It is with some sadness that I have just learned of the death, on December the 12th at the age of 71 of that fine American film actor Peter Boyle. Boyle’s career had more lows than highs, but then, that said, in those films in which he was given an opportunity to demonstrate how good he really was, he was, to my mind at least, very capable of being nothing less than memorable.
The rather melodramatic Joe(1978), in which he played a bigoted loudmouth, would probably have sunk without trace, had it not been that he brought to the central role intensity and conviction that made the character credible, even if he was dislikable.
His fleeting impersonation of Marlon Brando in the quirkily interesting comedy Steelyard Blues, in which he starred with Donald Sutherland and Jane Fonda, was, to those who saw it, memorable. It was funny and ever so slightly disturbing.
The best work I saw him do was in the excellent screen adaptation of George V. Higgins’s crime novel The Friends of Eddy Coyle. In that film he played the key role of the “friend” to whom the eponymous ageing small-time crook and loser (Robert Mitchum) turns for help in his attempts to stay ahead of both crooks and police. Mitchum, as was usual for him when he was given well-written material to deal with, is tone-perfect as a man at the end of his tether – “I can’t afford to do no more time” he says repeatedly throughout the film – but it is the watchful apparently sympathetic Boyle who really has you riveted.
The Guardian obituary does a good job of summing up the career of an actor who probably was never given as many chances as he deserved.