Friday, October 11, 2002

Great quip from Elmore Leonard, crime novelist extraordinaire, in today's Salon: "I don't have a view about crime in America. There isn't anything I can say that would be interesting at all. When I'm fashioning my bad guys, though (and sometimes a good guy has had a criminal past and then he can go either way; to me, he's the best kind of character to have), I don't think of them as bad guys. I just think of them as, for the most part, normal people who get up in the morning and they wonder what they're going to have for breakfast, and they sneeze, and they wonder if they should call their mother, and then they rob a bank. Because that's the way they are ..."

Just about all the Leonard novels are superb, and to list favorites I find myself listing almost all of them: LaBrava, High Noon in Detroit, Maximum Bob, Killshot, Stick, Swag, 52 Pick-Up, The Switch, Rum Punch all come immediately to mind.

A note about the movie versions: in his last days, Alfred Hitchcock was considering filming Leonard's Unknown Man No. 89, but it never got off the ground. Hitchcock, actually, would have been beyond perfect to direct 52 Pick-Up, a highly cinematic work in which a businessman is kidnapped and framed for the murder of his girlfriend, whose death he is forced to watch on film. John Frankenheimer wound up doing it in the mid-1980s and fumbled badly; in a bow to modern realism, he had the businessman (played by Roy Scheider) watch a videotape, which completely ruined the effect. The book I saw in my mind had a businessman in a rundown theatre, overwhelmed by these horrifying larger than life images on the screen.

The Switch is a comic take on "Ransom of Red Chief" in which the wife of a slimy businessman is kidnapped for ransom by a pair of hoods, only to find that the businessman couldn't be happier to have her out of his way. It, too, would make an excellent film someday -- although the basic story was used (stolen?) by the Danny DeVito movie Ruthless People -- a fact Leonard later referenced in, I think, Rum Punch, where the hoods came back to life.

Rum Punch was made into an excellent Quenttin Tarantino film, Jackie Brown, which has the distinction of doing stylistic justice to both the Leonard and Tarantino.

I was not much impressed by Get Shorty, and missed the movie. I avoided the Burt Reynolds version of Stick based on the author's well-known disgruntlement.

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