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Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard

What does a three-time
loser have to lose?
It’s truly staggering how many of Elmore Leonard’s simply written and spare novels and novellas have been turned into films. If you don’t believe me, here’s a link to an out-of-date hierarchical listing of best-to-worst adaptations from Indiewire. See, there’s lots of them.

But as the chap who lent me this one (he’s been on an Elmore Leonard bender of late, including all of the early westerns he wrote, and is trying to force me to read them all) says, once you’ve seen the film, and heard those movie idols speak Leonard’s wonderful prose lines, it’s really damned hard to imagine anyone else saying them, even in the case of Alan Alda.

So it’s no surprise then that the dialogue of Rum Punch, committed to celluloid by the esteemed Mr Tarantino, seems to spring from the mouths of Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert de Niro, Bridget Fonda et al. And after that, well, it’s hard to think of anything else. 

For those yet to see the film of the book, altered to reflect Tarantino’s contemporaneous penchant for Blacksploitation movies to have an African-American leading lady by the name of Jackie Brown (as opposed to the forty-something, trim, sexy blond Jackie Burke of the novel), then read this first. Jackie is a flight attendant, smuggling small sums of cash across the country for small-time arms dealer and hoodlum Ordell Robbie. Of course, she gets caught in a sting by local and federal law enforcement and hatches her own plan to extricate herself and a large portion of the money, with the help of bail bondsman Max Cherry. Things go remarkably well for her, naturally, despite hiccups along the way. But the star here of course is Leonard’s prose which, arriving pure and un-stepped-upon by those dealers of cultural references, sparkles and vivifies the action, necessarily sparse, allowing the action to develop quickly and never bothering to mention the weather or use any other verb than ‘to say’ when someone says something, adverbs be damned. It’s great, it really is.

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