Anyone remotely familiar with Elmore Leonard, the one-man literary cannon behind the likes of Get Shorty, Out Of Sight and Rum Punch (remodelled by Tarantino for Jackie Brown), will know he’s more than a crime writer.
“I wrote a lot of Western books in the fifties and sixties because the market was big”, he tells ShortList, when we caught up with him in the library of a London hotel. “And I enjoyed it.” It seems Hollywood did too, going on to bring a good bulk of his Western heroes alive, and here the 85-year-old esteemed author gives his top five cinematic examples of when Hollywood got them right....
“Paul Newman is stubbornly wonderful as Hombre, a man raised by Apache Indians and with an understandable chip on his shoulder when he travels to a town to collect an inheritance. When getting into a stagecoach with white people, he knows they don’t want him there, but when they get ambushed by a gang and need to save a hostage, everyone’s dependent on his survival skills, even if it jars against their own culture. One of the best characters I ever created.”
Burt Lancaster as Valdez in Valdez is coming (1971)
“Burt Lancaster was a big star, so it was upsetting to see him as a Mexican constable in a lawless town that didn’t respect him. But then he came good. When Tanner, a criminal leader, shoots an innocent bystander in front of the man’s wife, Valdez tries to start a collection for the newly bereaved woman, and when he approaches Tanner, he just laughs at him. Then he gets tied to a cross and rode to the desert. He recovers. This guy’s an expert marksman, ex-military, so he goes home gets his guns from underneath his bed and rides out to meet the villain and meeting a look-out who he maims with a sawn-off shotgun and tells him to inform Tanner that Valdez is coming…”
Van Heflin as Dan Evans in 3:10 To Yuma (1957)
“I sold my short story Three-Ten To Yuma to a Hollywood studio for $4,000 in 1956. They made the picture with Glenn Ford, a wonderful cinematic everyman in normal films, but here he was playing the smug outlaw accosted by a poor farmer who takes it upon himself to see he makes the 3:10 train to Yuma jail. The real star, however, was Van Heflin who played the family man forced to fight when the outlaw’s guys find that he’s keeping the outlaw in a tavern, he’s gutsy and, fortunately, a good shot too.”
Russell Crowe as Ben Wade in 3:10 To Yuma (2007)
“While the first 3:10 To Yuma was just like my original story, the recent remake went crazy. At the end, Russell Crowe, playing the outlaw, shoots his own guys and jumps on the train. Why’d he do that? It was a shame because it was a bigger, more colourful movie with a great performance from Crowe, who had that country politeness mixed with a physical intimidation that you only get from the best bad guys. He was also accurately violent.”
Timothy Olyphant as Raylan Givens in Justified (2010 – present)
“Givens is a quick-on-the-draw Deputy Marshall who appeared in two of my stories [Pronto and Riding the Rap] and is now the lead in current TV series justified. Played by Timothy Olyphant, he’s greatest example of when screen-adaptations get it right. He’s principally a 19th century lawman in the modern West and takes no prisoners. Olyphant has a steely look about him, and is perfect for a character that shoots first and asks questions later.”
The TV show Justified (5USA), is based on Elmore Leonards novels including Pronto and Riding the Rap (Phoenix; £7.99). Elmore's latest book Djibouti is currently available in hardback (W&N; £18.99).