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Elmore Leonard has gone, leaving the finest, gun-tottinist gallery of characters on the range and in the hood this side of Simenon’s Paris.  He’s got the patois of tough guys with no time to spare down pat, going about their usually deadly daily business.

I watched one of the finer films to come out of Leonard’s work, and one of the earliest: Martin Ritter’s 1967  Hombre, staring Paul Newman as the Apache-kidnapped-and-adopted Ish-kay-nay reluctantly re-entering white life as John Russel.  There isn’t a bad line or shot in the whole film and a lot of very very good ones, along with top-notch performances by Newman, Richard Boone and Diane Cilento.  Though there have been movies in the last decades viewing American Indians as victims of great injustice and no more savage that their persecutors, Hombre has got to be one of the first that takes an unequivocal look at it.  The bag of money at the center of the story comes from the Indian Agent’s [Fredric March] fleecing of the people he was supposed to be looking out for.  Even one of the bad-guys gets it.

“That was pretty smart, billin’ the government for food for the Indians and then keepin’ the money while them poor Indians starve to death.”

Russell, shoots point blank: 

“Lady, up there in those mountains is a whole people who’ve lost everything.  They don’t have a place left to spread their blankets. They’ve been insulted, diseased, made drunk and foolish.  Now you call the men who did that Christians, and you trust them.  I call them white men, and I don’t.”

If you like lines like these — presumably right from Leonard’s pen– get Hombre [Man] on your list.

John Russell: Hit something, Mendez, first the men, then the horses.
Henry Mendez: I don’t know. Just to sit here and wait to kill them?
John Russell: If there was some other way, we’d do it.
Henry Mendez: Maybe we can keep going and try to outrun them.
John Russell: If you run, they’re gonna catch you, they’re gonna kill you. You believe that more than you believe anything.
Henry Mendez: All right.
John Russell: And try not to puke. You may have to lie in it for a long time.


“What do you think will be on your tombstone, Mr. Russell?”
“Probably John Russell, shot dead. “
“Don’t people like you, Mr. Russell?”
“It only takes one that doesn’t.”

I don’t know if Leonard had a previous story in mind as he created Hombre but the cast-out on the stage coach who saves the other passengers despite their contempt has an honorable string of forebears.  John Ford’s 1939 Stagecoach, with John Wayne, for example, took from  Guy de Maupassant’s Boule de Suif (literally ‘Tub of Lard’) in which bourgeois passengers fleeing during the Franco-Prussian war abuse a prostitute among them, despite her having helped them.

Start with Hombre and go from there.