Scott Timberg has an intriguing piece in the Sunday Calendar section today that raises the exciting prospect of a Travis McGee film. The signature character of the late, great John D. MacDonald has made it to the silver screen only once (Rod Taylor had the lead role in the blink-and-you-missed-it 1970 film “Darker than Amber,” which also featured Jane Russell’s last movie appearance). That lack of Hollywood attention is a bit puzzling, as Timberg explains…
Back in the 1960s, two hugely popular literary characters ruled the pages of more than 10 novels each. Though it was a famously transformative decade, both were old-school men’s men who loved risk, adventure, liquor and attractive women. Both protagonists became touchstones of their eras.
They differed in significant ways — one was English, suave, favored bone-dry martinis, and worked for a large government organization. The other was Floridian, raw-boned, drank gin, and remained fiercely independent, avoiding entanglements of all kinds.
But perhaps the biggest difference between James Bond and Travis McGee is cinematic: The Bond films that began with “Dr. No” in 1962 became so popular that they’re vastly better known than Ian Fleming’s slim, taut books. McGee, by contrast, exists almost entirely on the pages of John D. MacDonald’s 21-novel series, which has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.
That a nonseries MacDonald novel originally titled “The Executioners” became not one but two successful films — J. Lee Thompson’s “Cape Fear” (1962) starring Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum, and Martin Scorsese’s 1991 remake with Nick Nolte and Robert De Niro — suggest that the author’s work can move smoothly to the screen.
Why such a naturally cinematic character — a tough former Marine who operates under his own code of relative morality and knows how to use both his wits and his fists to help others in need — has not made a successful transition to film has caused head-scratching
for decades now.
But it looks as if McGee may finally get his place in the sun: New York-based producer Amy Robinson is in the late stages of developing the first McGee novel, “The Deep Blue Good-By,” for production by Fox. Robinson calls McGee “the man every woman wants to be with and every man wants to be.”
Though the project, which puts McGee on the trail of a seductive and dangerous ex-con who’s left a trail of broken women in his wake, is not greenlighted and there is no director or talent attached, supporters are hopeful for the first time in decades. Sources close to the project say the studio is bullish on McGee.
“There have been a lot of twists and turns,” said Robinson, who produced Scorsese’s 1985 paranoid comedy “After Hours.” “But I still have a lot of optimism that the movie will be made, and I hope it will be several movies….”
— Scott Timberg
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Art from audiobook for “Deep Blue Good-By.” Photo by Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times