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Forty Lashes Less One
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Fifty-Two Pickup
Unknown Man No. 89
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Be Cool
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Tishomingo Blues
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A Coyote’s in the House
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Comfort to the Enemy
Up in Honey’s Room
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The Complete Western Stories of Elmore Leonard
The Tonto Woman and Other Western Stories
When the Women Come Out to Dance
Trail of the Apache
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The Longest Day of his Life
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Only Good Ones
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Hanging Out at the Buena Vista
Fire in the Hole
Chickasaw Charlie Hoke
When the Women Come Out to Dance
Showdown at Checotah
Louly and Pretty Boy
Chick Killer (2011)
Ice Man

Film and TV

Moment of Vengeance
3:10 to Yuma
The Tall T
The Big Bounce (I)
The Moonshine War
Valdez is Coming
Joe Kidd
Mr. Majestyk
High Noon, Part II
52 Pickup
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Glitz (TV)
Cat Chaser
Border Shootout
Split Images
Get Shorty
Last Stand at Saber River
Elmore Leonard’s Gold Coast (TV)
Jackie Brown
Maximum Bob
Out of Sight
Karen Sisco
The Big Bounce (II)
Be Cool (2005)
The Ambassador
3:10 to Yuma (2007)
Killshot (2009)
Freaky Deaky
The Tonto Woman
Life of Crime

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Five questions with Elmore Leonard

Detroit Free Press
Five questions with Elmore Leonard

Before Elmore Leonard was the best crime novelist on the planet, he wrote Westerns. That’s because, he says, that’s what sold when he was getting up at 5 every morning in the late 1940s and early ‘50s to spend a couple of hours trying to write fiction for pulp and men’s magazines while spending his days writing auto ads for a Detroit ad agency. Truth be told, Leonard had affection for the purity of Westerns, and they suited his talents for writing action and drop-dead dialogue. He was especially pleased with “3:10 to Yuma,” a yarn about a lawman who is as determined to deliver a famed outlaw to a train that will take him to federal prison as the outlaw’s gang is to prevent the transfer. The story was published in Dime Western magazine in 1953, earning Leonard $90. He made substantially more when the story was sold to the movies and released in 1957, with Glenn Ford as the ruthless killer Wade and Van Heflin as the rule-respecting Dan Evans, whom the movie turned into a rancher. “3:10 to Yuma” has now been remade by director James Mangold with Russell Crowe as the bad guy and Christian Bale as the rancher who takes the job of escorting Wade to the train. Leonard was invited to screen the movie earlier this year and told the Free Press he liked it—before pointing out everything the filmmakers had gotten wrong: “Did you understand that ending?” he asked. “Because I sure didn’t.”


QUESTION: Were you surprised at how much more plot there was in the new movie than in the old movie, not to mention your story?

ANSWER: Not surprised, because they always find ways to make them more complicated. Even with the Glenn Ford movie, which I thought was pretty good, they added all that back story for Van Heflin, which I just thought was unnecessary. But that was the time of “High Noon” and all those movies where the hero had to have a moral dilemma, you know, to make the stories relevant. In my story, the guy was just doing his job the best he could. The directors and writers all want to talk about theme. They usually tell me what they think the theme is, and I thank them for finding it.

Q: Do you have a vivid recollection of writing the story all those years ago?

A: I do, and you know why? Because I remember the editor at the magazine wrote me a letter and said he liked the story, but said he thought I needed to add some description of the train coming into the station in the town, Contention. He said I should let the readers know what it sounded like, the noise it made and how it looked. That sounded like pretty good advice to me, and I went back and added a few lines.

Q: Do you think directors, for the most part, did better jobs with your Westerns like “Hombre” and “The Tall T” than the early crime stories?

A: Oh, sure. I’m not certain anybody really just trusted the (crime) stories until (screenwriter Scott Frank), who did a good job with “Get Shorty” and then “Out of Sight.” Quentin Tarantino figured it out with “Jackie Brown” (based on “Rum Punch”)—that the criminals in the books may seem funny, but they don’t think they’re being funny. “Be Cool” was an awful movie. They put that comic, Cedric the Entertainer, in one of the roles, and the director kept cutting away to everyone laughing. If they’d just film the books, they’d be better off.

Q: That’s what Don Cheadle, who was going to direct one of your favorites of your own books, “Tishomingo Blues,” told me. He said his idea was just to get on-screen what you wrote, but I understand that movie’s not getting made now. What’s the status of all the other move projects?

A: I understand the financing fell through on “Tishomingo,” which is a shame because Cheadle seems like a talented guy. The Coen Brothers were going to do “Cuba Libre,” but that’s really a Western, and they finally decided they were the wrong guys to do that. Then they turned around and made a Western, “No Country for Old Men,” being released this fall. John Madden (“Shakespeare in Love”) did “Killshot,” which Tarantino was going to do; that’s finished, and it comes out next year. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s in it, and I thought he was good in a film Scott Rank directed called “The Lookout.”
And I’m 117 pages into a new book that will bring back the bank robber Jack Foley that George Clooney played in “Out of Sight,” along with Cundo Ray, a character I really liked from “La Brava,” whose lawyer helps Jack get his prison sentence reduced. And then he runs across Dawn Navarro, who was the psychic in “Riding the Rap.”

Q: So you’re obviously not retiring, even though you have an 82nd birthday coming up in October. But the word is out you’re establishing a family dynasty. Is that true?

A: Maybe. My son Peter is working his second novel in a two-book deal, and the first one’s being published pretty soon. It’s a crime novel set in Detroit. And my granddaughter, Megan Freels, she was Madden’s assistant on “Killshot” and she’s set on being a producer in Hollywood. She just finished this short film with Gordon-Levitt and some of the other actors on “Killshot,” and it turned out so good they’re going to include it on the DVD when it comes out. So maybe she’ll be a mogul.

By Terry Lawson, Free Press movie writer