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The Elmore Leonard Paradox
January 3, 2014 12:14 PM   Subscribe

If the sheer number of Leonard adaptations is remarkable, what is more remarkable still is how few of them are any good. No one was more aware of, or blunt about, this disappointing onscreen record than Leonard himself. His first crime novel, The Big Bounce, was twice adapted for film, in 1969 and 2004. Leonard memorably described the earlier effort as the “second-worst movie ever made”; it was not until he saw the 2004 version, he later said, that he knew what movie was the worst.
posted by Rustic Etruscan (60 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
He's the Stephen King of Wroters other than Stephen King!
posted by Artw at 12:22 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


It sounded funnier inside his head. :|
posted by tilde at 12:24 PM on January 3


I would totally attend a lecture where someone who's really knowledgeable about film does a side-by-side comparison of Get Shorty and Be Cool.
posted by benito.strauss at 12:29 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


3:10 to Yuma (both of them), Out of Sight, Jackie Brown, Get Shorty, Justified (which I haven't seen and cannot vouch for but is pretty universally praised) - this is a pretty good line up of pictures. I'd even include Stick in with the good ones. Go look at the IMDB for basically ANY writer and you'll be lucky to get a better line up of good ones.

Now, admittedly, adaptations of his work often suck but that's the rub: movies often suck.
posted by dirtdirt at 12:30 PM on January 3 [5 favorites]


To be fair, I read "Be Cool" and thought it was unbelievable garbage, so I don't think the movie is really far off from the source material.
posted by lattiboy at 12:30 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


If the sheer number of Leonard adaptations is remarkable, what is more remarkable still is how few of them are any good.

Doesn't seem remarkable to me. Few adaptations of anything are any good.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:30 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I would totally attend a lecture where someone who's really knowledgeable about film does a side-by-side comparison of Get Shorty and Be Cool.

I would love this lecture! Except for the part where you have to hear about Be Cool.
posted by MoonOrb at 12:31 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Honestly, Justified is so good and so perfectly emulates the feel of Leonard's writing, it's almost enough to make up for the dreck that usually gets adapted.
posted by lattiboy at 12:33 PM on January 3 [8 favorites]


I love his writing but I found the quality of his books to be rather uneven, too, so this isn't much of a surprise, I guess?

I also felt that Justified was superior to any of his Raylan Givens novels, which were just sort of okay. (That also stands a testament to how superbly Timothy Olyphant and Walton Goggins inhabit the Raylan and Boyd, respectively).
posted by MoonOrb at 12:39 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Mr. Majestyk is also worth checking out. As tough-as-nails 70s crime films go, it's pretty darn good.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:39 PM on January 3


I read this at first as Hal Leonard.
posted by ian1977 at 12:40 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Good books -> bad movies
Bad books -> good movies

But even given that rule of thumb he still apparently lucked out on many of them, so he should be happy. Either that or his books are bad and he should feel bad.
posted by bleep at 12:41 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Either that or his books are bad and he should feel bad.

He probably doesn't feel all that great either way, given that he's dead.
posted by The World Famous at 12:53 PM on January 3 [5 favorites]


Wait, what? 3:10 to Yuma is an adaptation of a Leonard story? *boggle* (Have only seen the '57 one, but that one was good.)
posted by Zed at 12:56 PM on January 3


Justified is one of the best things on TV, which is pretty amazing since it isn't on HBO.
The new season starts this Tuesday night
posted by Thorzdad at 1:00 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Some of them are pretty good. Freaky Deaky was totally enjoyable, among others...
posted by ph00dz at 1:03 PM on January 3


Have only seen the '57 one, but that one was good.

I really like the new one. In my opinion, it's the best work that either Russell Crowe or Christian Bale have done.

And I love Justified. Can't wait for the new season.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:05 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


elmore leonard was the masterful heir of john d. macdonald.

nobody's mentioned the movie "52 pickup". in one scene, bad guy has just relieved good guy, under duress, of a jaguar automobile. bad guy asks "is this the six or the twelve?"

