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What Elmore Leonard Really Thought Of 3:10 To Yuma


At lunch with Elmore and his son Peter in Mantua

One of the things I love about Elmore is that he's strictly no bullshit. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop PR people from trying to extract bullshit (by ambushing Elmore after a screening of James Mangold's "3:10 to Yuma," and counting on him being too nice a guy to refuse to talk to them)...and then trying to turn no bullshit into serious bullshit. In short, in the electronic press kit, they cut out pretty much everything he said, and left only "It's a good-looking picture."

Here's the part that ended up on the cutting room floor:

Q: After watching this film, was there anything that particularly stood out; the landscape, the action, the themes?

EL: Well I think it’s a very good looking picture; the way people were dressed and the landscape, I did object to the boy who says “you don’t know shit”, which to me is a very current expression. He wouldn’t have used that term back [then]. And also when Charlie Prince says “listen up,” [trying to get the townspeople’s attention] because “listen up” was not used until World War 2. And the stuff about the Apache Indians attacking at night. [They never attacked at night] They believed if they were killed at night then their spirits would wander around in darkness eternally.

Q: And there were other key differences from the 1957 version. What did you think about these changes?

EL: I thought it was cluttered in certain places with characters and people. I wondered why at the end, [Russell Crowe] shot all of his guys. You know and he says, well I have been to Yuma before and escaped both times, which reminded me of the end of “Out of Sight” when [Samuel Jackson] gets into the same van with [Clooney], [and] we find out [he] is an escape artist. He escaped from nine different federal prisons, which then puts Clooney in a position where he can smile and then the audience says “good, he’ll escape.” You know, [a] happy ending.

Q: And you felt the changes in this one…

EL: I didn’t understand why [Russell Crowe] shot his own men. Because he was all for them before. Why [did] he have the change of heart? I don’t think Bale was effective in what he was doing. You could feel sorry for him but why? Because every time Bale said “well I have this problem I have that problem,” [Crowe] never sympathized with him ever….and then he shoots his own guys.

Q: Right. What did you think of the performances with Russell Crowe as Ben Wade?

EL: Oh I thought he was great. Yeah, I thought all the acting was fine -

Q: And how about Christian Bale?

EL: Christian Bale was good, but it was a tough part. It was a very tough part. I did not understand why the son, in the very beginning was so down on him? I don’t think a fourteen year old boy would be that knowing to criticize his dad.

Q: What was it like in your initial meetings with James Mangold?

EL: I haven’t met him. I like “Walked the Line” a lot.

Q: There is some historical detail added to this film, like the building of the railroad. What did you think about these details that were added to the film?

EL: Well, I didn’t get that.

Q: Is there something about James Mangold that you admire about him being a director now and making a Western film?

EL: Well I wonder why he wanted to remake this one? That would be my first question. He should have remade one that didn’t work.

Q: Well thank you. Is there anything else that you want to share about “3:10 to Yuma?”

EL: Well I think it’s a good picture and I hope it’s very successful.

My particular favorite remark from Elmore is "Well I wonder why he wanted to remake this one? That would be my first question. He should have remade one that didn’t work."

And now, word is Kevin Costner wants to remake Hombre -- at least per what Elmore told the audience that at Festivaletteratura in Mantua. And then, he asked why Costner or somebody doesn't make one like Cuba Libre, that hasn't been made. Or Gunsights. Elmore has so many amazing western novels and stories and all these Hollyweasels are hot to remake one...and then they choose something like Hombre, a film by Martin Ritt, starring Paul Newman. Sorry, but how do you remake that one better than the original?


Don't even get me started on The Big Bounce, Elmore's first crime novel, which they shot on the beach in Oahu because they got a tax break. (The film was so bad the director, George Armitage walked off the movie, and the producer, Steve Bing, apologized to Elmore at the premiere.)

Elmore sometimes says at book signings that the original The Big Bounce was the second worst movie ever made -- because he figured there had to be one that was worse. And then, he said, when he saw the remake, he finally knew what was the worst movie ever made. And that, apparently, was even worse than the movie version of Be Cool, which was pretty damn terrible, and nothing like the book. Word to directors attempting to bring Elmore Leonard to the screen: Stick to the book, and stick to the dialogue.

