Mr. Parker and The Casting Call, Part 2: Guns of The Reminiscent Seven.

To be honest, I don’t believe there are going to be any more attempts to adapt any of the Parker novels for a long time to come.  By the time it happens, if it happens, almost anyone we might think of who is the right age now could be out of the running.  So what are we doing here?  I won’t speak for  you, but I’m trying to convince myself it’s even theoretically possible to cast an actor who is spot-on right for this role.

To that end, I find myself casting an eye backwards in time–to actors born a mite too soon to play Parker (but may have had some influence on his creation).  To actors perhaps too iconic and sought-after to play him by the time it became an option.  Or to actors who, though much appreciated in supporting roles, often villainous ones, never quite made it as leading men, and thus would never have been considered in the first place, unless it was some lowly B picture from Poverty Row (which might have been the best option).

It’s all moot, but does that make for any less enjoyable an exercise? These days, I’m grateful for distractions, triter the better, so let’s survey the competitors, the youngest of whom is eighty-four.  (The rest, being deceased, are all the same age.)  I’m going to consider them roughly in order of generation.  Starting with–

RYAN, Robert.  Born 1909, Chicago IL.  Height: 6’4.  Eyes: brown. 

This may seem an odd pick.  By the mid-60’s, when Hollywood began to pay attention to Parker, Robert Ryan was pushing sixty hard. But I don’t feel like any list of actors who might have had the potential to play this role is complete without him. In the history of noir on film, there is no grander name to conjure with.

Not much doubt he was the best actor on this list of mine.  But he was never the kind of actor who put on airs–who was afraid to underplay, when that’s what the role called for.  He could be almost impossibly cool–but you could still feel the rage seething beneath, barely held in check.  He often played characters who were on the verge of losing control, fighting a losing war of self-containment.

But he could play calm well-balanced men as well, as he did in The Wild Bunch.  He could play cowards, pedants, bullies and blusterers.  He could play the hell out of just about anything.  The year The Hunter came out, he played John Claggart in Ustinov’s Billy Budd.  His last role was Larry Slade, in John Frankenheimer’s boiled down adaptation of The Iceman Cometh.  If he ever gave a bad performance, I haven’t seen it.

More than tall enough for Parker, built towards the lean and ropy side.  As a younger man, he was in splendid physical shape, knew how to box, could move like lightning.  He could project murderous intensity, and he could be sexy, without being conventionally handsome.  More of an ensemble player, but he had the charisma of a star–and people knew him the moment he walked onscreen.

So if you could figure out how to do a series of Parker movies in the 1950’s, he’d be hard to beat.  My reservation is the one I have for all truly great actors–with Parker, you have to know when not to act.  Much as I think Ryan could restrain himself as needed, his work in crime movies leans more towards the histrionic side (partly because that’s what the movies of his era called for).  He’d have been brilliant in those stories where Parker is on a rampage, all his buttons pushed.  But I’d like him even better in something by David Goodis or Peter Rabe.

Next up is another Robert–the guy you’d want to see in almost any hardboiled role in crime fiction.  Only trouble with him is that he’s too damn good-looking.

MITCHUM, Robert.  Born 1917, Bridgeport CT.   Height: 6’1  Eyes: dark blue (I think), heavy-lidded.

With Ryan, I’d like to somehow transport the younger man forward in time a bit.  With Mitchum, I don’t feel like he could have played Parker until he was well into his forties.  The Mitchum we want is the Cape Fear Mitchum–early 60’s vintage.  And who ever believed Gregory Peck could take him?  In a courtroom scene, sure.  Or a western.  Not anything hardboiled.

But he never needed to play the toughest man in town.  Never mattered much to him.  Never took himself that serious.  When you’ve got that kind of personal magnetism, doesn’t make sense to exert yourself.  Mitchum underplays almost everything, because he doesn’t need to try that hard to draw us in.  He’ll put in the work, reveal himself, if he thinks the role is worth it.  But most of the time, he just doesn’t give a damn.  Most of the time he’s hiding beneath a ceremonial mask of skin. (Or getting himself arrested–never had much use for authority.)

Mitchum fits the descriptions of Parker that lean towards big, blocky, shaggy.  Westlake didn’t always have the same image in his mind when writing the character, and neither do we when reading about him.

Though he was more often cast in sympathetic roles, Mitchum liked playing really bad guys, and you could make a case nobody ever played them so well.  If I’d like Ryan for the stories where Parker is angry at the world, out for blood, I’d like Mitchum for the ones where he’s hiding his true nature from the world–and of course, for the ones where there’s a woman involved.  Of all the names on this list, this is the one that would most easily justify Parker’s ineffable allure for the opposite sex.  I can’t think of a single leading lady Mitchum didn’t have chemistry with.  But as with everything else, he never worked hard for that either.  Lucky bastard.

He almost played Mitch Tobin, in a movie that never got made.  He’d have been right for that too, though in a different mode.  Not that he’d be right for any Westlake protagonist.  About the only worse pick for Dortmunder would be Robert Redford.  Strange be the ways of Hollywood.  Nobody found them stranger than the most reluctant star of all time, namely–

HAYDEN, Sterling.  Born 1916, Montclair NJ.  Height: 6’5.  Eyes: dark–something. 

The biggest problem with casting Sterling Hayden as Parker isn’t that he turned fifty before Point Blank was even made.  It’s that you would never know when he’d take a mind to jump in The Wanderer, set sail for distant climes, and not come back until his money ran out.

He didn’t even like acting until he got older, and they stopped trying to turn him into a matinee idol.  He hated being forced into any kind of mold.  Which is precisely what would make him a prime candidate here, along with his intimidating size, his patented surly glower, and the undeniable fact that he played a primary prototype for Parker, in one of the greatest crime films ever made.  You know the one.

I can’t pretend to myself that the Hayden of the 60’s could have played Parker, except maybe one of the later books.  He had happily moved into more eccentric supporting roles by then, the pressures of unwanted stardom no longer weighing him down. But I can’t watch Hayden as Dix, Sam Jaffe as Doc, without being further convinced that one aspect to Westlake’s conception of Parker was his aspiration to combine the two–brawn and brains in the same package.

Hayden only played a heistman one more time after The Asphalt Jungle–in that film he had brains and brawn (and bad luck).  See what you think.

