Leonard, Elmore. Get Shorty.

NY: Delacorte, 1990.

Leonard is justifiably highly regarded as the author of a couple of dozen generally first-rate crime novels, and they’re all a lot of fun (sometimes viciously so), but this relatively light-hearted caper is still arguably his best. There’s a lot of Damon Runyon in it, in fact.

Chili Palmer is not a mob guy (though people often assume he is), he’s just a reasonably successful Miami loan shark (though he’s thinking of getting out of the business) who does collections for casinos on the side. In the process of tracking down a skipped client who was supposed to have died in an Everglades plane crash, he finds himself in Vegas, where a new commission sends him on to Hollywood to talk to Harry Zimm, an independent film producer who is in debt to the house for a couple hundred grand. Harry has made his living for several decades with horror flicks (alternating between slime people and hairy monsters who attack teenagers) but now he has an option on a property he’s sure will make him an overnight success. But he needs the services of superstar Michael Weir, and that requires a large amount of money up-front — hence his desperate gambling. Harry also owes money to a couple of limo-service guys (that’s just their front business, of course) who were interested in bankrolling one of his B-pictures, but he doesn’t want them anywhere near this new project.

Chili, who starts out simply trying to collect the casino’s money, becomes drawn inexorably into the Hollywood dream-world. He finds himself pitching a story idea of his own — consisting of the true events of his own recent life and adventures. And then there’s Karen Flores, whom Harry discovered and cast in his films years ago (she was a great screamer), and whom he subsequently lived with for awhile. And Karen later lived with Michael Weir. She never got very far up the ladder as an actress, but she’s a sharp cookie and she’s been paying attention to the movie business for a long time now. She’s thinking about trying to make waves on the other side of the producer’s desk.

Will Chili shed his roots completely and become a film producer? Will Bo Catlett, one of the limo guys and manager of a prosperous drug-importing racket, let him? Will Harry ever get his film made? Will Michael Weir ever pick up a restaurant check? This books is what they call a “romp,” filled with very cinematic scenes and grin-inducing dialogue. Most of Leonard’s yarns have gone to film, and this book is a wry distillation of his own experiences in and observations of Tinseltown. In fact, it’s almost impossible to read it without hearing the voices of John Travolta, Gene Hackman, and Rene Russo. Read the book. Then watch the film.

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Published in: on 24 March 2014 at 5:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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