Elmore Leonard’s early film and TV work dominated by westerns

Hollywood began to take interest in Elmore Leonard, who died Tuesday, nearly 60 years ago. But back then he wasn’t writing the crime novels he became famous for; he focused on western short stories and novels.

Here’s a look at some of his earliest adaptations and screenplays:

“Moment of Vengeance”: His western short story of the same name was adapted in 1956 for the CBS anthology series “Schlitz Playhouse of Stars” and starred Ward Bond, Gene Nelson and Angie Dickinson.

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“3:10 to Yuma”: Delmer Daves directed this gritty 1957 western drama starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin that was based on Leonard’s short tale, “Three-ten to Yuma.” James Mangold adapted the story 50 years later with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.


“The Tall T”: In the 1950s and early 1960s, director Budd Boetticher, actor Randolph Scott and screenwriter Burt Kennedy collaborated on a series of seven dark, complex westerns known as the Ranown Cycle. Leonard’s short story, “The Captives,” was the basis for their 1957 western drama.

“Hombre”: Director Martin Ritt and his “Hud” screenwriters Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. brought Leonard’s revisionist western drama to the big screen in 1967 with Paul Newman starring as an Apache-raised white man.

“The Big Bounce”: Leonard’s crime thriller was turned into a wan 1969 vehicle for then-married Ryan O’Neal and Leigh Taylor-Young. “I don’t think anybody in the picture knew what they were doing,” Leonard said of the movie. The 2004 version with Owen Wilson didn’t fare much better. “They shot it in Hawaii. They would cut to surfers when they ran out of ideas.”

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“The Moonshine War”: Leonard began writing for the screen with this critically panned 1970 adaptation of his Depression-era crime novel set among moonshiners in Kentucky.

“Valdez is Coming”: Edwin Sherin directed this violent 1971 version of Leonard’s novel of the same name starring Burt Lancaster as a Mexican-American sheriff who takes on a powerful landowner.

“Joe Kidd”: Leonard wrote an original screenplay for this classic 1972 western directed by John Sturges and starring Clint Eastwood as an ex-bounty hunter.

“Mr. Majestyk”: Leonard also penned the original screenplay of this Richard Fleischer-directed 1974 action tale about a a melon farmer, played by Charles Bronson, who finds himself taking on the mob because he won’t exploit his migrant workers.

“High Noon, Part II: The Return of Will Kane”: Leonard provided the screenplay for CBS’ disappointing 1980 TV sequel to the 1952 western classic “High Noon.” This time around, Lee Majors of “The Six Million Dollar Man” fame flexed his muscles in the role for which Gary Cooper won an Oscar.


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