He had, you might argue, the best pedigree (even if he was a blonde).  But again, born a bit too soon.  And a bit too fidgety.

Let’s move on to the one actor Westlake mentioned as a direct influence in Parker’s creation.  Not my personal pick, but you can’t talk about the might-have-beens without mentioning–

PALANCE, Jack.  Born 1919, Hazle Township PA.  Height: 6’4. Eyes: dark brown, verging on black.  Onyx, one might almost say.

Westlake would have gone to see a lot of movies about armed robbers in the years before he wrote The Hunter, so in all probability, he saw this one, a remake of High Sierra.  Not as good as the original–but the lead was somebody you’d be much less happy about meeting in a dark alley.  Or a well-lit one.

Palance, as an actor, was a mixed bag.  Huge ability, but he didn’t always know what to do with it.  In a picture like The Big Knife, he’s practically dancing across the screen, hyperkinetic, almost dizzying (personally, I find that film exhausting, but that may be Clifford Odets’ fault).  In other performances, he’s like the proverbial coiled spring–just about to snap.  I prefer the latter approach for him.  And for Parker.

He doesn’t look human–sometimes he’s more of a monster than Karloff was with Jack Pierce and the entire Universal Pictures makeup department helping him out.  There’s often this sense of him being out of place–of having been born not so much in the wrong century, but the wrong millennia, possibly the wrong geologic era (not for nothing did they cast him as Attila the Hun).  But the present day is where you most often find him, and he’s going to have to make the best of that.

He’d have been a good pick for Parker in the 50’s, into the Mid-60’s.  Though physically, he’d have been able for the role well into the 70’s, fitness freak that he was.  It would have been imperative to have a director who could rein him in.  He, unlike Mitchum, liked working too hard.  A natural born ham, he relished big dramatic gestures, strong facial expressions, and those are only rarely called for with Parker.

The Palance you want in this case is minimalist Palance, impassive as a rock, twice as hard–and he can be hard to find, but he’s worth looking for.  All he had to do to embody Parker was stand there and breathe.  He might not have found that interesting enough.

But if the acting career hadn’t worked out, he could have picked up some cash modeling for Robert E. McGinnis crime paperback covers.  He’d have looked terrifying, walking across the George Washington Bridge at dawn, murder in his mind.  And we can be pretty sure that’s the image Westlake had in his head when he wrote that scene.

Next is my most perverse pick by far, that even I don’t take seriously.  But I make it anyway, because 1)He could have played the part with zenlike restraint and 2)Some imp of the perverse within me thrills at the notion of making the ultimate white hat into the baddest hombre of all.  I speak of none other than–

ARNESS, James.  Born 1923, Minneapolis MN.  Height: 6’7 (in his cowboy boots).  Eyes: blue.

Anyone whose two signature roles are a straight-arrow TV western lawman and a carnivorous bipedal vegetable from another world can be said to have had an interesting career.  James Arness was, to all accounts, a very thoroughgoing gentleman, and there is reason to doubt that he would have been willing to portray Parker at his most dastardly.  So why am I bringing him up?

I guess because of scenes like this–

In a sense, Arness never stopped playing The Thing From Another World, only the planet he hailed from was Justice.  In scenes that called for Matt Dillon to get angry, he never lost his cool–he got even colder.  His eyes would turn to purest ice, bore contemptuously into whoever had roused his ire, and even if that bad guy was played by Chuck Bronson, he’d start to look scared. Matt Dillon was the most frightening good guy in television history.  I’m not sure even Palance could have shown that side of Parker so well.

Think about that scene in The Rare Coin Score, where Neo Nazi Otto Mainzer asks if fellow string member Mike Carlow is Jewish.  We’re told Parker just looks at him.  And Otto, a big scary guy in his own right, starts backpedaling, and we understand that he’s worried Parker will kill him right then and there, so that he won’t ruin the job with his personal crap.  How many actors could pull that off?  This one could.

So the question is, was there something in him that might have enjoyed playing the villain for once, if the villain’s targets were mainly other villains.  He was not one of the more ambitious stars you can name, but he knew his craft, and he knew as well as anyone how to underplay, show you what he was feeling with a relatively minor change of expression.

I think the main objection to him is that if he was playing someone who didn’t believe in law and order, and was more than willing to shoot first, it would be awfully hard to depict him as the underdog in any fight.  Slayground would literally be a romp in the park for that guy.

Humor me on this one, I’m a huge fan of early Gunsmoke (the Meston era, far as I’m concerned that show only ran ten seasons).  So much so that I’m going to put up another YouTube video–only this time the coldest eyes in the scene I’m looking at don’t belong to Arness.  Or to anybody who was ever any kind of star, though he sure had a long career.  Go in a bit over eleven minutes.

No, I don’t mean Strother Martin, though he’d have been a fine addition to the cast of any Parker adaptation.  I’m talking about someone  I first noticed in a small but important role in The Outfit.  He played a hitman, out to kill Duvall’s Macklin.  I don’t know how Macklin got out of that picture alive.  Fiction isn’t always fair. Best man doesn’t always win.  And in this contest I’m playing out in my head, the best man for the job might very well have been–

REESE, Tom.  Born 1928, Chattanooga TN.  Height: 6’3.  Eyes: Narrowed, depthless, unreadable.  Wouldn’t swear to their color.

You always want what you can’t have, and all the names on this list qualify in that respect.  Tom Reese never played the lead in anything.  But the more I see of him, the more I know–he was really something.  He’s my personal pick.

Big. Tall. Blocky.  Face like chipped concrete.  Eyes like a wolf, almond-shaped, unblinking, merciless.  Voice as impassive as his eyes, betraying little in the way of a regional accent.  There’s a scene in The Outfit, where he’s walking with his hands swinging at his sides, and you just know somebody made a mistake.  This is Parker.  Duvall is playing the crazy guy Parker’s going to kill.

He’s dressed as a priest when we first see him in that movie, and I wonder if maybe Westlake was thinking of that when he had Parker pose as a priest in Flashfire (it’s as good an explanation as any).  Later, he’s dressed as a hunter, complete with cap.  Suits him.  He doesn’t sneak up on his targets, he stalks them.  He’s a murderous automaton, that would give The Terminator nightmares.  They wasted him in that movie, but they usually did. And yet, he would find a way to get his point across, time after time.

