Elmore Leonard

(1925-2013)

“. . . I don’t think of them as bad guys. I just think of them as, for the most part, normal people who get up in the morning and they wonder what they’re going to have for breakfast, and they sneeze, and they wonder if they should call their mother, and then they rob a bank. Because that’s the way they are. . . .”
Elmore Leonard on his characters

Not a private eye writer, really, but many of ELMORE LEONARD‘s protagonists (it would be too charitable to call them heroes) fulfill most of the requirements of what most of us deem necessary for “private eye” status, being loners or outsiders of some sort trying to follow what they feel is a code of honour, be they bail bondsman, bounty hunters, airline stewardesses, or car thieves.

And it’s hard to believe many crime writers following in his wake, particularly at the harder, tougher end of the spectrum, haven’t been at least partially inspired by his taut, tight dialogue-heavy style.

Sure, Jack Ryan, for example, a thief who shows up in a couple of his early books, and becomes a process server in Unknown Man No. 89 (1977) might be considered a P.I. of sorts, and a case could be made for a handful of Leonard’s other characters as private eyes, at least as defined on this site. But honestly, with stuff this good, who cares about splitting hairs? If you like Chandler, Hammett, Stark, Block, etc., you’ll like Elmore Leonard.

And make no mistake, he was one hell of a writer–not just a genre writer, but, as Stephen King tagged Leonard, “the great American writer.” His writing took all that was good and true about earlier pulp fiction and jacked it up for a modern era. As Publishers Weekly put it, “his fiction valued dialogue, urgency and agency over muddling prose.”

Or, as Leonard himself famously once proclaimed, he “left out the stuff people didn’t read.”

In other words, in Leonard’s fiction, people talk and things happen. Relentlessly.

* * * * *

Leonard was one of those guys who wrote and wrote and wrote, for years and years and years, only to become an “overnight success” in the nineteen eighties.

Elmore John “Dutch” Leonard Jr. was born October 11, 1925 in New Orleans, but the family moved often–his father was a location scout for General Motors.  Eventually, though, the family settled down in the Detroit area when young Elmore was about nine. He attended University of Detroit Jesuit High School and graduated in 1943, smack dab in the middle of the Second World War. After being rejected for the Marines for weak eyesight, he joined the Navy (the Marines rejected him for he had poor vision),  and he he served for three years in the South Pacific.

Upon his return home, he enrolled at the University of Detroit, and eventually received a bachelor’s degree in English and Philosophy. While still in university, he landed a copywriting gig with a local advertising agency, Campbell-Ewald, and perhaps more significantly, began entering his short stories in various contests and  submitting them to magazines. Westerns were big at the time, so he wrote Westerns. He landed his first sale in in the December 1951 issue of Argosy with “Trail of the Apaches.” 

Upon graduation, he continued at Campbell-Ewald for several years, writing in his spare time and at linch. Encouraged by his first sale, he continued writing short stories and submitting them to the Western pulps, and sold his first novel, The Bounty Hunters, in 1953. His Westerns met with considerable success, and he wrote four more, all while still working as a copywriter in Detroit. He even made several sales to Hollywood (most notably 3:10 to Yuma and Hombre), but change was in the wind.

In 1969, though, he sold his first “real” crime novel, The Big Bounce, but his writing was already developing, dialogue-rich plots that often veered off in unexpected directions, peppered with increasingly diverse characters, often on the fringe of society.

It was really only the settings that changed. Hell, most of his Westerns read like crime novels, anyway. It’s easy to re-imagine Hombre, for example, recast in modern times, as a crime novel, with an abandoned shopping mall and Greyhound bus replacing the deserted mine and stage coach.

Elmore’s always been a quality act–it just took the reading public a little while to catch up to him. The drop-dead dialogue, the moral ambivalence, the shady two-bit hoods, be they cattle rustlers or drug dealers, stage coach robbers or carjackers, all struggling for their piece of the pie, have always been there. The normal joes, caught between various rocks and assorted hard places, trying to not so much do the right thing, as the least-wrong thing, and hopefully survive, remained constants in his writing over a career that lasted a remarkable sixty years.

And if the reading public was ignoring him in the early part of his career, Hollywood wasn’t. They continued to adapt his short stories and novels for film, and more than a few (Jackie Brown, Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Hombre, the TV series Justified) have been excellent.

In fact, given the quality of the source material, the real mystery may be how anyone can make a bad flick from a Elmore Leonard book. And yet, much to his–and our–dismay, they did. Regularly.

Why?

