Search This Blog

Monday, July 24, 2017

ANDREW McBRIDE on how the book and film of ELMORE LEONARD’s ‘HOMBRE’ helped inspire his novel THE PEACEMAKER.

I’ve been fortunate enough to receive wide acclaim already for my Sundown Press novel THE PEACEMAKER, including 5 star reviews from 2 of the most successful western authors in the business. Spur award-winning and Pulitzer Prize-nominated author ROBERT VAUGHAN describes it as ‘a great book’. Meanwhile RALPH COTTON (also a Pulitzer-prize nominated novelist) writes: ‘For pure writing style, McBride’s gritty prose nails the time and place of his story with bold authority. …this relatively new author has thoroughly, and rightly so, claimed his place among the top Old West storytellers.’ I’m very grateful to both Robert & Ralph for their fantastic support.

One of the biggest influences on me, writing THE PEACEMAKER and my other western novels, was HOMBRE – the 1961 book written by ELMORE LEONARD, and the superb 1967 film made from it.

Book and film are both set in 1880s Arizona. The central character is John Russell, a white man kidnapped by Apaches as a child and raised by them. This is historically accurate: various Native American tribes carried off Mexican and American women and children during raids, and some of the boy captives grew to be warriors amongst their captors. Here’s a real Apache captive: SANTIAGO (or JIMMY) MCKINN, a Mexican-Irish boy held by Geronimo’s band until 1886. 

I saw the movie long before I read the book, and it instantly became one of my favourite westerns. I particularly liked PAUL NEWMAN’s John Russell, an effortlessly cool, counter-culture loner who, after being freed from Apache captivity, returns to them. He prefers living with wild Indians to (supposedly) civilised white society.

I read the novel much later. Indeed I got my copy signed by Elmore Leonard himself at a reading he gave in England c. 1990. He struck me as a charming man. One of the observations about writing he made was that he enjoyed writing the first 100 pages of a book (typically 300 pages long), and the last 100, but he hated the middle 100, which he likened to being stuck in the middle of a tunnel.

 I was struck by the differences between book and film.
 Usually films are edited down from books, but in the case of HOMBRE, the movie expands on the novel, beefing up the main female protagonist’s part, giving a really juicy role to DIANE CILENTO

adding extra characters and scenes and also dialogue (courtesy of the renowned team of IRVING RAVETCH and HARRIET FRANK JR.) that might be just as taut and effective as Leonard’s. And adding salty humour that the book lacks. (Newman almost stumbles upon Cilento undressing. She’s irate he’s not made his presence known sooner.
Cilento: ‘You could at least have cleared your throat.’
Newman: ‘I couldn’t. My heart was in it.’)
The book is done via first person narration from the least memorable of the colourful bunch of characters Leonard assembles. This style of reportage can have a distancing effect, especially when the central character – John Russell – is so mysterious, a man of few (barely any) words, who keeps his emotions deeply hidden. And the film definitely improves on the book by letting Russell articulate about what really angers him – the treatment of the Apaches by the white man. In the novel most of that’s left unsaid.

All of which sounds like a criticism of the book and yet… HOMBRE is one of the few novels I would willingly give 5 stars to. The writing is so good! As one critic put it: "Nobody writes less and says more than Elmore Leonard." The prose totally reflects its desert setting by being spare, stark and uncluttered, with barely a 3 syllable word in view; in brief exchanges of dialogue words impact almost like bullets. Characters (particularly Russell) fascinate as much by what’s not revealed about them as what is. It’s only at the end that you realise what a tense, riveting, white-knuckle ride this book has been. An extra-ordinary novel.
As for the film, it’s every bit as good, with tremendous performances from the cast. DIANE CILENTO plays one of the most memorable female characters in western film, RICHARD BOONE is an outstanding villain

and there’s first rate performances by two of America’s greatest character actors – 



In smaller roles you’ve also got CAMERON MITCHELL and FRANK SILVERA before they re-united in TV’s ‘High Chaparral.’

