3:10 to Killshot: 20 films and TV series from Elmore Leonard, 3:10 to Yuma, Get Shorty, Maximum Bob
Monty Python Solo Projects

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Elmore Leonard has been writing short stories since the 1940s, but it was one that was published in 1953 – "3:10 to Yuma" – that first made Hollywood sit up and take notice. Since then, 22 films have found Leonard's name listed amongst their credits, most recently 2008's "Killshot," and once you dive into television, the numbers shoot up by another dozen. With the impending premiere of FX's new series, "Justified," which follows the adventures of US Marshal Raylan Givens (you may remember him from the 1993 novel "Pronto"), there seemed no better time to look back at 20 of the best adaptations of Leonard's work to film and television. Some came courtesy of short stories, others from novels, and a couple of them found our man Elmore writing original screenplays, but they've all emerged from Leonard's brilliant mind via some method or other.

20.

Monty Python Solo ProjectsDesperado (1987) – While not necessarily one of the most acclaimed items on Elmore Leonard's resume, this TV movie that he scripted has a significant number of fans. Duell McCall, played by Alex McArthur, is an honest breed of cowpoke, but while roaming the Wild West©, he stumbles into a mining town and finds himself smack dab in the middle of a feud. The next thing you know, he's been framed for the murder of the sheriff – hey, look, it's Robert Vaughn! – and the whole thing's turned into the cowboy equivalent of "The Fugitive." In addition to Vaughn, the cast also features such familiar faces as David Warner, Yaphet Kotto, Pernell Roberts, Donald Moffatt and Gladys Knight. Granted, the whole affair feels suspiciously like the pilot for a series that was never greenlit, which is exactly what it was, but "Desperado" was still an enjoyable western adventure when TV was seriously lacking in entries from that genre, and it was successful enough to spawn several sequels. Leonard fans, however, will want to leave well enough alone after this one, as their hero had nothing to do with the subsequent films. – Will Harris

19 - 18.

Elmore LeonardThe Big Bounce (1969 / 2004) – The differences between these two adaptations of Leonard's 1969 novel are so profound that you could very easily see both and not realize that they come from the same source material. The original book is about Jack Ryan, a young thief who's given a chance at redemption but finds himself involved with a girl who's even more of a thrill-seeker than he is. In the first attempt at adapting the book, Jack – played by Ryan O'Neal – is a Vietnam vet, the girl (Lee Taylor-Young) is pretty much out of her freaking mind, and the tone of the film is almost completely dramatic. The remake, however, plays up the comedic aspects whenever possible, finds Jack – now played by Owen Wilson – as a cocky beach bum, and the girl (Sara Foster this time around) is sane but just not very trustworthy. Most would agree that neither version really does the book justice, but while you can't completely discount any movie which stars Wilson, Morgan Freeman, Gary Sinese, Charlie Sheen, Vinnie Jones, Harry Dean Stanton, Bebe Neuwirth, Andrew Wilson, and Willie Nelson, it's the 1969 version that proves to be the more enthralling viewing experience. – Will Harris

17.

Elmore LeonardTouch (1997) – Aside from the instantly recognizable style of dialogue, "Touch" is so unlike anything else within the Leonard oeuvre that you'll find yourself wondering exactly what led him to write it in the first place. Apparently, his book company felt the same way: it's been reported that the novel remained unpublished for a decade after its completion because they thought it would be hard to market. Ostensibly a satire of evangelism, Skeet Ulrich plays Juvenal, a former monk who appears to have the ability to heal the sick and wounded. Bill Hill (Christopher Walken), an evangelist turned trailer salesman, decides that Juvenal has the potential to be a media sensation, so he gets his cohort Lynn (Bridget Fonda) to try and sway him to go public with his abilities. Bill's plan goes awry, however, when Lynn and Juvenal fall in love, and further complications ensue when religious zealot August Murray (Tom Arnold) becomes indignant over the attempts to market the bearded healer…who, y'know, should in no way be seen as resembling Jesus. The characters in "Touch" definitely feel like Leonard creations, and you can't say the goings-on aren't interesting, but the film's strange blend of existentialism and irony may not be for everyone. – Will Harris

16.

