right touch. The Road Runner became a smash hit… Motor Trend called it ‘the most brazenly pure, non-compromising super car in history… its simplicity is a welcome virtue.'”
Built for performance, the first generation of Road Runners only offered Mopar’s top engines. The standard model was powered by a modified 383 cubic-inch V8 rated at 335 horsepower with the legendary 426 Hemi a $714 option. In mid-1969, a 440 “Six Pack” V8 was added to the lineup. In 1970, the Road Runner began competing against itself when Plymouth introduced the even lower-cost Duster as budget-friendly muscle, providing Plymouth with a compelling reason to join the rest of Detroit in going back to the drawing board to retool their muscle in the face of rising insurance costs and regulations as America edged nearer to the 1973 oil crisis.
Thus, 1971 was a transformative year for American automotive muscle, arguably “the last stand” for the tough designs and tougher engines that U.S. consumers had come to expect from the Big Three. In the Chrysler world, Mopar bodywork was completely redesigned to a more rounded, “fuselage”-like design. “Radically sculpted metal replaced the squarish look of 1968-70,” wrote James M. Flamming in Cars of the ’70s, noting that “all mid-size Plymouths now fell under the Satellite banner.”
A four-barrel 340 V8 joined the standing trio of the Road Runner’s V8 engine options, and the standard 383 Magnum V8 was de-tuned to generate 300 horsepower. 1971 marked the last year for the big-block 426 Hemi and 440 Six Pack options, which would be gone by the following year and ostensibly replaced by a de-powered 400 cubic-inch V8.
After the 1971 high water mark, the Road Runner continued to eke through the early half of the decade, slowly losing power in the face of increasing emissions regulations until the 1974 lineup included a base model 318 V8 that generated 170 horsepower, intermediate 360 and 400 cubic-inch engines, and a big-block 440 V8 generating 275 horsepower and mated only to the three-speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission.
The third and final generation of the Road Runner was produced for the 1975 model year only before it was transitioned to a trim level for the Plymouth Volaré compact car through the end of the ’70s, a considerably ignominious end for a once great Plymouth powerhouse.
1971 Plymouth Road Runner
Body Style: 2-door hardtop coupe
Layout: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive (RWD)
Engine: 383 cu. in. (6.3 L) Plymouth “Commando” V8 with Holley 4-barrel carburetor
Power: 300 hp (223.5 kW; 304 PS) @ 4800 RPM
Torque: 410 lb·ft (556 N·m) @ 3400 RPM
Transmission: 4-speed manual
Wheelbase: 115 inches (2921 mm)
Length: 203.2 inches (5161 mm)
Width: 79.1 inches (2009 mm)
Height: 52.7 inches (1339 mm)
“I always wanted to see what these things can do. You get the Magnum mill?” one of Jackie’s buyers asks him.
“No, I got the Hemi. 383 Hemi,” Jackie responds.
Right away, muscle car enthusiasts know something is awry as the 383 V8 (which he clearly has) was indeed marketed by select Chryslers as the “383 Magnum” while the Hemi applied at the time only to a specific, high-performance 426 cubic-inch V8.
This misleading dialogue was lifted directly from the text of George V. Higgins’ novel, which describes Jackie driving a metallic blue Road Runner with TorqueFlite transmission. While the simplest theory would be that Higgins had simply made a mistake that was translated to the screen, the mix-up also cements Jackie as the ultimate poser; he has the equipment, but he doesn’t know anything about it.
Jackie knows he has the 383, a fact undeniable to anyone who sees the clearly marked “383” on the hood cowl, and he’s also likely to know that the Hemi engine is the “holy grail” of Mopar muscle. This telling dialogue suggests either that Jackie is truly ignorant of what he’s got under the hood, or he assumes his younger passenger would just take his word for the fact that he’s driving the top performance option.
How to Get the Look
Jackie Brown was the sort of character I thought was cool when I was 20 years old, but now more than a decade on, he reads like a mildly effective facsimile who focused far more on style than substance, in turn establishing his own self-image that he hadn’t the aptitude to sustain with any authenticity. There’s plenty of “retro cool” value in his clothes and car, but—as Jackie failed to learn—you’d be best advised to incorporate the sensibilities of his style and make it your own.
Jackie’s base look consisted of soft brown leather zip-up jackets over ribbed turtlenecks with dark trousers, ankle boots, and personalized accessories… which should be enough of a template for the aspiring fashion plate to craft a look that Jackie himself would want to copy!
- Brown leather hip-length biker jacket, either:
- Tan steerhide zip-front jacket with six pockets, zip-up sleeves, and rear adjuster tabs, or
- Dark brown suede motorcycle jacket with asymmetrical front zip and zip-up sleeves
- Slate-blue, black, or tan (with brown triple stripe sets) ribbed wool turtleneck
- Dark brown woolen flannel flat front trousers with belt loops, frogmouth front pockets, and flared plain-hemmed bottoms
- Russet brown leather inside-zip ankle boots
- Gold-framed “Outdoorsman”-style aviator sunglasses with acetate brow bar and yellow-tinted lenses
- Gold wristwatch with off-white dial on brown orange-etched leather bund strap
- Black leather gloves
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie and read George V. Higgins’ 1970 novel.
This life’s hard, man, but it’s harder if you’re stupid!
Excellent like usual!
There actually was a neon lime green option that was a more saturated green, called Lime-A-Way for Plymouths and Sublime for Dodges, but it was only available on the Six Pack and Superbird Roadrunners and Charger Daytonas, like the other “Impact” colors. Although it was brighter, it was less obnoxious than the lighter green Jackie’s car is painted, partly because the matte black accents on the 1969-70 Six Pack Road Runners toned it down somewhat.
Never called “Lime a way” it was “Limelight” for Plymouths 1970-71.
Much appreciation for your very thorough and humorous take on a character from my favorite crime movie; it made my day and had me cracking up! I was glad you called the A-2 flight jacket a classic, since I recently got one. I tried to combine it with other things from my closet to craft my own “gun runner” look (except I balked at having my friend’s body shop paint my Accord curious yellow). Believe it or don’t, my girlfriend looked at me with new-found respect, although when I started to say “Life is hard…” she cut me off. So thank you for the style advice and best of luck with your site!