The answer may come from Elmore himself. In Elmore’s office, the tale goes, was a movie poster promoting Burt Reynold’s Stick, one of the most dismal and disappointing of all the flicks based on his work, made worse by the fact Leonard himself participated in writing the original screenplay. The tag for the film reads “The only thing he couldn’t stick to were the rules.”

Elmore himself had crossed out the word “rules” and substituted “the script.”

But eventually the reading public came around. In the latter part of his career, Leonard became a mainstay on the bestseller lists, and garnered awards and acclaim, becoming one of the most respected crime writers around, receiving everything from the Lifetime Achievement Award from PEN USA to the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

When he passed away on August 20, 2013, we lost a great one.

UNDER OATH

  • “The great American writer.”
    — Stephen King
  • “The reason (I think) some of us prefer Leonard to most others is that he speaks to us as accomplices. Probably, much of this comes from the conversational nature of his style and his use of dialogue, a bit from his “observer,” viewpoint, and the rest from his attitude about his characters, their situation and the world in general. If Leonard is your guy, even his weak stuff is told in a way that entertains, makes you smile, delivers some truth about the way we behave, and that lets us in on the joke, whatever it is.”
    — Jim Blue (May 2000, Rara-Avis)
  • “The greatest crime writer of our time, perhaps ever.”
    The New York Times

NOVELS

 

SHORT STORIES

  • “Trail of the Apache” (December 1951, Argosy; aka “Apache Agent”)
  • “Apache Medecine” (May 1952, Dime Western; aka “Apache”)
  • “You Never See Apaches…” (September 1952, Dime Western; aka “Eight Days fromWillcox”)
  • “Red Hell Hits Canyon Diablo” (October 1952, 10 Story Western Magazine; aka “Tizwin)
  • “The Colonel’s Lady” (November 1952, Zane Grey’s Western Magazine; aka “Road to Inspiration”)
  • “Law of the Hunted Ones” (December 1952, Western Story Magazine; aka “Outlaw Pass”)
  • “Cavalry Boots” (December 1952, Zane Grey’s Western Magazine)
  • “Under the Friar’s Lodge” (January 1953, Zane Grey’s Western Magazine)
  • “The Rustlers” (February 1953, Zane Grey’s Western Magazine; aka “Along the Pecos”)
  • “Three-Ten To Yuma” (March 1953, Dime Western)
  • “The Big Hunt” (April 1953, Western Story Magazine; “Matt Gordon’s Boy”)
  • “Long Night” (May 1953, Zane Grey’s Western Magazine)
  • “The Boy Who Smiled” (June 1953, Gunsmoke)
  • “The Hard Way” (August 1953, Zane Grey’s Western Magazine)
  • “The Last Shot” (September 1953, Fifteen Western Tales; aka “A Matter of Duty”)
  • “Blood Money” (October 1953, Western Story Magazine; aka “Rich Miller’s Hand”)
  • “Trouble at Rindo’s Station” (October 1953, Argosy; aka “Rindo’s Station”)
  • “Saint With a Six-Gun” (October 1954, Argosy; aka “The Hanging of Bobby Valdez”)
  • “The Captives” (February 1955, Argosy)
  • “No Man’s Guns” (August 1955, Western Story Roundup)
  • “The Rancher’s Lady” (September 1955, Western Magazine; aka “The Woman from Tascosa”)
  • “Jugged” (December 1955, Western Magazine; aka “The Boy from Dos Cabezas”)
  • “Moment of Vengeance” (April 21, 956, The Saturday Evening Post; aka “The Waiting Man”)
  • “Man with the Iron Arm” (September 1956, Complete Western Book; aka “The One Arm Man”)
  • “The Longest Day of His Life” (October 1956, Western Novel and Short Stories)
  • “The Nagual” (November 1956, Two-Gun Western; aka “The Accident at Joe Stam’s”)
  • “The Kid” (December 1956, Western Short Stories; aka “The Gift of Regalo”)
  • “Only Good Ones” (1961, Roundup: Writers of America Anthology)
  • “The Tonto Woman” (1982, Roundup: Western Writers of America Anthology)
  • “Hurrah for Capt. Early” (1994, New Trails: Western Writers of America Anthology)
  • “Karen Makes Out” (1996, Murder For Love; 1996, MHCMM; Karen Sisco)
  • “Sparks” (1999, Murder and Obsession; also Summer 1999, MHCMM; Ray Canavan, arson investigator)
  • “Hanging Out at the Buena Vista” (June 13, 1999, USA Weekend)
  • “Chickasaw Charlie Hoke” (2001, Murderer’s Row)
  • “Fire in the Hole” (2001, Contentville Press e-book)
  • “Tenkiller” (2002, When the Women Come Out to Dance & Other Stories)
  • “When the Women Come Out to Dance” (2002, When the Women Come Out to Dance & Other Stories)
  • “Showdown at Checotah” (2003, McSweeney’s Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales; Carl Webster)
  • “Louly and Pretty Boy” (2005, Dangerous Women, Carl Webster)
  • “Comfort to the Enemy” (2005-06, The New York Times Magazine; Carl Webster)
  • “Chick Killer” (2011, McSweeney’s 39; Karen Sisco)
  • “The Only Good Syrian Foot Soldier is a Dead One” (February-May 2013, The Strand Magazine)
  • “One Horizontal” (2015, Charlie Martz & Other Stories)
  • “Charlie Martz” (2015, Charlie Martz & Other Stories)
  • “Siesta in Paloverde” (2015, Charlie Martz & Other Stories)
  • “Time of Terror” (2015, Charlie Martz & Other Stories)
  • “A Happy, Lighthearted People” (2015, Charlie Martz & Other Stories)
  • “Arma Virumque Cano” (2015, Charlie Martz & Other Stories)
  • “Confession” (2015, Charlie Martz & Other Stories)
  • “Evenings Away from Home” (2015, Charlie Martz & Other Stories)
  • “For Something to Do” (2015, Charlie Martz & Other Stories)
  • “The Italian Cut” (2015, Charlie Martz & Other Stories)
  • “The Line Rider” (2015, Charlie Martz & Other Stories)
  • “The Trespassers” (2015, Charlie Martz & Other Stories)
  • “The Bull Ring at Blisston” (2015, Charlie Martz & Other Stories)
  • “Rebel on the Run” (2015, Charlie Martz & Other Stories)