And it’s hard to find suitable images of him online.  I’ve ordered a DVD of The Outfit.  Maybe later I’ll take some screenshots, put them up.  My personal tip of the hat to somebody who deserved a bigger career, but far as I know, he never complained.  Just did his job like a pro, claimed his split, went home.  Perfect.

But since perfection is not to be had in this world, here’s my idea of a compromise–

SMITH, William.  Born 1933, Columbia MO.  Height: 6’1-6’2 (opinions vary).  Eyes: dark as dark gets. 

Let’s play one last what-if game, just a little more rooted in reality.  Let’s imagine Point Blank had grossed enough to qualify as a minor hit.  Enough for MGM to consider a follow-up.  Let’s further imagine that they needed somebody to replace Lee Marvin as Walker, which doesn’t require much imagination, since he hated repeating himself.

And it’s an historical fact that the TV western Laredo, starring William Smith as Joe Riley–a role not unlike Clint Eastwood’s in Rawhide–ended the same year Point Blank came out.  Born the same year as Donald E. Westlake, just nine months earlier, Smith was just the right age to play Parker by then.  And it’s hard to imagine any actor more precisely resembling the character described to us in the opening paragraphs of The Hunter.  Or better able to embody the menace of the character.  Or his dangerous sex appeal.

Smith never got his big break, as Eastwood, Garner and McQueen did after their western shows ended (he fought the first two onscreen, he engaged in impromptu auto races with the last offscreen).  He, like Reese, was destined for a seemingly endless series of guest starring roles on TV, and a long succession of big screen heavies (and he was Conan of Cimmeria’s dad for like five minutes–he’d have fared far better than Arnold in the main role, but that wasn’t his karma).

Smith has many of the same strengths and weaknesses of Jack Palance, was perhaps not as good an actor, but given the generally putrid quality of the scripts he was given, it’s hard to say.  He made the whole country hate him in Rich Man, Poor Man.  He was encouraged to mug it up, because that’s what sneering heavies do.  Only rarely did he get a chance to show restraint, because restraint was almost never what the director wanted from him.  But he could keep a straight face when that’s what was called for.



What was usually called for was more like this–(he claimed Taylor broke a few of his ribs, and made it sound like a compliment.  Taylor never disclosed the full extent of his injuries.)

Or, on television, this (and yeah, I considered Garner for Parker, but would we want to lose him as Rockford?  He was too much the comedian to play it straight for long.)

The villains he usually played were too over the top, but does that mean Smith couldn’t have reined himself in, if he was the name above the title, instead of far below it?  Give him the right director, the right scriptwriter, an adequate budget, and he might have been the guy.  He sure as hell would have been available.

I’ve said it before, but for some roles, you don’t want the best actor–you want the right one.  Somebody born to play the part.  Willing to just let the character step forth,  unedited, unbidden, unforced.  Lee Marvin came the closest, but Marvin was too big a star by the time he came to Parker, and any major star is going to come with too many strings attached.

Think about what any casting director would have to find here.  Tall.  Powerful. Huge hands. Scary but sexy.  Calm, quiet-spoken, but able to project cold rage when needed.  Able to credibly scare the bejeebers out of mob bosses and criminal sociopaths, and yet mask his true nature from the straight world, and particularly the law.  Looking for all the world like a man born into the wrong age–or a wolf born into the wrong body.  Nothing to it, right?

That’s right.

So I’ve had several suggestions for somebody who could play Parker right now.  Michael Shannon.  Kevin Durand.  I’ve mentioned Joe Manganiello once or twice.  Not enough to justify a Part 3.  Anybody else got a pick?  If not, I’ve got one more thing to talk about before we get to the very last book in the queue.  Call it an addendum to my previous review.



Filed under Donald Westlake film adaptations, Donald Westlake novels, Parker film adaptations, Parker Novels, Richard Stark

51 responses to “Mr. Parker and The Casting Call, Part 2: Guns of The Reminiscent Seven.

  1. I figured Mitchum would be on your list. His Rev. Harry Powell is about as cold a character as has ever been committed to celluloid. (Also, as an aside, Out of the Past is just a great, great movie.) Could he have transitioned from Night of the Hunter to just The Hunter? I’ve no doubt.

    Adrian Pasdar is the right age to play late-period Parker now. He may be too pretty, but he can definitely play cold and terrifying, as fans of the short-lived, ahead-of-its-time “Profit” can attest.

    • I liked Profit (the few eps I watched). He’s good, but I’m not sure he’s right for Parker. Grofield, maybe. I don’t like the shape of his head. Silly, right? It’s so personal. We all have this ideal image in our heads that no actor could ever hope to equal, but we keep trying.

      You ever wonder how Marvin got cast in the first place? I mean, he could have almost any project he wanted for a while there. He hadn’t played thieves all that much, except on TV (he was a bad guy on an early Dragnet). What made the producers think of him for Walker? I’m guessing it was a combination of his playing a hitman for Don Siegel in The Killers, and a mercenary in The Professionals. It sure wasn’t his drunken gunfighter in Cat Ballou.

      At the other end of the chronology, Statham had done a picture called The Bank Job, he’d done a bunch of remakes of 70’s stuff, he was typed as a good bad guy. When he was younger, back when he did The Transporter, he might not have been too awful. But nobody was going to be any good with that production team–that’s where movies succeed and/or fail. Before one frame of film is shot.

      They don’t tend to cast unknowns in this role, but an unknown might be just the thing, if you could find the right one. But that would mean either television (where new talents tend to spring up) or something very low budget.

      • I suspect they may have seen The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. Marvin may have been a bit too show-boaty in that movie to play the perfect Parker, but the coldness and cruelty were pretty on-point.

        Yes, to be done right, Parker would have to be a series. No need for a studio-mandated, two-hour “character arc.” Parker doesn’t do character arcs. A heist per season. Maybe start with The Rare Coin Score so Claire is a main character from the beginning.

        • A heist per season? Geez, we’ll all be in our graves before that’s done!

          My ideal–which will never happen–would be a straight-up adaptation of every novel–maybe throw in some of the Grofields, if they find a good actor for him. Some linking material can be written, so the writers get to feel creative. On the whole, I’d say leave Flashfire out. That well has been tainted.