Monty Python Solo ProjectsStick (1985) – The mid-1980s were a rough time for Burt Reynolds. He'd spent the 1970s kicking ass at the box office by creating a smirking persona that worked great in comedy, but as the ‘80s rolled around, he was on cruise control, earning solid box office for "Stroker Ace," the "Smokey and the Bandit" sequels and a pair of "Cannonball Run" flicks but otherwise only pulling in fair to middling returns on films like "Paternity," "Best Friends," and "The Man Who Loved Women." But could he find success by getting back to his roots and doing straight action flicks? The answer: not really. But "Stick," adapted from Elmore Leonard's 1983 novel, was a solid attempt, at least. Reynolds – who also directed – plays Ernest "Stick" Stickley, an ex-con who returns to his old ways when an old friend sells him on helping with a drug-running deal for Chucky (played by a bewigged Charles Durning), but when things go badly and his friend ends up dead, Stick finds himself a marked man. The most Leonard-esque portion of the film comes when Stick crosses paths with the filthy rich Barry Braham (George Segal) and ingratiates himself to the point of getting a full-time gig on the guy's staff, and legendary stuntman Dar Robinson turns in a villainous performance as an albino named Moke. As you might guess from its placing, "Stick" isn't a great film…it feels very, very ‘80s, in no small part because of the dated score of Joseph Conlan's score, but nor is it nearly as bad as 1985 audiences seemed to think it was. – Will Harris

15.

Elmore LeonardValdez is Coming (1971) –Despite the title, viewers don't actually have to wait very long for Valdez to make an appearance in this take on Leonard's 1970 novel by director Edwin Sherin. It's actually Frank Tanner who has to do the waiting. Constable Bob Valdez (Burt Lancaster) is tricked into killing an innocent man by a rancher – the aforementioned Mr. Tanner, played by Richard Jordan – who's trying to get one of his gunmen off the hook for having shot up a joint. Once Valdez realizes what's happened, he suggests that Tanner offer up a small sum to the innocent man's widow, a proposition which results in Valdez being tied to a cross, dropped in the desert, and left for dead. He eventually gets free, however, and he promptly sends a message to Tanner: "Valdez is coming." And so he does. Tsk, tsk. Should've paid the money, Tanner. Oddly, Sherin has only ever directed one other film ("My Old Man's Place," also released in '71), but he went on to make a huge name for himself in television, serving as executive producer for more than 150 episodes of NBC's "Law & Order." – Will Harris

14.

Elmore LeonardJoe Kidd (1977) – In 1970, Elmore Leonard had tried his hand at writing screenplays by adapting his novel "The Moonshine Wars." This apparently left him confident enough to take a shot at composing an original screenplay. Few people have ever complained about seeing Clint Eastwood in a western, and given that he was coming off of two pictures set in modern times ("Play Misty for Me" and "Dirty Harry"), they were particularly looking forward to this one. Clint plays the title character with the same snarling tendencies that he'd utilized as Harry Callahan, but with the added bonus of a nice little bowler, as if Joe was daring his opponents to knock it off. (Given that he actually does threaten to knock someone's head off at one point during the film – a sheriff's, no less – you'd probably be best keeping your hat reviews to yourself.) "Joe Kidd" doesn't really hold up to the rest of Eastwood's westerns, but, c'mon, it's a western starring Clint Eastwood, and that alone makes it watchable. Plus, not only does it place him side by side with Robert Duvall, but it also gives John Saxon the chance to play a villainous Mexican. Leonard's next screenplay would be "Mr. Majestyk," another film with an identity found not in its dialogue but in its leading man. Maybe that's why he tends to stick to writing books as often as not. – Will Harris

 

13.

Monty Python Solo ProjectsKillshot (2008) –You probably wouldn't think of pairing the director of "Ethan Frome," "Shakespeare in Love," and "Captain Corelli's Mandolin" with an Elmore Leonard adaptation, especially not one with a title like this one, but damned if John Madden didn't think he was up to the challenge. The plot revolves around Blackbird (Mickey Rourke), an American Indian hitman for the Mafia who takes on a crazy young partner (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who reminds him of his late brother. While performing a job, Blackbird is seen by a real estate agent (Diane Lane); to avoid leaving any loose ends, he attempts to hunt her down and kill her, and neither her estranged husband (Thomas Jane) nor even the Witness Protection Program is going to stop him. With a cast like this one (Rosario Dawson and Hal Holbook also have key roles), you're going to go in expecting the best, but while Madden succeeds in making "Killshot" a relatively gripping film, there's still something not quite right about it. Gordon-Levitt turns in a performance where it's like he's walked straight out of the pages of Leonard's novel and onto the screen, and Rourke's subtle performance works within the context of the film, but the other characters never really pop as much as you feel as though they should. Perhaps that's why "Killshot" ended up bypassing theaters and going straight to DVD. – Will Harris

12.