COLLECTIONS

  • The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories (1998) Buy this book
  • When the Women Come Out to Dance, and Other Stories (2003) Buy this book
  • The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard (2004) Buy this book
  • Three-Ten to Yuma and Other Stories (2006) Buy this book
  • Blood Money and Other Stories (2006) Buy this book Kindle it!.
  • Comfort to the Enemy and Other Stories (2009) Buy this book Kindle it!
    Collects the Carl Webster stories.
  • Fire in the Hole (2012) Buy this book Kindle it!
  • Elmore Leonard: Four Novels of the 1970s (2014) Buy this book
    LOA edition includes Fifty-Two Pickup, Swag, Unknown Man No. 89 and The Switch.
  • Charlie Martz & Other Stories (anthology)…Buy this bookKindle it!
    A collection of fifteen early stories, most of them unpublished, including several westerns, show Leonard honing his craft — and introducing characters we would see again.
  • Elmore Leonard: Four Novels of the 1980s (2015) Buy this book
    LOA edition includes City Primeval, LaBrava, Glitz and Freaky Deaky.
  • Leonard, Elmore, Four Later Novels (2016) Buy this book Kindle it!
    LOA edition includes Get Shorty, Rum Punch, Out of Sight and Tishomingo Blues

FILMS

 

  • THREE-TEN TO YUMA | Buy this video
    (1957, Coumbia)
    92 minutes
    Based on the story by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Halsted Welles
    Directed by Delmer Daves
    Theme song performed by Frankie Laine
    Original music by George Duning
    Cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr.
    Produced by David Heilweil
    Starring Van Heflin as DAN EVANS
    and Glenn Ford as BEN WADE
    Also starring Felicia Farr, Leora Dana, Henry Jones, Richard Jaekel, Robert Emhardt, Ford Rainey
  • THE TALL T
    (1957, Columbia)
    78 minutes
    Based on the story “The Captives” by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Burt Kennedy
    Directed by Budd Boetticher
    Original music by Heinz Roemheld
    Cinematography by Charles Lawton Jr.
    Produced by Harry Joe Brown
    Assistant producer: David Breen
    Associate producer: Randolph Scott
    Starring Randolph Scott as Pat Brennan
    and Richard Boone as Usher
    Also starring Maureen O’Sullivan, Arthur Hunnicutt, Skip Homeier, Henry Silva, John Hubbard, Robert Burton, Robert Anderson, Fred Sherman
  • HOMBRE | Buy the video Buy the DVD Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (1967, 20th Century-Fox)
    111 minutes
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr.
    Directed by Martin Ritt
    Starring Paul Newman as JOHN RUSSELL
    Also starring Frederic March, Richard Boone, Diane Cilento, Cameron Mitchell, Barbara Rush, Martin Balsam
    Produced by Irving Ravetch and Martin Ritt
    I remember reading the paperback when I was only ten or so, and thinking how grown-up I must be. My first Leonard. It was only years later that I saw the film.
  • THE BIG BOUNCE
    (1969, Warner Brothers)
    102 minutes
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Elmore Leonard
    Directed by Alex March
    Original music by Mike Curb
    Cinematography by Howard Schwartz
    Starring Ryan O’Neal as JACK RYAN
    Also starring Leigh-Taylor Young, James Daly, Robert Webber, Lee Grant, Van Helflin
  • THE MOONSHINE WAR
    (1970, MGM)
    100 minutes
    Screenplay by Elmore Leonard, based on his novel
    Directed by Richard Quine
    Cinematography by Richard H. Kline
    Original music by Neal Hefti, Fred Karger
    Associate producers:Leonard Blair, James C. Pratt
    Producer: Martin Ransohoff
    Starring Patrick McGoohan, Richard Widmark, Alan Alda, Melodie Johnson, Will Geer, Joe Williams, Lee Hazlewood, Harry Carey Jr., Tom Nolan, John Schuck, Bo Hopkins, Teri Garr
  • VALDEZ IS COMING Buy the video
    (1971, Norlan)
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Roland Kibbee and David Rayfiel
    Directed by Edwin Sherin
    Associate producer: Sam Manners
    Producer: Ira Steiner
    Executive producer: Roland Kibbee