          I don’t ignore how hard it would be. It would have to be done period-specific, because so many of the stories depend on there being no cellphones, no internet. Anyway, the cars are cooler.

          So maybe just do the First Sixteen.

          Season 1 they do the first Triptych.

          Season 2 they start off slow with The Mourner, blow everybody’s mind with The Score, end with The Jugger (shakes everything up, good cliffhanger finale).

          Season 3–now that they’ve got their feet under them–The Seventh, The Handle (larger budget), and then comes Claire. That’s a big development, Parker letting his guard down, after Lynn. Good place to end.

          Season 4 is the remaining three Gold Medals. So many great African actors they could cast for The Black Ice Score.

          Season 5 we’re into the Random House era–Deadly Edge, Slayground, Plunder Squad.

          Season 6 would just be Butcher’s Moon–the epic–but I could see them opening with Lemons Never Lie, to explain why Grofield is hungry enough to risk going back to Tyler. Maybe finally write a scene with Grofield acting.

          It would be up to them whether they tried to do the time warp for the Final Eight. Maybe give everybody a break, see if they want to come back at it later on.

          And then a Charles Willeford anthology show! Start off with Cockfighter!

  2. I like these picks, particularly Robert Ryan and William “BIg Bill” Smith.

    What about Charles Bronson? He came very close to playing Parker in a film version of Butcher’s Moon directed by Michael Winner:

    I think Bronson would have been just about perfect, especially if Winner had cast James Coburn as Grofield. (HARD TIMES gives us a sense of how that might have played.)

    • If everybody else in the cast was no taller than 5’5, I’d definitely go for Bronson–he outsquinted Eastwood in Once Upon A Time in The West. But as matters stand–way way too short. I rejected Rod Taylor, one of my favorite movie tough guys, for the same reason, and he’d be looking down on Chuck. Nobody one micron under six feet. (Which rules me out.)

      Hey, wasn’t there some kind of gas Woody Allen was working on in the first (and worst) Casino Royale? Maybe that would work. 🙂

      • Phil, you ever read Kill The Boss Goodbye, by Peter Rabe?

        The titular boss is a role that might as well have been written for Ryan. I mean, I can never make out any actor too clearly as Parker, but there I can see Ryan, I can hear him speak every line. And nobody else.

        He’d also have been great in Black Friday, by Goodis, but wouldn’t you know, they did cast him in that, and screwed it up anyway.

        • I started Kill the Boss Goodbye years ago but never finished it. (Rabe has never really “clicked” for me based on the few that I’ve read.)

          AND HOPE TO DIE seemed passable — the cast was the best thing about it — but the U.S. version is cut to shreds. But yes, Ryan would have been perfect in a more faithful adaptation.

          • Come to think of it, I can imagine Ryan in a number of Goodis adaptations. He could play self-loathing very well (he’s powerful in THE ICEMAN COMETH, his final performance), and he would have done a great job with the self-loathing, alcoholic bus driver of Cassidy’s Girl. He’d also be good as the frustrated alcoholic husband in The Wounded and the Slain.

          • Rabe has a masochistic streak that can take some getting used to.

            I don’t know that I’d cast Ryan as one of Goodis’s heroes–more like one of the cynical fatalistic thugs a Goodis hero tends to run into. They put him in the right role in And Hope to Die, but they changed too many other things–you could be right that I just saw the wrong cut. Goodis creates such a convincing reality–you change the setting too much, you lose the whole point of adapting him. It’s never sunny in his Philadelphia.

    • This is hardly the point, I don’t know why you’d make a movie of Butcher’s Moon without making a whole bunch of other Parker movies first. In the immortal words of Artie in “The Larry Sanders Show,” you don’t open with a show-stopper.

      • That movie was never going to get made, with or without Bronson. I assume they were going to concentrate on the mob war, cut everything else out, and Bronson was a good man for that kind of film. What you say is right, but that’s precisely why they’d option it. A slow build is not something Hollywood has ever excelled at.

        Height aside, I just can’t see any way Bronson could play someone even close to the Parker from the books. He’d be in about the same class as Gibson–more credibly tough, a bit less over the top, and an inch shorter.

        I mean, if we’re going to let short guys in, how can we forget Glenn Ford? And if we want to get really retro, The Big Three–Robinson, Cagney, Bogie. Wouldn’t rule out Muni.

        Westlake didn’t emphasize Parker’s size, over and over again, for no reason. There has to be this looming quality about him. Too big for the world he lives in. That being said, I admit James Arness is probably taking things too far. He can play Wycza, if he likes. 😉

      • I think it got pretty close to being made, actually. Michael Winner cared enough to bring in his writer, Gerald Wilson, to do a draft of the script after Brian Garfield left the project. I have no idea why it was shut down, but Paul Talbot probably covers it in one of his Bronson books.

        As for why they skipped straight to Butcher’s Moon, MGM had already tried and failed with adaptations of The Hunter, The Seventh, and The Outfit, none of which had performed well enough at the box office to justify sequels. Also, I doubt Bronson wanted to do a series. Making a one-off and skipping to the “showstopper” would make sense from a business point of view, particularly since that book involves robberies, gunfights and the mafia, things that would be right at home in a Bronson movie. I think it would have made a boatload from Bronson’s presence alone, especially overseas.

        It probably would have been good, too, although I’m partial to the Bronson/Winner films from the early ’70s.

        • I’ve read about that project, and it doesn’t sound to me like they were ever close–you know as well as me that there can be dozens of drafts and no film ever gets made.

          Bronson did do a series–Death Wish. Five movies. None of them very good. I still have to get around to reading Garfield’s books.

          It’s easy to say this or that project would have clicked, but the truth is, you never know.

          I just don’t feel like Parker would be a good fit for Bronson–even if he was big enough to fill those shoes, he wouldn’t know how to dance in them. Different drummers, you know?

          Now Charles Bronson as Arthur Bronson–and William Smith’s Parker kills him–that’s entertainment. 😉

  3. John O'Leary

    Slightly off topic, but in the latest Jack Reacher book, Lee Child has the bad guys repeatedly refers to Reacher as “Sasquatch” and “Incredible Hulk” to emphasize his size. Seems like a dig at casting 5’7″ Tom Cruise.

