Reading the Screen: Getting Freaky Deaky with Elmore Leonard

freaky-deakyFreaky Deaky, Elmore Leonard’s 1988 novel about ’60s radicals making an comeback in the ’80s, is being turned into a movie. Apparently — see this article at — the writer-director, Charles Matthau, is making some changes to the story, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Quentin Tarantino made some alterations to Rum Punch (1992) when he turned it into Jackie Brown (’97), but he kept the flavor of Leonard’s novel. Tarantino, like Leonard, is a master of dialogue, and the movie feels right, even if it looks different.

Out of Sight, Steven Soderbergh’s 1998 adaptation of the ’96 novel, is another winner. Like Tarantino, Soderbergh clearly understands what’s important in a Leonard novel: character and dialogue. Why more people haven’t heard of this one is beyond me.

Same goes for 52 Pick-Up (1986). Directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Roy Scheider, it’s a gripping adaptation of the 1974 novel. But I’ll bet you’ve never heard of it.

Leonard’s Western short story “Three-Ten to Yuma,” from 1953, has been made into two good movies, in 1957 and 2007, both of them called 3:10 to Yuma.  Paul Newman starred in Hombre (1967), based on Leonard’s 1961 novel. The movie is considered a classic Western, and for good reason.

Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty (1995) is a get-shortywonderful translation of Leonard’s 1990 novel. On the other hand its sequel, 2005’s Be Cool (based on the ’99 novel), is atrocious. It’s not a translation, it’s a mangling, with a different director and screenwriter but the same star, John Travolta, who should have taken one look at the script and run very far away.

There are other bad adaptations of Leonard’s books — see Stick (’85); Mr. Majestyk (’74); The Big Bounce (2004); Cat Chaser (’89); Valdez is Coming (’71) — but let’s not talk too much about those. Let’s think about the good ones, and let’s hope Freaky Deaky is one of those.



About the Author:

David Pitt lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia. In addition to reviewing for Booklist, he writes a monthly column about paperback fiction and nonfiction for the Winnipeg Free Press. He has contributed to The Booklist Reader since 2010.

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