    Starring Burt Lancaster as BOB VALDEZ
    Also starring Susan Clark, Frank Silvera, Jon Cypher, Richard Jordan, Barton Heyman, Hector Elizondo, Phil Brown, Ralph Brown
  • JOE KIDD | Buy the video Buy the DVD Buy the Blu-Ray
    (1972, Universal)
    88 minutes
    Written by Elmore Leonard
    Directed by John Sturges
    Cinematography by Bruce Surtees
    Original music by Lalo Schifrin
    Produced by Sidney Beckerman
    Executive producer: Robert Daley
    Starring Clint Eastwood as JOE KIDD
    Also starring Robert Duvall, John Saxon, Don Stroud, Stella Garcia, James Wainwright, Paul Koslo, Gregory Walcott, Dick Van Patten, Lynn Marta
  • MR. MAJESTYK | Buy the video Buy the DVD Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (1974, Mirisch Company/United Artists)
    103 minutes
    Screenplay by Elmore Leonard (later novelized)
    Directed by Richard Fleischer
    Cinematography by Richard H. Kline
    Original music by Charles Bernstein
    Produced by Walter Mirisch
    Starring Charles Bronson as VINCE MAJESTYK
    Also starring Al Lettieri, Linda Cristal, Lee Purcell, Paul Koslo, Alejandro Rey, Taylor Lacher, Frank Maxwell, Bert Santos
    Believe it or not, this is a one damn fine flick, with Bronson as one hard-nosed, um, watermelon farmer. Recommended. It’s all about the melons, man.
  • THE AMBASSADOR
    (aka “Peacemaker”)
    (1984, Northbrook Films/Cannon Group)
    97 minutes
    Based on the novel 52 Pick-Up by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Max Jack
    Directed by J. Lee Thompson
    Original music by Dov Seltzer
    Associate producer: Isaac Kol
    Produced by Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan
    Starring Robert Mitchum, Ellen Burstyn, Rock Hudson, Fabio Testi, Donald Pleasence, Michael Bat-Adam, Heli Goldenberg, Ori Levy
    In Rock Hudson’s last film, Leonard’s auto parts manufacturer becomes a U.S. ambassador (MItchum) trying to negotiate peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Go figure.
  • STICK Buy the DVD Watch it now!
    (1985, Universal)
    109 minutes
    Tagline: The only thing he couldn’t stick to were the rules.
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Elmore Leonard and Joseph Stinson
    Directed by Burt Reynolds
    Cinematography by Nick McLean
    Original music by Joseph Conlan, Barry De Vorzon  Associate producer: David Gershenson   (associate)
    Executive co-producer: William Gordean
    Producer: Jennings Lang
    Executive producer: Robert Daley
    Starring Burt Reynolds as ERNEST “STICK” STICKLEY
    Also starring Candace Bergen, George Segal, Charles Durning, Jose Perez, Richard Lawson, Alex Rocco, Tricia Leigh Fisher, Dar Robinson, Castulo Guerra
    Originally slated for 1984 release, but hauled back for some reshooting. Rumours have it that that Candace Bergen sent Leonard an apology– not just for her performance, but the whole movie.
  • 52 PICK-UP | Buy the video Buy the DVD Watch it now!
    (1986, Cannon Group)
    111 minutes
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Elmore Leonard and John Steppling
    Directed by John Frankenheimer
    Cinematography by Jost Vacano
    Original music by Gary Chang
    Produced by Yoram Globus, Menahem Golan
    Executive producer: Henry T. Weinstein
    Starring Roy Scheider as HARRY MITCHELL
    and Ann-Margaret as Barbara Mitchell
    Also starring Vanity, John Glover, Robert Trebor, Lonny Chapman, Kelly Preston, Clarence Williams III, Doug McClure, Alex Henteloff
  • THE ROSARY MURDERS | Buy the video Buy the Blu-Ray
    (1987)
    105 minutes
    Based on the novel by William X. Kienzle
    Screenplay by Elmore Leonard and Fred Walton
    Directed by Fred Walton
    Associate producer: Chris Coles
    Executive producers: Robert G. Laurel, Michael R. Mihalich.
    Starring Donald Sutherland, Charles Durning, Belinda Bauer, Josef Somer, Roger Angelini, Anita Barone, B. Constance Barry
  • CAT CHASER | Buy the DVD Watch it now!
    (1989, Vestron Pictures)
    97 minutes
