A pair of Leonard's works — the crime novel "The Big Bounce" and the western short story "Three-Ten to Yuma" — managed to be adapted for the screen twice in the writer's lifetime.

Directed by Delmer Davis, the gritty prisoner-transfer thriller "3:10 to Yuma" was one of Leonard's first works to get the big screen blow-up, arriving in 1957 with Glenn Ford and Van Helfin in starring roles. Half a century later, James Mangold ("The Wolverine," "Walk the Line") directed a remake starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale.

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"Bounce" reached the screen first in 1969 as a vehicle for the then-married Ryan O'Neal and Leigh Taylor-Young. "I don't think anybody in the picture knew what they were doing," Leonard remarked of the film. The 2004 iteration starring Owen Wilson flopped at the box office and fared no better in Leonard's estimation. "They shot in Hawaii," he noted. "They would cut to surfers when they ran out of ideas."

And Leonard's page-to-screen influence seems set to continue from beyond the grave.

The writer's 1978 crime novel "The Switch" has been adapted into the movie "Life of Crime," which is scheduled to debut at the Toronto International Film Festival next month. Centering on two criminals (John Hawkes and Yasiin "Mos Def" Bey) who kidnap the wife (Jennifer Aniston) of a wealthy real estate developer for ransom, the film — of which Leonard presumably looked upon favorably, having served as its executive producer — is set to close the festival Sept. 14.

"The reason I've been able to sell all my books is because they look like they're easy to shoot," Leonard told British novelist Martin Amis in a Times-sponsored 1998 discussion. "They're written in scenes, and the stories move through dialogue. I think the problem has been, in the past, that they've been taken too seriously. They haven't been looked at as if there's humor in them. And also the fact that when you bring a 350-page manuscript down to 120 pages, in my books, a lot of the good stuff is gone. It disappears. Because then you're more interested in plot than you are in, say, character development."

And if there's one essential element in an Elmore Leonard story, it's character.


Times staff writers Amy Kaufman and Susan King contributed to this report.