Thursday, September 06, 2012
Cops and Novelists: Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake, and other moonlighting screenwriters
By Nick Pinkerton
This “From the Pen of . . .” installment is built around American novelists moonlighting in movies—but there’s no Fitzgerald or Faulkner, no acerbic Nathanael West, none of the grudging prostitutes of talent during Hollywood’s studio Golden Age.
The venerable Elmore Leonard is the other Mystery Writers of America Grand Master honored. Among the Dickens of Detroit’s earliest screen credits is the classic 1957 western 3:10 to Yuma; more recently, he provided the kernel of the FX series Justified; in between, he has seldom been out of work. Leonard is represented by a Clint Eastwood western (1972’s Joe Kidd) and a contemporary-set Charles Bronson actioner (1974’s Mr. Majestyk), a pendanted pair that share a concern with the marginalized Mexican-American’s historical plight, a veneration of stubborn, stoic individualism, and the presence of unsavory character actor Don Stroud. It’s easy to take for granted such unostentatious, well-told genre works—Mr. Majestyk, fluidly directed by Richard Fleischer, is a perfect model of such, “extraordinarily beautiful in [its] instinct for the real look of the American West,” to borrow from Didion—but this classical middle-range moviemaking is the very foundation of a healthy film culture, the solid baseboard that must be in place in order to spring into the unknown.