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by James Borrelli & Elmore Leonard
    Directed by Abel Ferrara
    Music by Chick Corea
    Cinematography by Anthony B. Richmond
    Producers: Peter S. Davis, William Panzer, Mari Provenzano
    Executive producer: Guy Collins, Josi Konski
    Starring Peter Weller as GEORGE MORAN
    Also starring Kelly McGillis, Charles Durning, Frederic Forrest, Tomas Milian, Juan Fernandez
  • BORDER SHOOTOUT | Buy the video
    (1990)
    110 minutes
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by C.J. McIntyre
    Directed by C.J. McIntyre
    Original music by Coley Music Group
    Cinematography by Dennis Dalzell
    Produced by C.T. McIntyre
    Starring Cody Glenn as KIRBY FRYE
    and Michael Forrest as Earl Beaudry
    Also starrng Michael Horse, Jeff Kaake, Lizabeth Rohovit, Charlene Tilton, Russell Todd, George Salazar, Danny Nelson, Sam Smiley, Don Starr , Ed Gable, Glenn Ford
    Young rancher Kirby Frye is appointed deputy in a small town tyrannized by ruthless Phil Sundeen, the son of one of the founders of the town in this film based on an early Leonard western.
  • GET SHORTY | Buy the video Buy the DVD Buy the Blu-Ray
    (1995, Jersey Films/MGM)
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Scott Frank
    Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
    Producers: Danny DeVito, Graham Place, Susan Ringo, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher
    Executive producer: Barry Sonnenfeld
    Original music by John Lurie
    Cinematography by Donald Peterman
    Starring John Travolta as CHILI PALMER
    Also starring Dennis Farina, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, James Gandolfini, Jon Gries, Bobby Slayton
  • TOUCH | Buy the video Buy the video
    (1997, MGM)
    96 minutes
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Written and directed by Paul Schrader
    Produced by Fida Attieh, Lila Cazès
    Associate producer: Trek T. Kelly
    Co-producer: Llewellyn Wells   (co-producer)
    Original music by David Grohl
    Cinematography by Ed Lachman
    Starring Skeet Ulrich as JUVENAL
    Also starring LL Cool J, Gina Gershon, Conchata Ferrell, John Doe, Christopher Walken, María Celedonio, Chris Hogan, Anthony Zerbe, Bridget Fonda, William Newman, Tom Arnold, Breckin Meyer, Matt O’Toole, Richard Fancy
    Based on Leonard’s outsider non-western, non-crime novel, this one’s about a faith healer who just may be the real thing…
  • JACKIE BROWN | Buy this DVD Buy the Blu-Ray Buy this video
    (1997, Miramax)
    Based on the novel Rum Punch, by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino
    Directed by Quentin Tarantino
    Starring Pam Grier, Robert Forster, Samuel L. Jackson, Bridget Fonda, Robert DeNiro
    Great acting really pushes a tight plot along. Pam Grier and Robert Forster are superb. Looks like Quentin’s aiming for a career this time, not a reputation. It’s long, and slow-moving (but not slow), but eventually it all wraps up. Definitely not for the Johnny-come-lately Pulp Fiction groupies who came expecting exploding heads and zoom-ins on gunshot wounds. It’s an solid, intelligent, well-done caper flick that won’t make you feel cheap in the morning. Alas, right after this, Quentin went off the deep end for a decade, playing to the cheap seats of his inner-fanboy.
  • OUT OF SIGHT Buy this DVD Buy this video
    (1998, Jersey Films/Universal)
    122 minutes
    Screenplay by Scott Frank
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Directed by Steve Soderbergh (sex, lies and videotape)
    Produced by Danny DeVito, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher
    Executive producers: John Hardy, Barry Sonnenfeld
    Starring Jennifer Lopez as KAREN SISCO
    and George Clooney
    Also starring Ving Rhames, Albert Brooks, Don Cheadle, Steve Zahn
    One of the best Elmore adaptations, and possibly J Lo’s best movie performance. Served as inspiration for 2003-04 ABC TV series Karen Sisco, also excellent.
  • THE BIG BOUNCE
    (2004, Warner Brothers)