    • It’s the same general topic, which is “Why in God’s name did they cast (fill in name of big star here)?” And of course the question answers itself. You cast big stars because it makes the money men feel more secure. Cruise is going to be a marquee name for as long as he wants to work. However, he’s declined in popularity to the point where a nice safe franchise is a good deal for him.

      Based on what I know about Jack Reacher, the right pick for him today would be Alexander Skarsgård. People might complain about his not being American, or even a native English speaker, but surely a surly Swede is preferable to a silly Scientologist, and as Americans we have learned to love large Scandinavians in this type of role, whether the name be Bo Svenson or Dolph Lundgren. It’s a thing. (Bo Svenson is still alive, but much too old. Lundgren may be an even worse actor than Cruise.)

      So who did they cast Alexander Skarsgård as, when it came time for him to play a famous action hero? Tarzan of the Apes. A role that should never be played by a blonde. He gave it his all, and it did not suffice. Though his movie outgrossed either of the Reacher films, it did so with a much bigger promotion, budget, cast, and of course, Tarzan. His name alone doesn’t sell tickets. Cruise’s does. Don’t ask me why.

      I would think Mr. Child is happy to be getting all that Burbank gold, but wants to remind his readers that if there were ten more movie with Cruise, Reacher would still be tall and llight-haired, like his creator. I approve of this attitude. Though I will note in passing that after the first few 007 films with Connery, Ian Fleming stopped pretending Bond looked like Hoagy Carmichael. When the casting gods smile upon you, it is well to acknowledge it.

      And now Bond is short too. What the fuck is up with that?

      I may read a Reacher novel someday, but then again, I may not. There’s a 21st novel coming out–four more, and he’ll have more novels than Parker.

      But he’ll never have Richard Stark. And he’ll never be anything more than a symbol of male wish-fulfillment (and perhaps occasionally female wish-fulfillment). Nothing wrong with that. Somebody else can blog about it.

      PS: Reacher may not have Stark, but he’s got somebody who reads Stark–

      “His face looked like it had been chipped out of rock by a sculptor who had ability but not much time.”

      Nicely lifted, Mr. Child. 😉

      • There are references to Reacher’s size in all of the Reacher novels, but the latest one really lays it on thick. In addition to Sasquatch and The Incredible Hulk mentions, Reacher’s fists are twice compared to Cornish game hens (by two different characters — block that metaphor!).

        Early Reacher novels, while highly entertaining, read pretty much how I imagine Parker novels would have read like if Westlake had “faked it” between 1974 and 1997 (though in all likelihood not even that good). Parker seems like a clear model for the character, though I’ve never seen that officially acknowledged.

        Later Reacher novels, churned out like clockwork every fall, lean more heavily on the male wish fulfillment, and are decidedly worse than the early outings.

        • And people gobble them up, so let’s just say that Child knows his audience. Cruise has long appealed to a heavily-overlapping audience, so for all the complaints about his height, I can’t help but wonder if a better actor would be wasted on this character. And hey, he’s a three-time Oscar nominee. Insert eyeroll here.

          It’s one thing to take some ideas from earlier work in a related vein–who doesn’t?–but that line about the chipped concrete and the sculptor verges on outright plagiarism. If he’s going to cut it that close, he’d be well-advised to never even hint that he’s ever heard the name Richard Stark. The copyrights will outlive all of us by many years.

          All that being said, don’t you think that if the toughest guys in the military were MP’s (as Child himself used to be) we’d be sending them to fight the bad guys? I’m guessing SEALs, Rangers, and Green Berets don’t think too much of this theory. 😉

  4. Adi Kiescher

    One name I was missing. Tommy Lee Jones.

    • I’m not sure I can imagine Parker with a drawl. He wouldn’t have a strong accent of any kind, but he’s northeastern. I picked actors from all over the country, as you see, but nobody you could place by regional dialect. Jones is just barely tall enough, and he’s one of the greatest actors I can think of. He’s got a hell of a deadpan. He can say a lot with a little. I dunno, maybe. Did he ever play a bank robber?

  5. Well done. I love re-imaging roles and what ifs with past actors. I was thinking Bronson for a minute as well but read your follow up so understand your point. Like the choices you included and even bringing Williams Smith into the discussion. Always thought he deserved a shot at something better the way the 70’s were giving the “tough guys” the leading roles as opposed to the pretty boys. I keep meaning to do more of this recasting after having done it here to some fun what ifs?

    • You’re talking to someone who once imagined a 1920’s silent version of Dune, so I get where you’re coming from here.

      I always wonder, with actors like Smith, if they were unlucky, or if they just didn’t feel the need to become big stars. I mean, once you go down that road, it’s your whole life. Whereas, if you’re just the guy they call when they need a heavy, you can live a lot of other lives, still have a lot of fun, meet all the same interesting people, and get recognized in restaurants. You may not have a fabulous beach house in Malibu, but that’s overrated, and anyway, they’re going to all fall into the sea someday.

      Getting your ribs broken by Rod Taylor (because short guys always have to prove something), would be a relatively small price to pay.

      I have a suggestion for your article, but let me make it over there.

  6. I did leave out a name. Fairly obvious one. James Coburn.

    Right age. Right height. Very blue eyes, but who cares. Lean and mean. Just becoming a major star when the books started coming out (I hope he enjoyed it while it lasted.) He more or less specialized in playing amoral heroes. His voice and facial expressions, when he wasn’t winking at the camera (which he did a lot), would have been near-ideal. If Point Blank had been a hit, and Lee Marvin stuck to his guns about never playing any role twice, I could easily see MGM trying to get him for a sequel. He’d be the logical replacement.

    But somehow, I just don’t think so. A bit too lean, a bit too mean. He’d be okay for the early books (say the first four) which kind of exulted in Parker’s wicked ways. The more measured approach of the later novels, he wouldn’t be right for. And somehow, he’s just too much of a sophisticate. He tends to act like he’s superior to the material, which given his frequently execrable choice of projects, was too often the case. He can be amazing, and he’s always entertaining, but he doesn’t belong in my Reminiscent Seven.

  7. john martin

    Dave Bautista is my pick. Big guy, like Parker. Not a big talker. Huge hands. Mean looking face.

