Elmore Leonard died yesterday morning at the age of 87. The prolific author was 87 and suffered a stroke last month which at the time was thought to be non-life threatening, but quickened the passing of one of genre fictions greatest writers.
Honestly, I didn’t know much about Elmore Leonard before I started studying professional writing at the University of Oklahoma. I was more into Stephen King and Clive Barker and other supernatural flavored storytellers. However, one of my early writing classes involved reading genre authors and one of those men was Elmore Leonard.
When I, a huge movie fan, saw what all Leonard wrote, I was pretty impressed. The man started out as a western author before really moving on to his bread and butter – the mystery novel. It is clear why he was so beloved by both of my main writing instructors in college – one a mystery writer himself and the other a sci-fi and romance writer. Elmore Leonard pretty much influenced an entire generation of genre writers.
As this is a movie site, I thought I would honor the passing of Elmore Leonard with a look at his most notable movie adaptations.
Before I get started on his movie adaptations, I want to touch on one of television’s greatest shows – Justified. The series, stars Timothy Olyphant as a tough federal lawman in Kentucky. It is one of Leonard’s western themed stories and is adapted from his novels Pronto and Riding the Rap. No offense to Longmire, but Justified might be one of the best western themed TV shows on today.
Now, on to the movies.
3:10 to Yuma (1957 and 2007)
There were two versions of Elmore Leonard’s 3:10 to Yuma, each released 50 years apart from each other. The first starred Glenn Ford and Van Heflin and the second starred Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, and both were great. The story was one of Leonard’s westerns, as a straight rancher agrees to take an outlaw to his court date in Yuma, while trying to outmaneuver the outlaw’s gang. The original just got a Criterion Collection release and if you have only seen the remake, do yourself a favor and seek out the original as well.
The movies were based on an Elmore Leonard short story he wrote in 1953.
I won’t say much about it here, but as a HUGE Paul Newman fan, I would be remiss not to tell you to see out Hombre, the 1967 movie based on Leonard’s 1961 western novel. It features an Apache raised white man (Newman), who helps lead an attacked stagecoach to safety.
Much like 3:10 to Yuma, another Elmore Leonard novel that got two versions made was The Big Bounce. This was one of Leonard’s first crime novels to see made into a movie, as Ryan O’Neal stars in the original (1969) and Owen Wilson in the remake (2004). I’ll let you decide which is more worth your time.
Another interesting movie came in 1974 with the Charles Bronson starrer, Mr. Majestyk. This was one of the times where Leonard wrote the screenplay as an original work and then wrote the novelization of the movie after the fact. Bronson stars as a watermelon farmer and Vietnam vet who sets out to protect his land and life from a serial killer.
52 Pick Up came out in 1986 and starred Roy Scheider (Jaws) and Ann-Margret in a story of blackmail and murder.
Get Shorty and Be Cool
I know these movies get a raw deal from a lot of movie fans, but I happen to enjoy both of them. I discovered Get Shorty when the movie came out and then read Be Cool years before it was adapted as a sequel 10 years later.
In Get Shorty, John Travolta stars as Chili Palmer, a mobster who travels to Hollywood to collect a debt and decides he would rather be in the movie business than the mob business. It also featured some great performances by Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Danny DeVito.
The sequel came 10 years later, and while it was nowhere near as great as the first, Travolta was still entertaining and The Rock made one of his more iconic movie appearances as a gay bodyguard. I think both are great watches and even better reads if you wanna try out the books.
Jackie Brown and Out of Sight
We are now to what I consider to be the two greatest movies ever made based on the writing of Elmore Leonard. The first is Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown and the second is Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight. Both movies are based on Leonard’s crime novel world and both feature Michael Keaton appearing as the same character – ATF agent Ray Nicolette.
I consider Jackie Brown to be one of Tarantino’s finest films and one of the most underrated movies of the last 20 years. It is a movie created in a similar fashion to Kurosawa’s Rashoman, where we see the same event happen from the point of view from each person until all the pieces of the puzzle connect. It temporarily revived the careers of Pam Grier and Robert Forster and included fantastic performances by Robert De Niro, Sam Jackson and a very sexy Bridget Fonda.
While not connected to Jackie Brown in any way outside of character Ray Nicolette and author Elmore Leonard, Out of Sight starred George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez in the best role of her career. Clooney is an escaped convict and Lopez is the U.S. Marshal he abducts, before she ends up leading the hunt to bring him back to justice.
Recently, Mickey Rourke starred in Killshot (which was a fantastic novel) and Freaky Deaky came out in 2012, starring Christian Slater and Crispin Glover, but I haven’t heard anything about that movie until now.
As you can see, not only has Elmore Leonard had a huge influence in the genre fiction world (he was working on his 46th novel when he died and has over 30 published short stories as well), but he was a pretty important figure in the movie world as well. In honor of this great writer’s life, grab one of these great movies – or better yet, pick up a good book, because he has plenty to choose from, and lose yourself in his masterful words.
RIP: Elmore Leonard.