Elmore Leonard's First Film
Today, October 11, is the birthday of the western and crime novelist, Elmore Leonard (1925 -- 2013). I celebrated the occasion by watching this 1957 western, "The Tall T" after learning of it from a fellow admirer of Leonard.. It is the first film adaptation of a Leonard writing and is based on a pulp magazine story, "The Captives" which is included in the Library of America compilation of Elmore Leonard westerns that I have read and enjoyed.
"The Tall T" is a taut, quickly paced western set in the Arizona territory. This technicolor film features spacious desert scenery but its main interest lies elsewhere. The "T" of the title stands for terror and the film involves a kidnapping of three people, a pair of newlyweds and a rancher, who are in fear for their lives. The outlaws have demonstrated their lack of compunction about killing, and the movie builds in suspense to a violent conclusion.
Budd Boetticher directed this film, one of seven famous westerns he made with Randolph Scott, who stars as the tough, quiet rancher Pat Brennan. For me the major attraction of the film besides the Leonard story was Richard Boone of "Have Gun Will Travel" fame who plays Frank Usher, the roguish yet sympathetic leader of a gang of three outlaws. Brennan and Usher strike up an unlikely friendship which reminded me of a similar friendship between an outlaw and the individual who ultimately brings him in in in the two film adaptations of Leonard's "3:10 to Yuma". The friendship in this movie doesn't prevent a violent end. Much of the interest in the film lies in the development of the relationship between the outlaw and the rancher. Maureen O'Sullivan offers a good performance of the new wife, just married to a coward of a husband. Skip Homier and Henry Silva perform the two quick- on the- trigger outlaws that "run with" Usher. For all its violence, the film suggest the role of true love as a necessary way around the condition of loneliness.
Richard Boone's role in this film made me think of what Paladin might have been as an outlaw. Film adaptations of Elmore Leonard often are hit or miss, but this short B film of about 75 minutes is outstanding. "The Tall T" is included in the National Film Registry maintained by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." I was glad to think about Elmore Leonard again on his birthday by watching this first film adaptation of his writing.