In 2009, when I first saw the titles and the distinctive cover design for Leisure Books’ Classic Film Collection series, I thought the imprint had tackled a smart marketing campaign: release novels that tie in to classic western movies — typically the sort that appear on cable channels like American Movie Classics, Turner Classic Movies, and so forth — and woo film fans who might not usually read a western to try the genre.
Well, by October 2010 — when Leisure ceased publishing print books and the company’s financial future was looking less than rosy — it was clear what I considered smart was no better than what Dorchester Books had thought.
Still, I thought this was a nice packaging gimmick, and it lead me to some stories I hadn’t read before.
Like this one: The Man from Laramie, by T.T. Flynn, basis for an Anthony Mann film starring James Stewart.
I’m a fan of the Mann-Stewart westerns. Their dark and noirish tones are startling on first viewing, if you’re more familiar with John Wayne westerns from the period or haven’t seen Stewart in Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
I’m a bit surprised that I haven’t seen this film, because I made a special effort to seek out those Mann-Stewart collaborations a few years ago. Somehow this one slipped past me.
The novel is well-suited for the type of hard-boiled films that Mann and Stewart made together. There’s lots of tough, no-holds-barred violence and characters with no moral compass—which prefigures the rise of the Sam Peckinpah-Spaghetti Western antihero-focused films. The novel’s hero, Will Lockhart, is a hard man on a vengeance quest, so he’s not a lily-pure fellow in a white hat, either.
I've read a number of Flynn's short stories, and this novel carries the strengths he demonstrates in the shorter form: compact storytelling, dynamic interactions among the characters, lively, well-developed characters, taut action scenes, excellent plotting.
I recommend The Man from Laramie as a good introduction to Flynn's western novels. Leisure's western imprint (and Jon Tuska's Golden West agency) did a fine job rescuing Flynn and many other pulp-era authors from limbo. I wonder if we'll see any more Flynn novels resurface?