American novelist Elmore Leonard, a.k.a., the guy who wrote the stories the FX show Justified is based on, died today at the age of 87. The cause of death has not been reported yet, but it is likely related to the stroke he suffered two weeks ago.
Leonard was the author of over 50 novels and short stories, ranging from westerns to suspenseful crime thrillers, but to some he is perhaps best known for the 26 film and TV adaptations of his work. These films most notably include Get Shorty, Be Cool, Jackie Brown, 3:10 to Yuma (twice), and Out of Sight, and as of late his work had enjoyed unprecedented success on TV with Justified. However, just one of the many things to love about Elmore Leonard was his unceasing willingness to cut through standard Hollywood p.r. bull and speak his mind about what he thought of the various films and TV projects based on his work. He didn’t hate or dislike all of the adaptations. Heck, he wrote 9 screenplays of his own, some of which were complete originals, i.e., not adapted from one of his novels. However, over the years if an interviewer asked him about one of the various films from his career he wouldn’t hold back in his response.
The Big Bounce
What It’s About?: A Vietnam War veteran played by Ryan O’Neal gets suckered by an untrustworthy love interest into a scheme to rob the manager of a produce farm of $50,000 in payroll money. Based on Leonard’s novel of the same name. The film shifted the setting from Michigan to California.
What Did Leonard Say?: “Probably the second worst movie ever made.”
Film: Joe Kidd
What It’s About?: An ex-bounty hunter played by Clint Eastwood is hired by a wealthy landowner to track down a Mexican revolutionary leader campaigning for land reform. Based on an original screenplay by Leonard.
What Did Leonard Say?: “Something happened to that movie too. [Director John] Sturges had done The Magnificent Seven and he was trying to work ideas that didn’t make it into that movie into Joe Kidd. Only little funny things, but I wasn’t very happy with it.”
Film: Mr. Majestyk
What It’s About?: A watermelon farmer (Charles Bronson) in Colorado becomes ensared in a feud with a mobster through various plot contrivances. Based on an original screenplay by Leonard.
What Did Leonard Say?: “A lot of people tell me they love that movie. For instance, in Kill Bill 2, you go into Michael Madsen’s trailer and there’s a movie poster of Mr Majestyk on the wall. But Charles Bronson was just so predictable. Most of my movies make the bad guys over the top bad rather than bad, but human underneath. In Mr Majestyk, Al Lettieri was so over-the-top evil that it ruined it.”
What It’s About?: A former car thief (Burt Reynolds) witnesses a drug deal gone bad and must settle the score with the drug dealers before he can move on with his life. Based on the 1983 Leonard novel of the same name, which Leonard co-adapted with Joseph Stinson into the screenplay. The title comes from the nickname of the main character, and also gave them the righteous excuse to use the crap-tastic film poster tagline, “The only thing he couldn’t stick to was the rules.” That slow clap you hear from one person right now is done so ironically.
What Did Leonard Say?: “Oh sure. I didn’t recognise my screenplay at all in that movie. They even put another writer on it to add more action. Burt [Reynolds] had done Sharky’s Machine and Gator and I thought he would be good as Stick. But he needed a good director. Directing it himself he just played Burt Reynolds.”
“Burt said, ‘Do you think I should leave my rug off for this picture?’” “I said, ‘Yeah, you don’t need your rug.’ But he was talking about his little rug – that he would leave on his little one.” [One assumes that by “rug” Leonard meant toupe.]
Film: Get Shorty
What It’s About?: A Miami loanshark (John Travolta) follows a job to Los Angeles where he ends up becoming involved in the film industry, fancying himself somewhat of a film buff. Based on the 1990 Leonard novel of the same name, which was inspired by Leonard’s own tortured dealings with Hollywood in his screenwriting career, particularly Dustin Hoffman’s failed efforts to turn LaBrava into a film in the late 1980s. The film and novel are largely excuses to poke fun at Hollywood to hilarious results.
What Did Leonard Say?: “[Get Shorty screenwriter] Scott Frank knows that plot is not what interests me the most. I want to get the characters knocking heads and see how they turn out. You can always weave a plot into a story. Most directors miss the attitude of my books. If a character says a funny line, he’s still a serious character. The other actors shouldn’t laugh.”
Film: Jackie Brown
What It’s About?: A down-on-her luck flight attendant (Pam Grier) has a side job as a money smuggler that places her into a game of cat-and-mouse between her and her boss and her and the authories after a fellow smuggler tells the cops all about the operation. Based on the 1992 novel Rum Punch, in which the lead character is white as opposed to the African American Pam Grier.
