Legendary writer Elmore “Dutch” Leonard died this morning, surrounded by friends and family. He was 87 years old, and was one of America’s most distinctive and influential genre novelists, penning over 40 books and numerous short stories. Yet he wasn’t just known to bookworms; his work inspired television shows (including the current Justified) and several excellent films. Our favorite Leonard movies are assembled after the jump, along with links to those currently available for streaming.
Leonard’s 1953 story “Three-Ten to Yuma,” first published in the perfectly titled Dime Western Magazine, was adapted to the screen not once, but twice. In 1957, Delmer Daves told Leonard’s story of a desperate rancher (Van Heflin) who forms a peculiar bond with the criminal (Glenn Ford) he’s escorting to the title train. (This version was recently given the full treatment by the kind folks at the Criterion Collection.) The 2007 remake by James Mangold (Cop Land, The Wolverine) placed Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in the Ford and Heflin roles, and came up with a refreshingly old-fashioned, no-nonsense oater. (1957 version available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes; 2007 version available for rental or purchase on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes.)
Another early Western from Leonard, this one dating to 1961, adapted for the screen six years later by Martin Ritt (Hud, The Long Hot Summer) with his frequent leading man Paul Newman in the starring role. It’s a sharp, well-directed Western in the revisionist mode that would take over the genre in the years to come, supplementing its stagecoach robberies and shoot-outs with social commentary on the plight of the Native American in the old West. (Streaming on Netflix)
Leonard actually wrote this 1974 effort as a screenplay first, translating it into a novel while the film was in production (they were released at about the same time). The result is one of his most successful “adaptations” (since it was reverse-engineered and all), a bang-up action flick featuring one of Charles Bronson’s best and most iconic performances.
Leonard helped adapt his 1974 novel — written in the transition between his Westerns and the character-driven crime fiction that would become his trademark — for director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) and stars Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret. It’s a rough, nasty piece of work, a spiky thriller with a sleazily effective villainous turn by the perpetually underrated John Glover.
The pop appeal of Leonard’s snappy, funny crime novels was finally translated to the big screen in this broad, fast, and uproariously funny 1995 film from director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black). John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, and Danny DeVito are top-notch in the leading roles, but as with any Leonard work, the juice is with the supporting characters — in this case, Delroy Lindo, David Paymer, and the late, great James Gandolfini and Dennis Farina. (Available for rental or purchase on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes)
A glut of Leonard adaptations followed Get Shorty’s massive critical and commercial success, and this low-key work from screenwriter/director Paul Schrader (Blue Collar, American Gigolo) got lost in the shuffle. That’s a shame; though it doesn’t pack the comic wallop of its contemporaries, it’s got a subtle charm of its own, and a dynamite Christopher Walken performance to boot.
Maybe it’s solely due to lack of imitation, but Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 Pulp Fiction follow-up may very well be his most timeless movie, a low-key character study that finds the filmmaker at his most contemplative, studying Leonard’s aging characters and their modest romance and cooking up a rarity: a film that feels both Tarantino’s and Leonard’s, in all the right ways. (Streaming on Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video)
Steven Soderbergh hadn’t been up to much when Jersey Films took a chance on him as director of their Get Shorty follow-up; he’d yet to find a project that even approached the impact of his debut film, sex, lies, and videotape, and had wandered into a wilderness of mostly unseen indies. But Out of Sight (his adaptation of this fan’s favorite Leonard book) gave him a shot at a comeback, and he nailed it: armed with a witty script by Scott Frank (who also adapted Get Shorty) and a crackerjack cast, Soderbergh came up with a slick, fresh, sexy, breezy entertainment that mated his experimental style with Leonard’s spiky characters and intoxicating, unpredictable narrative. (Available for rental or purchase on Amazon Instant Video and iTunes)