Parker as Parker: The Long Road to the Big Screen

Jennifer Lopez and Jason Statham in ‘Parker’/Image © 2013 FilmDistrict
Jennifer Lopez and Jason Statham in ‘Parker’/Image © 2013 FilmDistrict

Richard Stark's Parker, the hard-bitten antihero of twenty-four crime novels, finally comes to the screen on January 25 under his own name. The film, "Parker," starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez, is based on the 2011 novel Flashfire, a thrilling story in which the master criminal seeks revenge on the crew who double-crossed him and left him for dead. Oscar nominee Taylor Hackford of "Ray" fame directs this movie adaptation.

Moviegoers have seen about a half-dozen earlier versions of Parker, none of them eponymous. Creator Donald E. Westlake (writing under the name Richard Stark) didn’t want to use the character’s name in a film unless the filmmakers agreed to produce the books as a series, according to Paul Westlake, the late author’s youngest son and caretaker of his dad’s website. The new film’s production company purchased the rights to multiple books.

British action star Statham might seem an odd choice for this “definitively American character,” but his “subdued mannerisms,” low-key performance, and efficiency in the action scenes are a good fit, Paul Westlake writes. He continues, “Overall, this is an excellent first installment of what we hope will become a successful introduction of Parker to a larger audience.”

The Parker novels are but a small part of Donald E. Westlake’s illustrious career. This Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America penned more than 100 novels and short stories, as well as screenplays. Here’s a look at some of his forays into film.

"Point Blank" (1967)
Based on the first Parker novel, The Hunter, this film casts Lee Marvin (here called Walker) as the criminal aiming to recoup money his cohorts stole from him. Angie Dickinson co-stars, providing sexy backup. The same book was the basis for 1999's "Payback," starring Mel Gibson (as a vengeful character named Porter) and Maria Bello. Brian Helgeland's "Payback: Straight Up – The Director’s Cut" had a limited theatrical release in 2006.

"The Split" (1968)
This adaptation of the Parker novel The Seventh casts Jim Brown (here called McClain) as a thief after his share of the heist during a football game at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

"The Hot Rock" (1972)
Robert Redford portrays Westlake’s other popular creation, John Dortmunder -- a thief whose capers comically tend to collapse -- in this adaptation of the novel of the same name. Here, Dortmunder and his cohorts (including George Segal) repeatedly attempt to steal a diamond that keeps eluding them.

"Cops And Robbers" (1973)
Westlake wrote the screenplay for this film, adapting his comic crime novel of the same name. Cliff Gorman and Joseph Bologna play two New York City cops who encounter one mishap after another while trying to steal $10 million to supplement their pensions.

"The Outfit" (1973)
Robert Duvall stars in this adaptation of the novel of the same name, featuring the Parker character (here called Macklin) hitting the mob on its own turf.

"Hot Stuff" (1979)
Westlake co-wrote the original screenplay for this comedy about three cops -- played by Dom DeLuise, Suzanne Pleshette, and Jerry Reed -- who establish a pawn-shop sting operation.

"Slayground" (1983)
Peter Coyote plays the Parker character (Stone) in this adaptation of the novel of the same name, wherein the outgunned thief fights his way out of a shuttered amusement park.

"The Stepfather" (1987)
Westlake wrote the screenplay for this taut film (which spawned two sequels) about a serial killer (Terry O’Quinn) who marries widows and divorcees in search of the perfect family.

"The Grifters" (1990)
Westlake was nominated for a screenwriting Oscar for this adaptation of Jim Thompson’s novel about a con man (John Cusack) whose loyalties are tested by two other schemers: his estranged mother (Anjelica Huston) and his girlfriend (Annette Bening).

"Why Me?" (1990)
Westlake returned to comedy with this outing, co-writing the screenplay from his John Dortmunder novel of the same name that follows the thief after he steals a ruby wanted by the Turkish and U.S. governments. Christopher Lambert plays the Dortmunder character, here called Gus Cardinale.

"Two Much" (1995)
This is the American adaptation of Westlake’s comic novel (minus the explanation point in the title) about a man named Art (Antonio Banderas) who invents a twin brother in order to woo two sisters (Melanie Griffith and Daryl Hannah) at the same time. The French produced an earlier version in 1984, "Le Jumeau."

"What’s the Worst That Could Happen?" (2001)
Another outing for the character of John Dortmunder (here called Kevin Caffery), this adaptation of Westlake’s novel of the same name starred Martin Lawrence as a thief who loses a lucky ring to a rich man (Danny DeVito) while trying to burglarize the mogul’s home.

"Ripley Under Ground" (2005)
Westlake co-wrote the screenplay for this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel featuring antihero Tom Ripley (Barry Pepper) hiding a friend’s slaying to reap the benefits.

Tell us: Do you have a favorite film from Donald Westlake?

  • Dave Plante

    Nice article, Valerie. You missed a few films; such as Bank Shot with George C. Scott, and Jimmy The Kid, with Gary Coleman. Plus many foreign adaptations, of which the crown jewel has to be Mise a Sac AKA Pillaged, a late 60's French adaptation of The Score, one of the most beloved Parker novels.

    Google image Michel Constantin, the actor who plays the Parker role, here called Georges, and you will see how they made a wonderful casting choice with Constantin.

    It's a bit of a holy grail with Westlake fans, due to the fact hardly anyone outside of Europe has seen it.

    • Valerie Kalfrin

      Thanks, David!
      I knew about some of the foreign adaptations, but I decided to stick with the U.S. ones, partly for brevity. Mr. Westlake had such a prolific career, it's a challenge to do him justice in a piece such as this. (BTW, if you haven't yet visited his site -- we linked to it -- Paul Westlake does a wonderfully thorough job with his dad's bibliography, filmography and other info.)

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