Elmore Leonard movies may currently be taking a back seat to the dearly departed crime and western writer’s successful TV project Justified, but it’s important we don’t forget about the man’s filmography. Everyone knows “Dutch” was a great writer, but did you also know his work has been responsible for some pretty great movies?
Most who are familiar with Leonard-inspired films will cite Quentin Tarantino classic Jackie Brown, Get Shorty, Out Of Sight, and 3:10 To Yuma (both versions) as examples, and while we won’t argue with that, it’s worth mentioning that dramatized works based on his prose date back more than 40 years. In that spirit, we now give you five forgotten (and awesome) Elmore Leonard movies that truly honor his rugged spirit.
Burt Reynolds takes on the role of Ernest (Stick) Stickley, who gets out of prison only to get caught up in a drug-running operation that goes south in a hurry. Determined to extract the money he’s owed from hoods Chucky and Nestor, while also making up for lost time with his daughter, this hood-with-a-heart-of-gold tale takes an exhilarating turn when Stick runs afoul of hitman Moke (the late stunt genius Dar Robinson in one of few credited appearances). Their final showdown is a textbook example of what great action movies used to be: lean and mean with jaw-dropping stunts done by actual people instead of a computer. Based on the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name. “Dutch” also handled some of the script chores on this one.
4. Joe Kidd
Joe Kidd came along one year after Dirty Harry, and for Clint Eastwood, star of both films, what better way to follow-up that achievement than by sharing screen time with Robert Duvall and John Saxon in a western written for the screen by Elmore Leonard? (Hint: there is no better way.) As TheWrap’s Brent Lang said in today’s “Remembering Elmore Leonard: 5 Of His Best Movie And TV Adaptations,” “Nobody wrote tough guys like Elmore Leonard.” This entry on our list of Elmore Leonard movies proves that sentiment lock, stock, and barrel.
3. Mr. Majestyk
Tagline: “He didn’t want to be a hero … until the day they pushed him too far.”
Leonard himself wasn’t the kind of tough guy you would expect, but from a very young age, he proved he had a hard-nosed quality that compensated for his slight frame. In high school, as quarterback of his football team, he wasn’t afraid to be the target of 11 bloodthirsty guys’ aggression. Or if he was afraid, he certainly didn’t show it. It was this quiet, unassuming quality that made the 1974 film Mr. Majestyk so effective. The hero in that film is an ordinary guy going up against organized crime and a ruthless hitman. Leonard’s tough guys never had to be Navy SEALs or part of the Secret Service to be believable. They were real. Such is the case here. Mr. Majestyk’s occupation: melon farmer. Charles Bronson was custom-made for the role — scowling, quiet, wants to be left alone. But the minute you mess with him, God help you.
Hombre, the 1967 film based on Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name, is not only one of the maestro’s best western tales, it also belongs in the upper echelon of screen great Paul Newman’s filmography. The story centers on John Russell, a white man raised by Native Americans. To the members of his stagecoach, Russell is an outcast. But when these same detractors become the targets of a gang of ruthless outlaws, he becomes their only chance for survival. (This entry on our list of Elmore Leonard movies was available on Netflix Instant last we checked, so queue it up when you get a chance.)
1. 52 Pick-Up
Graphically violent and undeniably sleazy, this masterwork from director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Reindeer Games) is based on the equally provocative Elmore Leonard novel, which dares to make a hero out of a philandering husband. In another set of hands, this guy (Roy Scheider) might prove as reprehensible as the film’s (and novel’s) villains. But the villains here — played in the film by John Glover and Clarence Williams III — are so vile you can’t help pulling for Harry Mitchell as he works to save his marriage and his wife from a pair of murderous blackmailers. Ann-Margret gives one of the best performances of her career as Mitchell’s wife. Kelly Preston stars as Mitchell’s ill-fated mistress. And Frankenheimer’s direction builds to one of the most intense, memorable, and well-executed finales in the history of crime-dramas.
Which Elmore Leonard movies would you say are the best?