    I also thought of this guy, as I was reading the news story – a lot like Parker EXCEPT Parker would not have been caught in the first place. Leaves prison, and within 15 minutes, steals “an iPhone 7, four packs of cigarettes, a lighter, one Visa bank debit card, a Florida driver’s license and $547 in cash.” That’s Parker. Except dumber.

    • Well, he’s 50 years old now. A rather good actor (as wrestlers often are), but not convinced his style and persona would work for Parker. Better than Jason Statham’s did, anyway.

      I can’t hear his voice in my head when I read Parker’s dialogue. That’s a huge problem–getting the voice right. All the emotion down beneath the surface. Businesslike and calm outside, seething inside. Alienated from the world around him, yet constantly aware of it. Only Lee Marvin ever managed that. With a script that deliberately got the character wrong, because Boorman felt contempt for the material he was adapting (insecure, because it was his first big movie).

      And there’s the women to consider. The only scene he’s done with an actress that sticks in my mind is when Drax says “This green whore is my friend” and Gamora says “Oh you must stop!” (He’s very funny. Parker isn’t.)

      Parker has to be more than just a big bruiser. But he does have to be that. In a book, we can all see him our own way–his physical description is rather vague, and changes as the books go on. What we see in our minds reading Stark’s spare prose is the wolf beneath the mask. So who can give us that? Possibly no one. Anyway, he’d still need good writers and directors who understand the material, and that’s even harder than getting the casting right.

      As to the CNN story–I think you’ve confused Parker with this guy–

      Yes. It’s true. 😐

  8. Heist Girl

    Hey there, long time reader, first time commenter here! …And I’m pretty sure this isn’t gonna leave the best first impression, lol.

    So, in your mind, would a good candidate for Parker happen to be, say, I dunno, Robert Downey Jr. by any chance?

    Because that’s what we’re getting.

    And, as if to further prove your point that this shit is somehow all connected, this new adaptation will be helmed by Shane Black, writer of the first Lethal Weapon which starred Mel “Porter” Gibson.

    Now, as a fan of both the Parker novels and even most of his film adaptations (Most….), I’ve never really been a purist in regards to how Parker should look. His design isn’t that unique from the other big burly black haired dudes of men’s adventure novels (I’d personally have a hard time picking him apart from Mack Bolan, for example). I personally care more about whether the actor’s able to successfully capture the spirit and essence of Parker.

    And THIS is where I get concerned. Not necessarily that they’ll tone him down (Both Black and Downey Jr. Have proven that they’re willing to tell stories about try repellent people) but that they might try to add in lots of black comedy to “even it out”. At the very least, Downey Jr. should’ve been cast as Handy McKay. I think that would’ve been significantly more fitting casting.

    Actually, speaking of comedy, I think these two might have gotten their Westlake heistman protagonists mixed up.

    On the other hand, we still know next to nothing about this project other than its announcement. And, truth be told, I AM legitimately excited about this news, if only because we’re getting another Parker adaption and this time it’s helmed by a legitimately talented writer/director! (I too did not care for the Parker 2009.)

    I think this news, in a way, also proves your point about Parker’s enduring popualrity. Sure, 13 years is signficant time, but its taken much longer for other more popular franchises like Indiana Jones and Mad Max to make new stuff.

    I just hope they rename him in the adaptation this time. Out of respect for Westlake of course, and also because it’s practically tradition at this point.

    • I’ve heard other announcements about Westlake-related projects that never came to pass (there was talk of a Dortmunder series, and that’s faded away entirely). Downey Jr. has some clout, so maybe this will happen. I didn’t go see the Statham movie in a theater. I’ll probably just get a bootleg DVD to review this, like I did with ‘Parker’. In my nabe, you can do that pretty easy.

      He’s 5’9. C’mon. Does anyone ever read the books before they sign on the dotted line? (I’m going to guess they got the rights pretty cheap.)

      Now in fairness, I wasn’t convinced he could play Tony Stark, and frankly I don’t think he ever captured the comic book character very well, but they did a good job writing to his talents and I got to like his take on what is, after all, not the most well-defined character ever, because comic books–so many writers, so many artists–there’s a lot more flex there. It’s much easier to reinvent the wheel.

      I respect him as an actor–hell, I don’t really have a problem with Statham, within his limitations. But this is maybe even worse than Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher–and I don’t read those books, so much I cared. (Now they’ve finally cast a guy who looks like Reacher, and I still don’t care.)

      There won’t be anywhere near the same level of production talent here as there was in the MCU films–Downey Jr. has not typically fared well away from the franchise he has now unavoidably abandoned. He’s clearly going to be the man in charge here, and I see no reason to believe he knows how to do this. 56 is a very late age to start over with a new franchise, and definitely this one.

      And see, where nearly all the Westlake adaptations go wrong is at the production level. They can nail casting, hire a great writer, competent director–and still fall flat on their faces, because they don’t understand the material they’re working with. It’s not clear what book(s) they’re adapting. But we can take it for a given this will suck. But maybe my hits will go up. Hey, maybe I’ll post a few new articles. Anything’s possible.

      Grofield he could have played–maybe–but he’s too old now. Anyway, HBO has a series about an actor/hitman. I don’t care about that either.

      The problem with these failed adaptations is they devalue the property over time. In the U.S., Parker started out with Lee Marvin, one of the biggest most powerful stars in Hollywood then, working with a hot young director. Point Blank flopped. Been downhill ever since. The only one that was at all successful was Gibson’s, because he was still a draw then (and it wasn’t a bad film, for what it was). They never really try to be faithful to the spirit of the enterprise. If we somehow get a character as ruthless, unapologetic and downright inhuman as the Parker in the books, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Do you see that happening with this actor, trying to sustain his career as a leading man known for snark and superhero shtik? He doesn’t have the kind of raw charisma that could let him get away with the stuff Parker routinely pulls. Lots of charm, little substance. Again, Grofield, but somehow nobody ever wants to do Grofield.

      I appreciate the tip. And confirmation I have at least one female reader. I mean, I’ve long suspected, but the comments section has been a total sausage fest. Please stick around. I’ll charge you half-price for drinks. Nachos on the house. What’s your poison?