    Release Date: January 30, 2004
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Sebastian Gutierrez and George Armitage
    Directed by George Armitage
    Producers: Jorge Saralegui, George Armitage, Steve Bing
    Executive producers: Brent Armitage, Zane Weiner
    Starring Owen Wilson as Jack Ryan
    Also starring Morgan Freeman, Sara Foster, Gary Sinise, Charlie Sheen, Vinnie Jones, Bebe Neuwirth, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Harry Dean Stanton
    Remake of 1969 flick which starred Ryan O’Neal, based on Elmore Leonard’s first crime novel. “Re-imagined” as a romantic comedy, and now set on the exotic North Shore of Oahu. Owen Wilson as a likeable drifter/thief who hooks up with a thrill-loving woman specializing in good looks and petty scams. When she tries to seduce him into double-crossing his former boss, a shady real estate developer, for a chunk of cash, it could be the perfect score or the perfect set-up.
  • BE COOL Buy the DVD Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (2004)
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Starring John Travolta, Uma Thurman
    Sequel to Get Shorty, with Travolta returning to his role as Chili Palmer. Exceedingly meh.
  • 3:10 to YUMA Buy the DVD Buy the Blu-ray
    (2007)
    Tagline: Time waits for one man
    Based on the short story by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Halsted Welles, Michael Brandt and Derek Haas
    Directed by James Mangold
    Starring Russell Crowe, Christian Bale, Logan Lerman, Dallas Roberts, Ben Foster, Peter Fonda, Vinessa Shaw, Gretchen Mol
    Since the marshal in the original story by Leonard (and the previous 1957 film starring Glenn Ford) is now a small-time rancher who’s HIRED to transport a captured outlaw to a train that will take him to court in Yuma, does this deliberately old-fashioned western qualify as a P.I. film?
  • KILLSHOT | Buy the DVD Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (2009, Weinstein Company)
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Hossein Amini
    Directed by John Madden
    Starring Diane Lane, Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Rosario Dawson, Thomas Jane
    A relentless, uncompromising stab at the Elmore Leonard novel. This is noir straight up, no chaser. Lane steals the show (as a woman in the Federal Witness Protection Program who is anything but protected), but the entire powerhouse cast is to die for. Too bad it fell through the cracks, and nobody saw it–if this had been properly released, the accolades Rourke collected for his “comeback” in The Wrestler would have come a few years earlier. He’s scene-chewing creepy here, as the deranged hitman out to make Lane’s life horrible.
  • FREAKY DEAKY Buy the DVD Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now!
    (2012)
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Charles Matthau
    Directed by Charles Matthau
    Starring Billy Burke, Christian Slater, Crispin Glover, Michael Jae White, Andy Dick
    A couple of former sixties radicals decide they’d rather be rich, and end up tangling with a recently fired member of the Detroit bomb squad, but the film itself is uneven, and often a dud. Directed by Charles Matthau, there are a number of shout-outs to his dad tucked, mostly shots of theatre marques in the background.
  • LIFE OF CRIME Buy the DVD Buy the Blu-Ray Watch it now
    (2013)
    Tagline: “Right target. Wrong woman.”
    Based on the novel The Switch by Elmore Leonard
    Written and directed by Daniel Schecter
    Starring Jennifer Aniston, Yasiin Bey, Isla Fisher, Will Forte, Tim Robbins, Mark Boone Junior, John Hawkes, Mos Def
    Not prime Leonard, but still rather enjoyable in a fluff noir kinda way. Aniston is surprisingly likable as the bored but well-intentioned trophy wife turned kidnap victim, and Robbins is fun as the sleazy husband who ponders whether he should pay the ransom. This one slipped through the cracks, but–much to our considerable surprise, the Girl Detective and I actually liked it.