Barry Sonnenfeld asked Elmore for advice before he made Get Shorty, and Elmore said, best I can paraphrase: When somebody says something funny, don't cut away to other characters for their reaction. Just let it play out, because they don't know they're being funny. Sonnenfeld did that, and the movie worked. And then some.

P.S. Apparently, Travolta asked if he could dance. Sonnenfeld said no. The day before production started on Be Cool, the sequel to Get Shorty, F. Gary Gray, the director, asked Elmore if he had any advice. And Elmore said the exact same thing he said to Barry Sonnenfeld.

Unfortunately, F. Gary Gray either had a lot of ear wax that day and didn't have the good sense or the balls big enough to tell Travolta no when he asked to dance. Even worse, together, Travolta and Uma Thurman had all the sexual chemistry of two dancing planks of pressed particle board. Of course, Uma typically has zero sexual chemistry with anyone on screen, and Travolta probably would rather have been dancing with Fabio.

photo by Gregg Sutter

Posted by aalkon at September 11, 2007 8:10 AM


I thought that someone was also making "Rum Punch" into a movie? And I still think "Maximum Bob" is my favorite! Amy, could you please give Mr. Leonard a kiss and tell him "thanks for all the great stories" for me? Spanks! o_O

Posted by: Flynne at September 11, 2007 6:02 AM

In Travolta's defense, didn't he demand a rewrite of the "Get Shorty" script to put in more of Elmore's dialogue?

"Jackie Brown" was Tarantino's sort-of-adaptaion of "Rum Punch."

Posted by: Jim Treacher at September 11, 2007 6:57 AM

My favorite line from Get Shorty was Dennis Farina's "Fuck you, fuckball!" I don't know why, but that really tickled my funny bone.

Posted by: Rebecca at September 11, 2007 10:44 AM

"EL: Well I think it’s a very good looking picture."

LC: Well, it's kinda impossible to make a movie ugly when it includes Christian Bale. He can sit on my face anytime.

Posted by: Lena Cuisina at September 11, 2007 10:54 AM

Flynne: Rum Punch was made into a movie. It was called "Jackie Brown," directed by Quentin Tarantino.

I don't known how accurate it was to the book, but definitely one of QT;s best flicks.

Posted by: LYT at September 12, 2007 1:07 AM

In Travolta's defense, didn't he demand a rewrite of the "Get Shorty" script to put in more of Elmore's dialogue?

Yes, this is true, Gregg says, but adds that Travolta also had to be talked into being in the movie by Quentin Tarantino.

I love that Farina line, too.

And thanks, LYT.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 12, 2007 1:51 AM

Also, Quentin Tarantino made "Rum Punch" into a movie called "Jackie Brown."

Posted by: Jim Treacher at September 12, 2007 3:10 AM

I watched the movie and I liked it generally. In case you have not watched yet, I will not tell you much about the story not to spoil the fun. But I will tell you the background to wet your appetite.

The movie is mainly based on two characters, the struggling rancher (Christian Bale) and the robber (Russell Crowe), who robbed the “Man”. They both witnessed the injustice committed by the powerful “Man” in the name of law in the wild, wild West. For the “Man”, the rancher volunteers to take the robber to a train station and the train will leave at “3:10 to Yuma”, where the robber will be imprisoned. This job will give the rancher $200 and will save his farm from the “Man”, whom he hates. The robber counter offer $1,000 to the rancher to let him go. So, the struggle starts.

If you watched the movie, you will realize that there are no full time saints or evils here. All of the characters are part timers, who are capable of doing the both depending on the each situation they face. I myself ended up looting for both the rancher and robber in the movie to achieve what they wanted. I realized the rancher and robber share so much in common but took a different route to get it by doing the right thing in their own mind. If you liked this move, you will like another western “Proposition (with Guy Pearce)”.

Posted by: Chang at September 12, 2007 10:17 AM

Does Christian Bale drop his pants in the movie? If so, I'm there.

Posted by: Lena Cuisina, Popcorn-Munching Lecherous Queen at September 12, 2007 1:30 PM

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