Elmore LeonardMr. Majestyk (1974) –Has it ever worked out for anyone who crossed Charles Bronson in a movie? No, it has not, and given that "Billy Jack" and "Walking Tall" are cited as points of comparison within the trailer for "Mr. Majestyk," you can bet that this film is no exception to that rule. "You make sounds like you're a mean little ass-kicker," Vince Majestyk (Bronson) says with eerie calm to the young punk trying to extort him into using a crew of sub-par crew of harvesters on his farm. "Only I ain't convinced. You keep talking, I'm gonna take your head off." He then proceeds to kick some young punk-punk ass. Clearly, they deserve it, but they immediately file charges and get Majestyk arrested. While in jail, Majestyk crosses paths with mob hit man Frank Renda (Al Lettieri) and ends up getting caught up in Renda's escape attempt, but Majestyk just wants to go back to his farm and get his harvest finished, so he's fully prepared to turn Renda in. This eventually leads to a fight to the finish between the two. "Mr. Majestyk" might be an Elmore Leonard adaptation, but it ultimately just feel like another Charles Bronson flick. Not that that's a bad thing: between this film and "Death Wish," 1974 was the year when Bronson's unofficial motto of "maybe the cops can't handle this, but I sure as hell can" became written in stone. – Will Harris

 

11.

Monty Python Solo Projects52 Pick-Up (1986) – Rule one: don't cheat on your wife. Rule two: if you're going to cheat on your wife, don't do it on camera. In "52 Pick Up," Harry Mitchell (Roy Scheider) follows neither of these rules and promptly finds himself being blackmailed for an obscene amount of money, but while you might at first be tempted to say, "Well, then, he deserves what he gets," you have to give Harry credit: he feels bad about what's he done and refuses to let his wife (Ann-Margret) be affected by his actions. This is particularly impressive, given that she's running for political office, which means that Harry can't go to the police about his problems, but as with any good Elmore Leonard hero, he proceeds to fight back. Director John Frankenheimer created a taut thriller out of Leonard's novel, one which holds up well thanks to the aforementioned actors and their fellow cast members, including the deliciously evil trio of blackmailers, played by John Glover, Clarence Williams III, and Robert Trebor. The fact that there's a heck of a lot of naked Vanity doesn't exactly hurt the proceedings, either. – Will Harris

 

10.

Elmore LeonardLast Stand at Saber River (1997) To some, Tom Selleck may never escape the role of private investigator Thomas Magnum, but over the years, Western fans have found it downright easy to accept the actor as a cowboy. Selleck had already sported spurs for two Louis L'Amour adaptations (1979's "The Sacketts" and 1982's "The Shadow Riders"), but it wasn't until the ‘90s that he really had the opportunity to embrace the genre. In "Last Stand at Saber River," based on Elmore Leonard's 1959 novel, Selleck played Paul Cable, a Confederate soldier who, after being believed dead by his family, returns home to find that things are a far cry from how he left them. Then again, he's not exactly the man he used to be, either, having seen things in the war…specifically at Fort Pillow…that have left him uncertain about what he originally thought he was fighting for. This might've been a TV movie, but it's good enough to have been a theatrical release. – Will Harris

9.

Elmore LeonardOut of Sight (1998) –In 1998, George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez weren't yet bankable stars. Clooney was coming off "Batman and Robin" and "The Peacemaker," while Lopez just appeared in "Anaconda" and "U-Turn." With Steven Soderberg at the helm – it had been nine years since he scored with "Sex, Lies and Videotape" – both Clooney and Lopez proved that they could act, and while George has gone on to have more success than Jennifer, neither would argue with the notion that this film was vitally important to their respective movie careers. Even though “Out of Sight” wasn’t a box office hit, it is easily one of the best Leonard adaptations. The story revolves around the unlikely romance between a charming bankrobber (Clooney) and a gorgeous yet sharp U.S. Marshal (Lopez). The rest of the cast – Ving Rhames, Steve Zahn, Don Cheadle, Albert Brooks, Catherine Keener, Luis Guzman, Dennis Farina and Isaiah Washington, along with cameos by Michael Keaton and Samuel L. Jackson – speaks to just how adept Soderberg was in getting good actors for supporting roles. And that's the thing about Leonard's work – there are so many colorful characters in each story that it's not too difficult to find stars willing to play smaller parts. Soderberg's cinematography and David Holmes' soundtrack are slick enough to hang with Leonard's story, and even though the film bounces around from Miami to Detroit, it all comes together perfectly. – John Paulsen

8.