      • Heist Girl

        No problem! Though I hate to tell you this, I don’t think I’m your type. 😛

        In all seriousness, no, I don’t think Downey Jr. can pull off book Parker and I’m not sure he’ll even try. Like I said above, I’m very concerned withe casting choice, myself. As I said before, I imagine they’ll be injecting plenty of (hopefully dark) comedy to sugar the pill. So for example, we might indeed have this new Parker cutting his wife’s face to hide her identity…except now this moments will likely end with him getting blood all over his clothes which will lead into a scene of him awkwardly trying to find clean clothes. Am I saying this is right? Fuck no. But it IS a very Shane Black thing to do. (Hell, I’m probably being TOO optimistic with that prediction.)

        However, I would like to posit this:

        Robert Downey Jr. is getting on his years, and he’s still only recently exited the MCU.

        I could be wrong, but I have a feeling this’ll be a one off, ala Lee Marvin. Just one lone experiment that he’ll do because he wants to do something different and he’s at that point where he can. Hell, that’s what his colleague Chris Evans did when he took on the role of Ransom in Knives Out. (Of course it helps that Evans not only has greater range but has also played that sort of character in the past pre-Captain America but I digress.)

        And because this is a role that’s markedly different than his iconic turn as Iron Man, maybe it’s a bit early to write off the chance at a more book accurate Parker? Of course, I’m not completely blind to reality, if this ends up being The Not so Nice Guys starring Tony Richard Stark I’m not gonna put my hand on my chest and gasp. However, I also think we might at least get an attempt at a more book accurate Parker.

        That said, in all honesty, I think John Martin below is on the money. To me this’ll likely end up being like Mise á Sac at best, and the theatrical cut of Payback at worst. Has the same plot and heists, a lot of the same dialogue, but Parker’s already gone without a trace.

        Ps. As much as I do like some of Statham work as an actor (particularly when he collaborates with Guy Ritchie), I started Parker (2009) on Netflix almost a decade ago and still haven’t finished it. I don’t owe him that.

        • Ma’am I think you may be laboring under a whattayacall, misapprehension. This ain’t that kinda joint. Here, we mainly just have weird rambling conversations at the bar, and if you got a job to plan (none of my biz what that might be about), you can have the back room. Tiny might chat you up, but J.C. would murder him if he did. I chat nobody up, it would be, whattayacall, unprofessional. Now before I start sweeping up, you made a few whattayacall, points.

          I agree with pretty much all you said (so you may not be confused enough to chat at this bar), but my feeling is, they always associate Westlake with comic crime, even when the work in question isn’t remotely comic (or even criminal). He usually puts some humor in the Starks, but it’s very much on the down-low. Nobody has ever figured out how to make that work in a film. I don’t see why nobody could, I think the right people have just never felt inclined to try. Alain Cavalier came the closest, as I’m glad you agree. I wish I agreed Payback is the worst case. But I’ve seen Slayground. There’s just no telling how low they can sink when they start worrying what people will think.

          (Hell, a lot of people think the best case is The Outfit, which works fine as long as you only look at the background, never the foreground.)

          The French Noir approach would be best; however, I don’t think even the French know how to do that anymore. C’est dommage.

          I’ll put in the nachos order, and I’m just going to guess you’re a bourbon kinda gal. Neat?

          • Heist Girl

            Glad that misunderstanding was cleared up, ;). Hope you don’t mind making that nacho and bourbon to go because I have to head out myself for…shopping. Yeah.

            Before I leave though I have to ask: We’re counting Slayground?

            Because I was only counting Parker adaptations that made a legit attempt. This is why I also didn’t count Satham Parker or Made In U.S.A. Frankly none of those are Parker. I didn’t see all of Parker 2013? Well I didn’t say life was fair either.

            • Again, fair point. I didn’t review Slayground for that precise reason, though I did go into a bit of detail about Made In U.S.A. . If only for the lawsuit.

              Still, we don’t even know which book they’re adapting–or are they? Adapting a book? Is it an original script featuring the character. Will this be Parker fanfic? Even I never dared that much.

              None of the Hollywood adaptations come particularly close to the books. Payback, the only one that wasn’t a bomb, came the closest. You can blame that on Gibson, but I think it was more the dialogue and action ripped straight from The Hunter. For which the perverse Mr. Westlake chided Brian Helgeland. But while it started out sorta faithful, it didn’t end that way–either version.

              What haunts me is that every time they adapt a novel, they tie up the rights to some extent. Meaning it will be harder to do a TV series based on all the novels, which is really the only way to even possibly get it right. At this point, they’ve tied up The Hunter, The Outfit, The Score, The Jugger (that probably doesn’t count for legal purposes), The Seventh, and Flashback. What would you guess they’d tie up this time? I’m going with The Handle. That’s probably the closest thing to RDJ’s wheelhouse. Island casino, Mexican adventures, very Bond. And Grofield is in it. Rob, man, you would be a great Grofield! And that’s a very rare name.

              Anyway, I hope they don’t call him Parker this time. It’s really not a good movie franchise name, anyhow. Too common. Btw, did you know RDJ used to date Parker? Sarah Jessica, I mean. Not Mary Louise. Definitely not Eleanor. Probably not Parker Posey. But he gets around.

              • Heist Girl

                I don’t think Parker’s prominent enough in pop culture for anyone to give him the Land of Oz treatment (i.e different creators creating new adventures). Of course, don’t some of the adaptations do that anyway?

                I have a lot, (and I do mean a LOT) to say about both versions of Payback. Hell, I have plenty to say about most the adaptations. But those are convos for another day in another comment section. Otherwise, we’d be here all night.

                Didn’t know that about RDJ and SJP. Everything truly is connected.

                Personally, I hope they name him “Archer” to fulfill the prophecy as foretold by The Green Eagle Score. They’re not gonna (if only because that name’s been taken by a certain animated show), but it would definitely earn some good will out of me if they did.

                Anwyay, can’t wait to talk more Parker (and other Westlake stories) with y’all!

              • They could just use one of Parker’s aliases. All of which are less generic than the name he goes by in the criminal world. Which does suit him, somehow. Just not any of the characters standing in for him in movies.

                You never know who’s going to get pastiched. It happened to Robert Parker’s Spenser (you see what I mean about the prevalence of that name–that’s precisely why Parker picked it). There’s eleven Spenser pastiche novels out now. I’ve never read one of the originals. I watched the Robert Urich series a few times. I thought Hawk was cool. A lot cooler once he put on a Starfleet uniform.

