Tag Archives: Elmore Leonard

So Long Dutch

elmore_leonardElmore “Dutch”  Leonard died this week of complications from a stroke he suffered two weeks ago. He was 87.  Leonard was the author of 47 novels and several collections of short stories. Nearly everything Elmore Leonard wrote was optioned by Hollywood. The more notable of which were Get Shorty, Jackie Brown (based on the novel Rum Punch), Out of Sight, and most recently, the FX series Justified (based on the short story Fire in the Hole). Leonard was sometimes happy about how these adaptations turned out.

Born in 1925, Leonard began his career as an advertising man. His first novel, 1953’s The Bounty Hunters was handwritten on yellow legal pads, a habit he never lost. The Bounty Hunters, like most of Leonard’s early works was a western. With 1969’s The Big Bounce Leonard took his gritty characters out of period pieces and into a modern setting. In many ways Leonard reinvented the crime thriller, taking it to a place beyond the dime store pulps.

With Timothy Olyphant on the set of Justified

With Timothy Olyphant on the set of Justified

I first discovered his work on a $0.50 used paperback shelf in my local bookstore. After reading Killshot, I devoured everything Elmore Leonard I could get my hands on. Like many of his readers, I was enamored of the realistic dialogue and the desperately relatable characters. Beyond the wonderfully intricate plots was an ability to allow the dialogue to drive the story. When asked about his dialogue Leonard responded “Don’t you hear people talking? That’s all I do.” It was that dialogue that allowed Leonard to write re-readable thrillers while most are viewed as disposable.

In addition to the gift of his stories, Elmore Leonard offered some advice for the rest of us. Leonard’s Ten Rules for Writing published in 2007 was a list of common sense rules for aspiring authors. With simplistic rules like “Never open a book with weather” and “Never use a word other than “Said” to carry a conversation” The pamphlet offered some insight into his success.

Elmore Leonard, sometimes called the Dickens of Detroit, gave depth to all of his characters. He treated the antagonists with the same care as the protagonists and showed the same concern for each of his stories. Leonard wrote westerns and thrillers with the same attention to each aspect of the narrative. He allowed for humor and depth in each. Leonard’s style and career are best explained by what I believe is the most important of his ten rules: “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”



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Box Office, TV, Direct to DVD: Some Works of Elmore Leonard

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Elmore Leonard is the author of some 80 books. The majority of his early works were in the western genre. With titles like 3:10 to Yuma, Last Stand at Saber River, Valdez Is Coming, and more, Leonard is second only to Louis L’amour in western output and rivals the old master in quality.

Leonard’s fame, however, comes from his crime fiction works. Leonard’s ability to write dialogue in a realistic manner and use that dialogue to advance the story, makes his work particularly easy to adapt for the screen.. Sometimes. His characters are often quirky, relatable, and deep. Leonard has set the bar for plot twists and double crosses in a thriller.

image property of MGMThough his first television adaptation came in 1956, Leonard ruled the made for TV movie market in the 1980s. Eleven of his stories were adapted for the small screen in that decade, none of which were notable, most of which starred no one of weight, and are virtually unwatchable.

It wasn’t until the 1995 film adaptation of Get Shorty that the run of box office hits began. The film was a humorous look at the similarities between the work of a Shylock (loan shark) and a movie producer.

The biggest smash based on a Leonard work was the Jennifer Lopez vehicle Out of Sight which also starred George Clooney. It also spawned the failed TV series  Karen Sisco which lasted about 10 episodes.

The current success of the FX drama Justified, now in its third season, has made Leonard relevant again. Justified began life as a short story entitled Fire in The Hole. It is the story of Deputy United States Marshal Raylan Givens.  After baiting a criminal in Miami into pulling his weapon so he would be “Justified” in shooting him (get it?) Givens is sent back to his home state of Kentucky. The past that Raylan has been running from is now his present as he deals with old friends from his coal mining days, his criminal father, and the girl that got away…even if she is a federal witness.

The Raylan of Justified is more an amalgamation of several Leonard characters. He is the quintessential lawman. He shoots now and shoots later, then asks questions. Raylan is quick talking and full of wit. His interactions with his ex-wife (who works in the same building ) are dripping with the type of cynicism and brilliance for which Leonard is famous.      

Quentin Tarantino chose Leonard’s Rum Punch as the basis for his third film titled Jackie Brown. Tarantino held the option on two additional Leonard titles but ceded them in 2002 after failing to bring them to the screen. Killshot starred Joseph Gordon- Levitt and Mickey Rourke as a two-man hit team looking to extort money from a real estate agent. After spending two years in development hell and another two in editing hell, this movies was released direct to DVD and was awful.

The fate of the second, Freaky Deaky, remains to be seen.  Since filming began nearly 18 months ago, most of the more prominent cast members have dropped out. The theatrical release has been pushed back twice, It seems to be destined to receive a direct to DVD release. I try not to let that bother me as two lesser Elmore Leonard titles have been optioned for theatrical release next year, though they have yet to been cast. freaky-deaky-poster01


It takes a certain caliber of director and production company to do Elmore Leonard’s work justice. We have seen what happens when his work is carefully adapted and shepherded through the film making process. It does not work often as a TV one-shot or a straight to DVD feature. Still, given his vast body of work we have only scratched the surface, there is still plenty of content to adapt. Also, it is important to note that “Dutch,” as the 88-year-old Leonard prefers to be called, still cranks out a book or two each year, giving Hollywood plenty more chances to get it wrong and a few more to get it right.

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