Friday, August 23, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Tall T -- Elmore Leonard

In honor of the late Elmore Leonard, I'm reprinting my comments on this book from last June.

You can tell by looking at the covers and spine of the paperback edition of The Tall T that when this Avon book was published, nobody knew who Elmore Leonard was.  His name is nowhere on it.  If you looked at the spine, you might even think that Randolph Scott had written the book.  And if you look at the tiny print under the title, you'll see "And Other Western Adventures" because instead of publishing a novelization of the movie, which was based on a novelette called "The Captives" from Argosy, Avon just published the novelette and padded out the book with some still photos from the movie and two other stories, one by Steve Frazee ("The Man at Gannt's Place") and one by Noel M. Loomis ("The Twilighters").

 If you've seen the movie, as I'm sure many of you have (and if you haven't, you can watch it right here), you might want to know how it's different from the book.   The opening 15 minutes of the movie aren't really in the story.  A couple of the events are alluded to, but others have just been added.  And the ending is changed.  In the story, Chink (Henry Silva in the movie) is the of the killers that Brennan (Randolph Scott) has to deal with.  In the movie, it's Frank Usher (Richard Boone).  Not that it makes a lot of difference.

Most everything in between comes directly from the story.  Leonard's dialogue is hardly altered.  It's as if he were already writing directly for the screen.  It's fun to see the movie shortly after reading the book to see how the actors handled the dialogue.  As I read the story, I could hear Scott saying some of the lines, and in the movie he spoke a few of them pretty much as I thought he would.  Not nearly all of them, however.  It was a pleasure to watch him work.  He was a much better actor than he sometimes gets credit for.

The question of the day is, "Why is this movie called The Tall T?" Nobody in the movie mentions it. Nobody is named anything that begins with the letter T.  It's not the name of a ranch.  Anybody know?

I recommend both the story and the movie.  Great stuff.


Todd Mason said...

A sad reason to reprint an excellent review, but still a book I'll need to read...

George said...

I need to read some Elmore Leonard, too. I've read most of his crime novels, but only a fraction of his westerns.

Kelly Robinson said...

My Linguistics minor made me have to know more about the meaning of Tall T. I haven't figured it out, but there's a line of Fords in the '20s known as Tall Ts. I wonder if it's a reference to the stagecoach?

Anonymous said...

Maybe just a decision made as a compromise, that is, a mysterious title to draw in moviegoers. The "T" is frequent in western writing, as Texas has a real hold on cowboy culture. The T could stand for a possible place in Texas one of the characters in the story or film came from. Take your choice of the theories. Thanx!