Like that show, HOMBRE captures the harshness and astonishing beauty of Southern Arizona through its great location photography. That’s something I’ve tried to reflect in my writing, particularly in THE PEACEMAKER, which is set in the same environment. I’ve also followed HOMBRE in aiming for a spare, economical writing style and laconic dialogue, appropriate for the setting of the book. I’ve tried for a similar tautness and gritty authenticity, while my hero, Calvin ‘Choctaw’ Taylor does owe something to the outsider quality of John Russell as Paul Newman portrayed him.
I’m not claiming for one minute to be as good a writer as Leonard; but I don’t mind admitting that I aspire to be!

Action in HOMBRE

Eighteen-year-old scout Calvin 'Choctaw' Taylor believes he can handle whatever life throws his way. He’s been on his own for several years, and he only wants to make his mark in the world. When he is asked to guide peace emissary Sean Brennan and his adopted Apache daughter, Nahlin, into a Chiricahua Apache stronghold, he agrees—but then has second thoughts. He’s heard plenty about the many ways the Apache can kill a man. But Mr. Brennan sways him, and they begin the long journey to find Cochise—and to try to forge a peace and an end to the Indian Wars that have raged for so long. During the journey, Choctaw begins to understand that there are some things about himself he doesn’t like—but he’s not sure what to do about it. Falling in love with Nahlin is something he never expected—and finds hard to live with. The death and violence, love for Nahlin and respect for both Cochise and Mr. Brennan, have a gradual effect on Choctaw that change him. But is that change for the better? Can he live with the things he’s done to survive in the name of peace?
Buy it on Amazon — or read free with Kindle Unlimited — here: 

Choctaw blinked sweat and sunspots out of his eyes and began to lower the field glasses; then he glimpsed movement.

He used the glasses again, scanning nearer ground, the white sands. He saw nothing.

And then two black specks were there suddenly, framed against the dazzling white. They might have dropped from the sky.

They grew bigger. Two horsebackers coming this way, walking their mounts. As he watched they spurted into rapid movement, whipping their ponies into a hard run towards him.

The specks swelled to the size of horses and men. Men in faded smocks maybe once of bright colour, their long hair bound by rags at the temple. They had rifles in their hands.

Breath caught in Choctaw’s throat. Fear made him dizzy. His arms started to tremble. He knew who was coming at him so fast.


And you killed them or they killed you.

Or find me on FACEBOOK: 

I'm also on TWITTER: 

Or my Amazon author pages on:




  1. A most interesting article giving us a lot of background that I was unaware of. Thanks much.

    1. CONGRATULATIONS Gordo! Yours was the name that came out of the draw this time. Let me have your e.mail address and I'll send you a free digital of THE PEACEMAKER.

  2. Glad you found it interesting, Gordo. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. I'm enjoying the information you provided here and elsewhere. I'm in Colorado and working on my first Western now. I've published two other novels and have a third, but am starting to go in a different direction. The West is a powerful place. I'd love to discuss what I see of it first hand with you if you ever need a resource.

  4. I'm glad you enjoy what information I provide, Scott. Good luck with your western (and your other books.) With westerns I think the trick is to try and say something new or find a new angle about very well-covered territory. I usually find that in historical research, in the authentic west as oppposed to the west of cliche and fantasy. But you can find inspiration just looking out of your window, as you're lucky enough to live in Colorado. I can't do that, (at least about the West) living in England! So thanks for your offer of help.

  5. Thanks, Andrew. I already have my own voice, and that will come through. I do prefer the myth of the Old West, but there's enough reality to work from that is interesting as well. Denver was a tough town about 1860. It's the genre I grew up reading, but I have a history degree, so the two will either compliment each other or contrast. We'll see.

  6. An interesting post Andrew. Hombre is one of my favorite westerns. Unusual that the movie actually expanded on the book.

    1. Glad you found it interesting, Carolyn. What's particularly unusual about how the film expanded on the book is this was mainly by expanding the main female character, brilliantly played by Diane Cilento. She becomes a really strong foil to not only Paul Newman, but to Richard Boone's villain. By the way, you've ALREADY WON a of THE PEACEMAKER after comments you made on a previous blog, so let me have an e.mail address and I'll send it to you.