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.