Elmore LeonardKaren Sisco (2003) – Adding further credence to the theory that American viewers wouldn't know good television if it smacked them in the face, ABC offered up weekly adventures of that gorgeous yet sharp U.S. marshal from "Out of Sight" – now played by Carla Gugino – and got little more than a ho-hum. TV critics, however, didn't hesitate to gush about the series: over at Entertainment Weekly, Ken Tucker described it as "the season's smartest, most comfy and engaging new thriller," and Variety said, "By any standard of cool, ‘Karen Sisco' is out of sight." And, really, how could it help but be? Surely few would argue that, for as awesome as Dennis Farina may have been as Karen's dad, the series still managed to give the character a coolness upgrade by replacing him with Robert Forster, already a veteran of Leonard adaptations from his work in "Jackie Brown." But, no, it wasn't enough for viewers: 10 episodes were filmed, and only seven made it to air on ABC. (The remainder saw air when the show was rerun on the USA Network.) To this day, the show's diehard fans…some of whom, believe it or not, actually weren't TV critics…still await the day when Carla Gugino scores a big enough hit to warrant the release of "Karen Sisco: The Complete Series" on DVD. – Will Harris

7.

Monty Python Solo ProjectsGet Shorty (1995) – By 1995, John Travolta had become such a huge star again thanks to his role as Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction" that it seemed he could do no wrong. So, when originally presented the script for "Get Shorty" based on Elmore Leonard's 1990 novel of the same name and the lead role of Chili Palmer, Travolta turned it down. However, Tarantino managed to intervene and change Travolta's mind about the picture, telling him to read the book. Travolta agreed, but on the condition that more of the original dialogue be written back into the screenplay. From there it was a go, and "Get Shorty" remains one of Leonard's best book-to-film adaptations as well as one of Travolta's last great roles. The man simply is Chili Palmer, and the coolness he exudes is palpable. Palmer is a loan shark at odds with mobster Ray Barboni (Dennis Farina). After successfully tracking down a client of Barboni's who skipped town, Palmer is then rerouted out to Hollywood to collect on a struggling b-movie director Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman). Soon enough, things get messy between Zimm, his ex-girlfriend and actress Karen Flores (Rene Russo) and a local thug whose pockets Harry has also found himself in (Delroy Lindo). It's a great comedy, with plenty of cool music by Booker T. and the M.G.s thrown in, and the ensemble cast shines throughout. Unfortunately, Travolta's career would start dipping wildly again shortly thereafter, thanks to starring in such bad movies as "Broken Arrow" and "Battlefield Earth," and the less said about the sequel to this fine movie ("Be Cool"), the better. – Jason Thompson

 

6.

Elmore LeonardHombre (1967) –When Paul Newman first appears on the screen of director Martin Ritt's adaptation of Elmore Leonard's 1961 novel, you'll be forgiven if you don't realize you're even looking at him. The idea that Newman should be able to get away with looking like an Apache seems mildly preposterous on the surface, but damned if he doesn't fit into his surroundings. As it turns out, John Russell – Newman's character – isn't so much an Indian as he is a white man raised by Indians, but he's been around them so much that he still suffers through considerable prejudice when he returns to the white man's world to accept the inheritance left to him by his father. That inheritance consists of a gold watch and the boarding house his father had owned, but Russell quickly sells the house for a herd of horses and leaves town by way of a stagecoach, which is promptly robbed by…oh, but I'm giving away too much. The whites vs. Apaches racism which lies at the heart of "Hombre" paralleled the plight of African-Americans in America at the time the original novel was written and were still all too valid when the film version emerged six years later. It remains, thanks in no small part to Newman's performance, one of the strongest motion picture adaptations of Leonard's works. – Will Harris

5.