SPOILER: if you're jacking a ride, it's much more important to know if there's a bomb in it waiting to go off, than how many cylinders in the engine.
posted by bruce at 1:06 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


it's the best work that either Russell Crowe or Christian Bale have done.
Crowe maybe, but Bale? Please.
posted by fullerine at 1:11 PM on January 3


He and Alan Moore can form a society...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 1:13 PM on January 3


Huge Leonard fan here. I'd rank his movie adaptations (only the ones I've seen) thusly:

1. Out of Sight
2. Jackie Brown
3. Get Shorty (no idea if this holds up but I thought it was great at the time)
4. 3:10 to Yuma (new one, never sold the '57)
5. Stick

It's true that the rest are all pretty dreadful.
posted by cell divide at 1:14 PM on January 3


Crowe maybe, but Bale? Please.

Well, that’s why I prefaced it with, "In my opinion." But maybe that opinion makes more sense if I expand it by saying that I do not, as a rule, enjoy watching Bale. Which is why it was such a surprise to find myself thoroughly enjoying his performance in 3:10 to Yuma, and genuinely sympathizing with his character. As always, your mileage may vary.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:21 PM on January 3


How did people not like Maximum Bob?
posted by mittens at 1:23 PM on January 3


Jackie Brown is not a bad movie. However, I must confess I am color blind when it comes to Elmore Leonard. I've tried reading him on several occasions based on his huge reputation, and I guess I'm just not built to appreciate his work - at least the ones I've tried.

It's possible that I've gotten spectacularly unlucky and each and every time I've tried to read him, I've picked up a lemon, so I'm willing to try again.

Just as an example, recently I've tried to read Raylan - a novel. I didn't last more than a few pages. Should I have kept eating the shit sandwich, because there's caviar somewhere in the middle? I'm asking sincerely. It's impossible that so many people swear by him, and he's just as bad as it seems to me. I must be wrong/unlucky, so hit me with some recommendations, I want to try again.

FWIW, what I hated in Raylan was pretty much everything. The get-up-and-look-for-candid-camera bad plot devices - I mean, the bad guys removed kidneys from someone and left him in an ice bath? Is this serious? Is this meant as some kind of huge meta joke about cliches of the worst kind? I've seen this kidney business used in a few Z-grade movies, but this is not even bottom of the barrel, it's digging through the bottom and going on. Right there I wanted to throw the book against the wall (except I read it on a kindle, so yeah, no). So then I thought, well, maybe other elements make up for it, like perhaps some kind of gritty, well, not realism, since that's obviously out, but gritty something of at least a novelistic hard-boiled verisimilitude reality simulation kind, so I read on, but the dialogue was so ludicrous, my molars hurt - the woman goes into a long spiel about kidney operation experiences in relatives, all supposedly happening while over a body of a victim in an absolutely bizarre situation that you would expect would elicit responses all to do imminently with the item at hand, and then gets compounded by the victim waking up and an insanely unrealistic conversation ensues, oh fuck, fuck, fuck. This is not throwing me out of the 'suspend disbelief' state, because I never managed to enter it here, but it's some kind of deliberate face-slapping to the reader. And then the hospital on some kind of planet, but not this one, and oh, I gave up. I mean there was absolutely nothing, nothing to hold me - not the thin badly drawn caricatures of characters, the implausible plot developments, the turgid style, crap all the way through, layered with more looser and stinkier crap. What gives??

OK, maybe that was a bad one, or maybe it magically improves, though that is hard to believe - a brain that creates this kind of dreck doesn't seem constitutionally built to do better, or they'd never submit this for publication. But I'm willing, indeed eager to be proven wrong.

So what should I try next? Or am I just Elmore-Leonard-blind?
posted by VikingSword at 1:23 PM on January 3


Not surprising a all, just another case of Sturgeon's Law.
posted by Bovine Love at 1:26 PM on January 3


He and Alan Moore can form a society...

There are no good Alan Moore adaptations.
posted by Artw at 1:36 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Poor Elmore. He felt so bad about what Hollywood kept doing to his books that he kept selling them the rights to more books!