FILMS THAT COULDA BEEN CONTENDERS

Of course, like many successful writers, Leonard had a lot of his work optioned over the years, only to have the projects wither somewhere on the production vine. Here are some of the most promising ones:.

  • LA BRAVA
    (in development, Universal?)
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen
    We all saw what the brothers did for True Grit. This one woulda been so cool…
  • 40 LASHES
    (2001, in development; Miramax)
    Based on the novel Forty Lashes Less One by Elmore Leonard
    Screenplay by Quentin Tarantino
    Directed by Quentin Tarantino
    Years before Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, Tarantino was thinking of doing a western. Two men facing life sentences in Yuma Prison–a black man and an Apache halfbreed–are offered their freedom in exchange for tracking down five dangerous outlaws. Another horse opera that bit the dust!!!
  • TENKILLER
    (2002, in development; Paramount Pictures)
    Based on the novella by Elmore Leonard
    Producers: Arnold Rifkin and Michael Siegel
    Starring Bruce Willis
    An ex-rodeo star leaves to become a successful Hollywood stuntman. When he heads home, he finds that unsavories have taken over the family ranch. and another one down, another one down…

TELEVISION

  • HIGH NOON, PART II THE RETURN OF WILL KANE
    (aka “High Noon, Part II, The Return of Will Kane”)
    (1980, CBS)
    TV movie
    Teleplay by Elmore Leonard
    Directed by Jerry Jameson
    Produced by Edward Montagne
    Starring Lee Majors as WILL KANE
    Also starring Frank Campanella, Katherine Cannon, David Carradine, Britt Leach, Michael Pataki, J.A. Preston, Pernell Roberts, M. Emmet Walsh, Tracey Walter, Tiny Wells
  • GLITZ | Buy this video
    (1988 , Lorimar)
    99 minutes
    TV movie
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Teleplay by Stephen Zito
    Directed by Sandor Stern
    Cinematography by Richard Bowen
    Original music by Dana Kaproff
    Produced by Steven R. McGlothen
    Executive producers: Gary Adelson, David R. Ginsburg
    Starring Jimmy Smits as VINCENT MARRA
    Also starring John Diehl, Markie Post, Ken Foree, Madison Mason, Robin Strasser, Geno Silva, James Purcell, Patrie Allen
  • SPLIT IMAGES
    (1992)
    TV movie
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Teleplay by Vera Appleyard
    Directed by Sheldon Larry
    Produced by Zev Braun, Ken Gord
    Starring Gregory Harrison as ROBBIE DANIELS
    Also starring Robert Collins, Rebecca Jenkins, Steve Whistance-Smith, Maury Chaykin, David Hewlett, Melody Ryane, Dennis O’Connor, Tom Hollis, Nicholas Campbell, Kristina Nicoll, Eugene Clark
  • GOLD COAST | Buy this video
    (aka “Elmore Leonard’s Gold Coast”)
    (1997, made for cable)
    TV movie
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Directed by Peter Weller
    Starring David Caruso as MAGUIRE
    Also starring Barry Primus, Marg Helgenberger, Jeff Kober, Wanda De Jesus, Richard Bradford, Melissa Ramone, Rafael Báez
  • LAST STAND AT SABER RIVER | Buy this video
    (1997, TNT)
    TV movie
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Teleplay by Ron Cohen
    Directed by Dick Lowry
    Executive producers: Michael Brandman, Tom Selleck
    Original music by David Shire
    Cinematography by Ric Waite
    Starring Tom Selleck as PAUL CABLE
    Also starring Suzy Amis, Rachel Duncan, Haley Joel Osment, Keith Carradine, David Carradine, Tracey Needham, Chris Stacy, Harry Carey Jr., Patrick Kilpatrick, David Dukes, Raymond Cruz
  • PRONTO | Buy this video
    (1997, Showtime)
    TV movie
    100 minutes, rated R
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Teleplay by Michael Butler
    Directed by Jim McBride
    Producers: Richard Berg, Chris Danton, Allan Marcil
    Original music by John Altman
    Cinematography by Affonso Beato
    Starring Peter Falk as Harry Arno (Henri Arnaud in novel)
    James LeGros as RAYLAN GIVENS
    and Glenne Headly as Joyce Patton
    Also starring Sergio Castellitto, Walter Olkewicz, Luis Guzmán, Bradford Tatum, Therese Kablan, Franco Trevisi, Armando De Razza, Francesca De Sapio, Glenn Plummer, Nikos Papatheodorou, Giorgos Iaokoyydis, Kathy Skalldou
  • MAXIMUM BOB
    (1998)
    Series
    6 60-minute episodes
    Debut: August 4, 1998
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
    Starring Beau Bridge as MAXIMUM BOB GIBBS
    Also starring Liz Vassey, Kiersten Warren, Sam Robards
    This summer replacement tried, but never quite got there.
  • KAREN SISCO
    (2003, ABC)
    Series
    Based on characters created by Elmore Leonard
    Developed for television by Jason Smilovic
    Starring Carla Gugino as KAREN SISCO
    with Robert Forster as Marshall Sisco
    and Bill Duke as Amos Andrews
    Guest stars: Gary Cole, Patrick Dempsey, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman
    Yes! Sassy, sexy, and fun to watch. Not much angst, but a lot of zip. Carla Gugino shone as the dedicated U.S. Federal Marshal with really bad taste (and luck) when it comes to men (Jennifer Lopez played her in the theatrical release, Out of Sight). And Forster, as Karen’s private eye dad, is the show’s secret weapon. But, this being a witty, entertaining show that wasn’t exactly like every other crime show on the tube, ABC dicked around with it, pitting it first against NBC’s Law and Order behemoth, and then consigning it to various spots in the schedule where nobody could ever find it, finally cancelling it because it never got the numbers. Well, DUH!!!
  • JUSTIFIED
    (2010-15, FX)
    Series
    Based on characters created by Elmore Leonard
    Developed for television by Graham Yost
    Writers: Graham Yost, Elmore Leonard, VJ Boyd, Dave Andron, Benjamin Cavell, Wendy Calhoun, Fred Golan
    Starring Timothy Olyphant as RAYLAN GIVENS
    Also starring Natalie Zea, Nick Searcy, Joelle Carter, Jacob Pitts, Walton Goggins, Erica Tazel, William Ragsdale, Sam Elliot
    This is what it’s like when they get Elmore right. The author was so pleased with the results he penned another novel featuring the trigger happy lawman, the appropriately titled Raylan (2012). It turned out to be Leonard’s last book.