Elmore LeonardThe Tall T (1957) – The old West may seem a long way from the urban and contemporary setting of Elmore Leonard's signature crime fiction, but a look at this ultra-tough western is a strong reminder that evil, in all its complexity, never changes. Based on the story, "The Captives," "The Tall T" is one of the best regarded films in a now legendary series of lean and noirish low-budget westerns directed by Budd Boetticher, written by Burt Kennedy, and starring Randolph Scott, that undoubtedly influenced the even darker oaters that followed from directors like Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. Indeed, the battle of wills and wits between a goodhearted but tough rancher (Scott) trying to save himself and an innocent woman (Maureen O'Sullivan) from a gang of murderers led by an utterly ruthless but scarily likable desperado (Richard Boone at his absolute best) won't seem all that much different from similar stand-offs in later Leonard adaptations. When you face the devil, you'd better be prepared for nasty surprises and a bit of charm. You'll also need to be maybe a little bit devilish yourself. Whether you're in the old West or modern day Miami or L.A., that doesn't change. – Bob Westal

 

4.

Monty Python Solo ProjectsJackie Brown (1997) –On the heels of "Reservoir Dogs" (1992) and "Pulp Fiction" (1994), Quentin Tarantino wrote and directed "Jackie Brown," which was based on Leonard's novel, Rum Punch. In short, "Jackie Brown" is typical Tarantino. It runs long (2 hours, 34 minutes), and like John Travolta in "Pulp Fiction," Tarantino tapped another past-his-prime actor (Pam Grier) to star as the film's title character, an aging flight attendant who is caught smuggling in money for a murderous gun-runner, Ordell Robbie (Samuel L. Jackson). Brown agrees to help the feds nab Robbie, but with the help of a smitten bail bondsman, Max Cherry (Robert Forster), she tries to play each side against the other. Rounding out the cast are Robert DeNiro, Michael Keaton, Chris Tucker and Bridget Fonda in small yet critical parts, so "Jackie Brown" is just another Leonard adaptation that offers plenty of quality supporting roles. On the whole, it was critically acclaimed, garnering Golden Globe nods for Grier and Jackson, as well as a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Forster. The film gets lost a bit in Tarantino's oeuvre because it's sandwiched between "Pulp Fiction" and the "Kill Bill" flicks, but in the end, "Jackie Brown" stands on her own two feet quite well. – John Paulsen

3 - 2.

Elmore Leonard3:10 to Yuma (1957 / 2007) –Fun fact: the 1957 "Yuma" became such a staple of Cuban T.V. that, in Cuba, "la Yuma" is slang for the U.S. and we Americans are "Yumas." Set in the same region of Arizona as "The Tall T," this twice filmed western tale also features a down-on-his-luck cowboy dealing with an increasingly likable slickster of a brutal gunslinger. First made with Van Heflin and Glenn Ford by the underrated director Delmar Daves and then nicely remade with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe by James Mangold, the two versions vary considerably in scale -- the first is suspense-oriented and tied to the clock (it's understandably often compared to "High Noon") -- the second is, of course, larger scale, far more action-oriented and arguably makes more compromises. Still, both films are based around a very odd friendship that develops between a decent, if overly dour, family man trying to make a life for his family, and an unarguably bad man who nevertheless, understands the importance of a good joke and, to some degree, the value of friendship and honor. It's a classic Leonard set-up. – Bob Westal

1.

Elmore LeonardMaximum Bob (1998) –This may seem like a completely left-field pick for the best Elmore Leonard adaptation, but that's what happens when you put a TV critic in charge of compiling the list. If you were to ask director Barry Sonnefeld which of his projects didn't get the love he thought they deserved (as I did), his first answer is invariably going to be "The Tick," but nipping closely at the heels of the mighty blue juggernaut of justice is "Maximum Bob," which survived for a scant seven episodes on ABC in 1998.

Often likened to "Twin Peaks," a point of comparison which in no way aided in lengthening the series' lifespan, "Maximum Bob" focused on Bob Gibbs (Beau Bridges), an ultra right wing judge in Deepwater, FL, known for doling out sentences which…well, you probably get the idea. His wife, Leanne (Kiersten Warren), formerly worked in a mermaid show until a nasty alligator attack which has left her afraid to even go into her swimming pool. She's also psychic and channels the spirit of a dead slave girl named Wanda Grace. Garry Hammond (Sam Robards), the sheriff of Deepwater, is a widower, so when defense attorney Kathy Baker (Liz Vassey) comes into town on a case, he's immediately smitten…and so, for that matter, is Bob, who's kind of a horndog.

In addition to these individuals, Deepwater was full of plenty of other eccentric characters, making for a uniquely hilarious viewing experience and arguably the best television work Beau Bridges has ever done. Here's hoping the show finally makes its way to DVD at some point, so you can see what you and the rest of the American viewing public missed. – Will Harris

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