Seriously, it's too bad producers don't listen to the writers, because, you know, they might just have a good idea or two. After all, they were smart enough to write the book to begin with.

Lenord's books are entertaining, if not earth-shattering; the movies are dreck.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:37 PM on January 3


I mean, the bad guys removed kidneys from someone and left him in an ice bath? Is this serious? Is this meant as some kind of huge meta joke about cliches of the worst kind?
I haven't read Raylan, but it was written around the same time that season 3 of the show was in production. They used some of the storylines from the book in the show that year, including the kidney stuff. Unless the book is radically different from what the show ended up doing, it sounds like you stopped reading a few pages too soon. The motel room bathtub kidney operation trope was revealed to be somethng else almost immediately.
posted by cnelson at 1:37 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Raylan, the book, was abominable. I'm reading Maximum Bob right now and finding it fun and breezy. I remember Get Shorty, the book, being a lot of fun when I read it as a teenager, but not being able to finish Be Cool.

As with anyone prolific, he's written some stinkers.

I have a lot of respect for Leonard, but I think Justified transcends its source material.
posted by gauche at 1:46 PM on January 3


Mr. Majestyk is also worth checking out. As tough-as-nails 70s crime films go, it's pretty darn good.

The big climax was completely unsatisfying. I mean, how had the title character been through so much without having learned to be wary of people tricking him into saying his name backwards?
posted by The Tensor at 1:50 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


There are no good Alan Moore adaptations.

There are no Alan Moore graphic novels that couldn't be improved with a quality editor excising roughly two thirds of the material. The film version of V for Vendetta was a more coherent and interesting story, as was The Watchmen (although if you have watched the extended version with the Pirate comic spliced in, I'm sorry).

Back on topic: I had no idea that Leonard wrote 3:10 to Yuma, that's so much better than Get Shorty/Be Cool, and quite a different genre.
posted by combinatorial explosion at 1:50 PM on January 3


Just no.
posted by Artw at 1:54 PM on January 3


There are no good Alan Moore adaptations.

There's Jimmy's End and Act of Faith, both of which he produced. But I'm not sure they're adaptations or new scripts.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:58 PM on January 3


There are no good Alan Moore adaptations.

V for Vendetta was not a bad film.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:59 PM on January 3


Elmore Leonard: Jackie Brown
Stephen King: The Shining
Alan Moore: "Not a bad film"
posted by Artw at 2:03 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


There are no good Alan Moore adaptations.

V for Vendetta was not a bad film.


The gulf between "not bad" and "good" is pretty damned wide.
posted by The World Famous at 2:05 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Jackie Brown has got to be one of my all-time favorite movies, at the very least my favorite Tarantino movie. I've sworn to actually read some Leonard for almost half my life now without getting around to it. Recommendations?
posted by Rustmouth Snakedrill at 2:07 PM on January 3


If you like the original 3:10 to Yuma (which you should!), I recommend The Tall T. Directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott, it clocks in at a lean 78 minutes and has no time for the parts "that readers tend to skip." It's one of my favorite Westerns.

I really love both Jackie Brown and Out of Sight, and they make a great double feature, with Michael Keaton's Ray Nicolette crossing over between them.

People looking for book recommendations might want to check out this AV Club "Gateways to Geekery" article.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 2:21 PM on January 3


The best Alan Moore adaptation was "For the Man Who Has Everything" on Justice League.

Love Out of Sight and Jackie Brown.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 2:48 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Tishomingo Blues was the first Leonard book I read, and I still think it's one of the best.

I really like Justified. Because I can no longer stand to have my stories interrupted by commercials, I don't watch the show on TV. Instead, I ask for the previous season's DVD box set for Xmas (they are released in mid-December.) Then I watch all the previous shows again. Yes, I have heard of this Netflix thing...

Please don't mention Get Shorty and Be Cool as though they are somehow equivalent. One was an excellent book and movie. The other was decidedly inferior in both versions.