What Did Leonard Say?: “Quentin Tarantino has been a fan ever since he was a teenager. When he was young he stole a book of mine called The Switch from a bookstore and was caught and punished and then went back and stole it again. Quentin called me just before he went into production [on Jackie Brown] and he said, ‘I’ve been afraid to call you for the last year’. And I said, ‘Why? Because you changed the title and you cast a black woman in the lead?’ And he said, ‘Yeah’. And I said, ‘Well, you’re the film-maker, go ahead. We saved it for you’.”
TV Film: Pronto
What It’s About?: A Miami bookmaker is leveraged against his mobster boss by the Feds who figure the bookmaker will be forced to turn evidence on the boss once said boss finds out the bookmaker has been cheating him. When the bookmaker skips bail, stetson-wearing U.S. Federal Marshall Raylan Givens (James LeGros) is sent after him. Adapted from the novel of the same name, which was also the source for the show Justified.
What Did Leonard Say?: “Ohhhh. James LeGros, is he still acting? They got the wrong hat for him.
TV Show: Maximum Bob
What It’s About?: A hardcore conservative judge (Beau Bridges) and his kooky family (seriously, his wife was a psychic who channeled the spirit of a dead, African-American slave) in a backwoods Florida town. It only ran for 7 episodes on ABC. Based on the 1991 novel of the same name.
What Did Leonard Say?: “I asked, ‘What are you gonna call it? Hee-Haw: The Movie?’”
TV Show: Karen Sisco
What It’s About?: A United States Deputy Marshall (Carla Cugino) tracking down people around the Florida Gulf Coast while struggling with gender-based discrimination from fellow Marshalls and police officers. Cugino played the same character Jennifer Lopez originated in the film Out of Sight, a character who features in two Leonard short stories and one novel. It only lasted for 10 episodes on ABC, but with a more patient network and better writing this could have been Justified 7 years beforehand.
What Did Leonard Say?: Karen Sisco failed because the writers couldn’t settle on one take on the character.”
Film: Big Bounce
What It’s About?: The same basic plot as the 1969 film just with some updates. The main character, this time played by Owen Wilson, is just layabout surfer instead of a Vietnam War veteran. There is no produce farm to speak of but instead a construction site. And the amount of money that the protagonist and his femme fetale partner in crime attempt to steal is $200,000 instead of $50,000. The book is set in Michigan, the 1969 film in California, the 2004 film in Hawaii. This was a financial disaster, grossing only $6.8 million on a $50 million budget.
What Did Leonard Say?: “It’s a mystery to me why people buy one of my books and then take out everything that made them buy it in the first place. Every time I sent back my thoughts on the script, he ignored them. So why ask me?” And the result? “Terrible. Nothing like my book at all.”
Film: Be Cool
What It’s About?: John Travolta reprises his role as Chili Palmer from Get Shorty, who transitions in the sequel from the film industry to music industry. Based on the 1999 novel of the same name.
What Did Leonard Say?: “When we were walking out of the premiere [of Get Shorty], Frank Mancuso, who was running MGM at the time, said, ‘Do you think you could write a sequel?”
“I told Barry Sonnenfeld, ‘When somebody delivers a funny line, don’t cut to someone else laughing or nudging or grinning, because they’re all serious. And he knew that. But then when they shot the sequel, they forgot all about that, and everybody’s laughing all the way through. There’s a guy named Cedric the Entertainer (in the cast). Well, I can’t have a guy named Cedric the Entertainer in one of my stories!”
TV Show: Justified
What It’s About?: U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant) returning to his hometown in Kentucky and doling his kick-ass brand of justice while being overshadowed, in the viewer’s eye, by the slightly more interesting villains, particularly Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins).
What Did Leonard Say?: “I think it’s great. However, I think he ought to just chuck [the hat]. What’s he need it for? He’s not in the West; he’s from Kentucky. I think it’s got out of hand. It’s not the hat that he wears in the book — which is the small, little businessman’s Stetson, but well-worn, and crushed and disfigured.”
For the record, Leonard usually cited Jackie Brown, Get Shorty, and Out of Sight as his favorite films to be adapted from his work, and although the recent 3:10 to Yuma remake was well-received Leonard simply proclaimed, “It was overdone.” Sadly, we won’t get to hear what he thinks of the upcoming Jennifer Aniston film Life of Crime, an adaptation of Leonard’s 1978 novel The Switch which features the same characters played by Samuel L. Jackson and Rober De Niro in Jackie Brown. Mos Def and Will Forte play the roles in Life of Crime. That’s…quite a bit different, huh?
Do you have any favorite Leonard quotes about his films/TV shows? Any favorite Leonard films/shows? Let us know in the comments.
- Elmore Leonard made his mark on film (marquee.blogs.cnn.com)