Christopher Orr ponders the strange failures of adapting the stories of Elmore Leonard to the screen. The problem is tonal: Early film adaptations didn’t capture the wry humor of the books and short stories; later film adaptations turned up the comedy and lost the wryness.

Orr suggests that “It wasnt until Quentin Tarantino arrived on the scene in the 1990s that an obvious cinematic vernacular for adapting Leonard presented itself.” It wasn’t accidental. Tarantino has long claimed Leonard as an inspiration.

Orr writes, “Though the two artists were separated in age by nearly 40 years, the affinities between them were evident: same ear for dialogue, same comfort with writing nonwhite and female characters, same dont-take-it-all-too-seriously tone. (It should be noted, of course, that Tarantinos work is far more violent than Leonards ever was.) Tarantino has frequently cited Leonard as a substantial influence on his writing. He was an ardent enough fan in his youth that when he was caught shoplifting a paper back of Leonards Switch at age 15, he later returned to the store, unchastened, to steal it a second time. When Leonard first saw True Romance(which Tarantino wrote but did not direct), he immediately recognized the congruity of their visions: ‘This is what one of my books should be,’ he recalled thinking. Tarantino, as it turned out, felt exactly the same way. He later told Charlie Rose that he considered True Romance (which is set, in part, in Detroit) ‘basically like an Elmore Leonard movie that he didnt write.’”

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Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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