Here is a seemingly-complete list of movies made from Leonard's books and screenplays (Joe Kidd!)
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:15 PM on January 3


Honestly, Justified is so good

so it does get good? I watched the first episode last night and just could not get into it.

maybe i'm just burned out on Timothy Olyphant having just binged on Deadwood.

so perfectly emulates the feel of Leonard's writing

or maybe that's it. Leonard always felt like stories from told by a half-bright uncle who was desperate to convince you of his abiding coolness when he was younger
posted by Dr. Twist at 3:19 PM on January 3


For some definitions of good. It's highly regarded by critics, and many people like it. That doesn't mean you will.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:21 PM on January 3


It's the Cadillac of minivans.
posted by tommasz at 3:33 PM on January 3 [8 favorites]


so it does get good? I watched the first episode last night and just could not get into it.

If you don't start to get into it after about 3 episodes it's probably just not your thing, especially if you're feeling like you're over Timothy Olyphant. He and Walton Goggins are the heart and soul of that show.
posted by MoonOrb at 3:38 PM on January 3


The first Leonard book I read was "Glitz". I was hooked forever. My favorites are "The Big Bounce" and "The Hunted". I think it only seems like there are no good adaptations, because Leonard's characters are most enjoyable as they think their interior thoughts, and you can't portray that in movies.
posted by acrasis at 3:58 PM on January 3


Same could be said of Donald Westlake. Not a single Dortmunder adaptation is worth crap.

Of his Richard Stark adaptions, not much better (though I did like the Payback iteration, and have cautious hopes for Parker).
posted by IndigoJones at 4:23 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


The Statham one? I have sad news...
posted by Artw at 4:25 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


so [Justified] does get good? I watched the first episode last night and just could not get into it.

I'd say it definitely gets better toward the second half of season one. But it doesn't get great until season two. And then it gets really great.
posted by Atom Eyes at 4:35 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Here is a thing: if you have the titles turned off, the post begins thus:

If the sheer number of Leonard adaptations is remarkable, what is more remarkable still is how few of them are any good.

At this point, I was wondering what trove of Leonard Part 6-related media I was about to read about.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:09 PM on January 3


Does Leonard Part 6 slash fic exist? I mean, according to internet law, it must.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 5:14 PM on January 3


One word: Hombre.
posted by dobbs at 5:32 PM on January 3


I was going to say that Parker movies are mostly mediocre, but IndigoJones beat me to it. 'Point Blank' is pretty good though.
posted by box at 5:40 PM on January 3


Yeah... skip the Statham "Parker." Could have been awesome... but wasn't. "Get the Gringo" is totally acceptable as a sequel to "Payback," though.
posted by ph00dz at 5:45 PM on January 3


So what should I try next? Or am I just Elmore-Leonard-blind?

Having read virtually all of his stuff, my 2 cents is Leonard kinda started to lose his wind around the turn of the century, so right around the time Be Cool was published.

Take a whack at pretty much anything published before 2000 and see if it strikes your fancy.
posted by soundguy99 at 5:49 PM on January 3


Post-2000, I think that Djibouti is seriously underrated, largely by Leonard diehards who want another Swag or whatever.

Also, the Darwyn Cooke Parker graphic novels are excellent.
posted by box at 5:53 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Hombre is a classic and Valdez Is Coming is a guilty pleasure.
posted by CincyBlues at 6:13 PM on January 3


Justified is one of the best things on TV, which is pretty amazing since it isn't on HBO.

That's not amazing! Most of the best things on TV aren't on HBO anymore.
posted by crossoverman at 3:18 AM on January 4


so [Justified] does get good? I watched the first episode last night and just could not get into it.

Yes, it takes a few episodes to lay everything out - but it's one of those shows that builds on what goes before it. It become really good by the end of season one. But season two is amazing.
posted by crossoverman at 3:27 AM on January 4


Ben Foster is so good in the 2007 3:10 To Yuma.

(Looking at his filmography, he played William S Burroughs this year and will be playing Keith Haring AND Lance Armstrong in the next year. That's, uh, quite a range there...)
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:09 AM on January 5


Didn't go back to Justified after the pilot, which was okay but didn't grab me - I guess I should give it another shot.
posted by Artw at 10:20 AM on January 5


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