News Column

Pulp legend Elmore Leonard dies at 87

August 21, 2013

YellowBrix

Aug. 21--Elmore "Dutch" Leonard, who died yesterday at age 87, was a member of an exclusive club: Hollywood's favorite writers.

The best-selling author of hard-boiled, predominantly male-oriented fiction was known for gritty dialogue that made him a long-standing favorite of top directors and stars. Leonard was a movie and TV adaptation factory, whose original screenplays, short stories and novels, mostly Westerns and crime fiction, provided the basis of dozens of film and TV shows, some of them genre classics.

His first big-screen adaptation, "3:10 to Yuma," was based on a Leonard short story published in a 1953 pulp magazine. It became two films released 50 years apart, one in 1957 with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, the other in 2007 with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale. Now, that's staying power.

Among the films based on Leonard's novels is "Hombre" (1967), a terrific Martin Ritt Western starring Paul Newman as a gunman raised by Indians pitted against a sadistic killer memorably played by Richard Boone.

"Joe Kidd," a 1973 film based on an original Leonard screenplay, helped make "spaghetti Western" sensation Clint Eastwood into a homegrown movie star. Directed by John Sturges ("The Great Escape," "The Magnificent Seven"), "Joe Kidd" costars Eastwood as an ex-bounty hunter with a conscience and Robert Duvall as the landowner-villain without one.

"Mr. Majestyk" (1974), another original modern-day Western screenplay by Leonard, showcased a second, big-screen tough guy of the 1970s -- Charles Bronson of "Death Wish" fame. In the 1980s, Burt Reynolds followed in Eastwood's and Bronson's footsteps, starring in and directing "Stick," a 1985 film based on another Leonard crime novel.

The 1995 hit "Get Shorty," an adaptation of Leonard's 1990 novel, was a memorable send-up of the film industry, something Leonard knew a thing or two about, with John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo and Danny DeVito.

Hot off of his strikingly original 1995 smash hit "Pulp Fiction," writer-director Tarantino announced that his next feature film, "Jackie Brown" (1997), would be an adaptation of the 1992 Leonard novel "Rum Punch." Some Tarantino fans were perplexed, until they saw the results with '70s cult icons Pam Grier and Robert Forster.

The 1997 Steven Soderbergh film "Out of Sight," an adaptation of a Leonard novel, arguably helped make co-stars George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez into movie stars as a bank robber on the run and the U.S. Marshal he kidnaps and courts.

In terms of the films based on his work, no one compares to Leonard except perhaps another hard-boiled master, Raymond Chandler ("The Big Sleep," "Farewell, My Lovely"), and genre masters Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. That's the company of giants. Leonard was one.

___

(c)2013 the Boston Herald

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