                Parker is under copyright, nobody can legally put out new stories featuring the character and make money off it. I worry about what happens when he’s in public domain. Pretty sure I don’t live to see that. Damn sure I don’t want to.

                But I hope I live long enough to see you dissect Payback. Just understand, without that movie, this blog wouldn’t exist. We all have to start somewhere.

              • I forgot Slayground. So that’s seven novels that you’d have to work harder to get the TV rights for all the novels, though I’m sure it’s possible. You just have to want it enough to go the extra mile, spend the extra million or three. TV rights are separate from film rights to some extent.

                However–and I just found this out–Amazon bought up MGM’s entire catalogue. MGM was the studio behind the first three Hollywood Parker films. So presumably the rights to The Hunter, The Seventh, and The Outfit wouldn’t be too hard to finagle. MGM has been defunct for some time now. Not with a roar but a whimper.

              • Heist Girl

                That might be true of the Outfit and the Seventh but consider that Payback was under Paramount. So MGM probably doesn’t have the rights for The Hunter anymore. Also, christ, MGM…when empires fall, they fucking dissolve.

                Speaking of Payback, well, here’s a little hint as to my thoughts: It was my introduction to Parker (and Westlake as a whole), too. But again, for another day.

            • I considered that, but they probably had to pay somebody for the rights. Maybe whatever was left of MGM, which wouldn’t have been in a great bargaining position. Since it was Gibson, a franchise wouldn’t have been out of the question, but Payback just did tolerably well, and he had other fields to till. (And he was just about ready to go mad for real.)

              It’s all moot until somebody wants to do a series. Maybe all the old Hollywood empires will be gone by then. Can’t say I’d mourn them. But you know, pictures used to be better.

    • john martin

      I think Hollywood will do whatever makes them money. The idea of a protagonist who doesn’t speak much does not really appeal to them… but it’s what we want as fans of the books. We’re not really the target market. RDJ being cast in this reminds me of Tom Cruise being cast as Reacher. OK, he can make a decent action film, but he was not the embodiment of Reacher in any way. The author agreed, and the Amazon show that recently aired did a great job on the casting and all of it. With RDJ, there’s a decent chance they will make a movie worth watching, with a nice little heist, some double crossing, and elements we’ll recognize from the books, but there’s little chance that Parker will be one of those things we’ll recognize.

      • You know, you can point to just about any aspect of Parker that we say Hollywood couldn’t or wouldn’t use, and then find some really successful project where they did precisely that. Just not with Parker. Or anything else from Westlake.

        The problem, once more, is the producers. When they suck, the movie pretty much always does. Does RDJ suck as a producer? I have no idea, because I’ve never seen anything he produced (if he had producer credit on any of the MCU films, that was purely titular).

        Now I note with interest he’s co-producing and co-starring in a miniseries adaptation of The Sympathizer for cable. That’s a period novel set in Vietnam and Los Angeles that I have on my Kindle, it’s reputedly amazing, and I keep meaning to read it. Preferably at a really good Vietnamese restaurant, with really good Vietnamese beer, but that will have to wait until I’ve got jury duty again, which may be happening fairly soon, judging by the rather threatening subpoena I just got in the mail (I did the juror questionnaire over the phone, don’t arrest me, I’ve been busy not dying!)

        Now I haven’t read it, so I don’t know what role he’s playing, but it sure as fuck ain’t the first-person protagonist, who is Vietnamese, like the author. Hollywood doesn’t do that kind of miscast anymore, so let it not be said there’s been no progress in the field of casting. They just keep getting worse when it comes to casting Parker. (I’d take Peter Dinklage over RDJ. They could CGI him like they did in Infinity Wars.)

        That’s for HBO, so let’s be real, he’s not going to be the actual producer, because HBO doesn’t take chances. If HBO was doing this Parker thing, I’d feel better about it, but it’s for Amazon. I’m a Prime member, and nary a show of theirs have I ever found watchable. But if I get it free as a subscriber, I’ll consider watching. Otherwise, the bootleg route.)

        They will be very faithful to Nguyen’s novel. That’s a prestige production. The only time Westlake ever got the prestige treatment was Costa Gavras adapting The Ax, which I never did get around to reviewing, did I? We’ll try addressing that in the post-pandemic, should it ever come.

  9. Greg Tulonen

    This news raises more questions than answers, like: Has Shane Black finally abandoned his Doc Savage project? (probably) and: Will RDJ be able to dial it down? (probably not) and: Will this be a period piece? (almost certainly not)

    • Was I wrong to say there wouldn’t be another Parker movie for a long time after “Parker”? Well, that fiasco came out in 2013, so it’s going to be at least a decade after that before this comes out, if it ever does. I think my rep as media prognosticator remains intact. So maybe in 2033 we get the good movie? 😐

  10. Anthony

    I for one am glad that the Dortmunder series did not pan out. I have no doubt that – at best – it would have fallen into that Ocean’s 11 Sneakers form of Hollywood wise-cracking. Which is all fine and good when you want to turn your mind off and stretch the concept of suspension of disbelief, but is not the right vibe for the Dortmunder gang. At all.

    • The only Dortmunder show I’d probably want to watch would be The Gang’s All Here. But they’d have to fix it so the gang didn’t know they were being filmed, and arrange with all the places they were robbing not to call the cops. Also, the Emmy Awards would be problematic. I guess J.C. could accept them without telling anyone else. She’d be the producer, naturally. Why are you looking at me like that?

  11. Greg Tulonen

    So wait, the name of the Shane Black/Robert Downey Jr. movie is “Play Dirty,” which may be a worse title than “Dirty Money,” but does make me wonder if it’s based on “Dirty Money” (a terrible place to start, if you’re planning a Parker franchise) or if it’s fan fiction (more likely, I suppose).

  12. bobhollberg

    I was trying to think of a Parker-esque film performance and the first one that came to mind was Robert Mitchum in Thunder Road. Very independent, very no-nonsense, with a functional, but sincere, relationship with a woman.

    • I suppose the character of Chemy, in The Outfit, could have been inspired to some extent by that 1958 film. But Parker is no country boy. He may not care for cities, but that’s where he was reared. If he was reared. Whelped?

      None of these actors I mentioned ever played anyone like Parker, but there are scattered moments where they invoke something of Parker.

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