R.I.P. Elmore Leonard (1925-2013)

I was on another project for much of last week and am just now catching up on the news. Unfortunately we had a few passings, the most personal of which was that of criminal author Elmore Leonard. His writing was wonderfully wry and darkly comic, the majority of it focusing on criminal mischief and law enforcement, from the Old West to the New West.

Unfortunately there weren’t very many good adaptations of his work. Here are a few worth looking at on instant Netflix (Justified is Amazon Prime exclusive).

Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown (1997) – Rated R

Jackie Brown is an aging flight attendant who smuggles cash on the side. But when she’s busted and pressured to help with an investigation, she plans to play the opposing forces against each other and walk away with the dough.

While this is, first and foremost, a Quentin Tarantino film, Jackie Brown is based on Leonard’s novel, Rum Punch. The humor in the film is a mix of Tarantino and Leonard.

Hombre

Hombre (1967) – Not rated

Paul Newman stars as a half-Indian shunned by his fellow stagecoach passengers until a holdup forces them to trust him as he finds a way out of the desert. More 1960s than 1860s, this Western takes a hard look at racial injustice in the Old West.

Paul Newman is great in this semi-classic western.

Stick (1985) – Rated R

Ex-con Ernest “Stick” Stickley walks a fine line in this gritty crime drama, which follows the former crook trying to reconnect with his daughter and start a new life, all while seeking to find and punish the drug dealers who killed a close friend.”

Burt Reynolds playing Burt Reynolds. This was neither one of Burt’s best nor one of Leonard’s best.

Justified

Justified (2010-14)

Old-school U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens is reassigned from Miami to his childhood home in the poor, rural coal-mining towns in Eastern Kentucky.

Justified evolved from Leonard’s short story Fire in the Hole but his imprint is all over the series and Timothy Olyphant is excellent as Marshal Raylan Givens. Justified is an Amazon exclusive so those with Amazon Prime can watch the first three seasons for FREE. Sorry Netflix fans.

Rest in Peace, Elmore Leonard – you will be missed.

 

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – Trains = Money week

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) – Rated PG

Legendary outlaws Butch Cassidy (Paul Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Robert Redford) display their gifts for perfect comedic timing and charisma as they pull off heist after heist in this Academy Award-winning film from director George Roy Hill. To evade a relentless posse, the boys flee to Bolivia, thinking they’ll find easier pickings there. But trouble finds the charming desperadoes wherever they go, prompting yet another run.

“Think you used enough dynamite there Butch?”

George Roy Hill directed his masterpiece here from a script by the prolific William Goldman (The Princess Bride, Misery). Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is only peripherally a western. It begins with a wonderful credits sequence alongside “footage” of the Wild Bunch/Hole in the Wall gang and then segues into a nice sepia-toned scene followed by segueing into full color. Although Godfather II used sepia better, Butch predates Coppola’s film by several years. The film then touches on a few random events for the Wild Bunch before our three leads hightail it for Bolivia.

Butch Cassidy won four Oscars: Best Writing (William Goldman), Best Cinematography (Conrad Hall), Best Music (Burt Bacharach) and Best Song (Burt Bacharach, Raindrops Keep Fallin on my Head). It was also nominated for Best Sound, Best Director and Best Picture but lost to Hello,Dolly for Sound and Midnight Cowboy for director and picture. Please keep in mind that while Raindrops is now elevator fodder, it was very popular 40 years ago.

Paul Newman was already an ‘A’ lister when this came out but Butch Cassidy is probably the role he is best remembered for. Robert Redford had a few lead roles before this but this is the movie that made him a star. Their camaraderie is infectious and would lead to them being paired again in The Sting (also by George Roy Hill). Katherine Ross fills out the requisite romantic triangle as Etta Place.

There are plenty of other people in the film but this is primarily a vehicle for Newman and Redford – even Katharine Ross seems pushed to the side at time. George Furth as Woodcock provides several laughs and Ted Cassidy makes a good foil as Harvey Logan. Cloris Leachman and Kenneth Mars would seem to point to this being a comedy and while Butch is quite funny in spots, it is more of a light drama than a comedy.

George Roy Hill keeps the atmosphere very light in spite of the story being that of the downfall of the Hole in the Wall gang. We never see what happens to any of the members after Butch and Sundance head for Bolivia but trust me, historically it does not go well for any of them.

Sidenote: For a marvelous postscript to this story, see the independent film Blackthorn starring Sam Shepard or put it in your Netflix DVD queue.

People Watch: Perennial westerner Sam Elliott makes his film debut as Card Player #2. He would eventually marry co-star Katherine Ross although they didn’t meet until they filmed The Legacy (1978).