     

  • GET SHORTY
    (2017, Epix)
    Series
    10 episodes
    Debut: August 13, 2017
    Based on the novel by Elmore Leonard
    Developed for television by Davey Holmes & Allen Coulter
    Writers: Davey Holmes
    Directors: Adam Arkin, Daniel Attias, Allen Coulter
    Starring Chris O’Dowd as MILES O’DAY (Chili Palmer in book)
    and Ray Romano
    Also starring Sean Bridgers, Lidia Porto, Megan Stevenson, Carolyn Dodd, Goya Robles and Lucy Walters
    A re-imagining of Leonard’s novel (and the 1995 film) recasts the movie-crazy East Coast legbreaker Chili Palmer as Miles O’Day, an Irish hitman working for a Nevada mob, who decides becoming a movie producer is the best way to go legit and win back his estranged family. Passable, but not nearly as clever as they thought. Or hoped.

FURTHER INVESTIGATION

 

  • Elmore Leonard’s Criminal Records: Profile of a Writer Buy this video
    (1991)
    Produced and directed by Mike Dibb
    Starring Elmore Leonard
    Originally a BBC documentary, this video is essentially a conversation with Leonard about the way he does the research for his books. Fans should get a kick out of Leonard revisiting many of the cops, judges, bail bondsmen and the likewho have inspired his work. Leonard also reads from some of his work.
  • Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing (2007) | Buy this bookKindle it!
    Leonard’s guide to writing is essentially a magazine sidebar sandwiched between two slabs of cardboard. It runs less than a hundred pages — and that’s with large type and leading, plenty of white space and numerous large cartoony illustrations from Joe Ciardiello. It’s obviously intended as a gift book, yet its common-sense expansion of what Leonard calls “‘the rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story” is a bracing bit of advice well worth hearing — if not exactly worth the price. Which is why it’s called a “gift book.”
  • The Elmore Leonard Website
    The author’s official site, including a blog and plenty of info on the tons of films adapted from his work.
  • “Elmore’s Legs”
    Article about Gregg Sutter, who did research for Leonard for over thirty years, and later edited the Library of America edition of Four Novels of the 1970s. (September 30, 1996, The New Yorker)
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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