John D. MacDonald’s paperback hero Travis McGee was the protagonist of twenty-one Gold Medal Originals, all with color words in their titles, beginning with “The Deep Blue Good-Bye” in 1964. McGee is a six-foot-plus sun-baked blonde hunk with a heart of gold, a lady-killer with a sentimental streak and a houseboat in Fort Lauderdale. He gets around, but he truly is God’s gift. His sexual ministrations can be downright therapeutic for the troubled, abandoned women who seek his services as an unlicensed “salvage consultant,” recovering missing or stolen property in exchange for half its value.
As strange as it may sound, we have no particular problem with the recent announcement that Leonardo DiCaprio will be playing McGee, in an upcoming adaptation of “Deep Blue” that Boston-noir novelist Dennis Lehane (“Gone Baby Gone”) is currently writing. Clearly DiCaprio has a potential franchise in his sights.
Leo may be slightly less apt than some of the broad shouldered hunks who have played McGee in the past, such as Rod Taylor (in the 1970 feature “Darker than Amber”) and Sam Eliott (in an eponymous 1983 MOW), but he is nowhere near as risible a mismatch as Tom Cruise was for Jack Reacher, and that combo ended up not hampering the movie very much at all, as is often the case with these casting quibbles.
Our own first choice for the role would be (do we even have to say it?) Matthew McConaughey, a beach bum in his own right who would have no problem giving McGee’s sybaritic lifestyle a counter-culture edge. But since the current project, announced today, is being developed at Fox by DiCaprio’s company Appian Way, that casting was likely never an option. Oliver Stone and Paul Greengrass have been mentioned as possible directors on this long-gestating production, but they no longer seem to be involved.
But when a film is being put together, it isn’t only the actors who need to be well cast, and the big question here is whether Dennis Lehane, another writer we greatly admire, but a died-in-the-wool Bostonian, will be able to enter fully into the sunlit, humane spirit of McGee’s sexy righteousness. The big city noir moralism of Lehane’s best work (see “Mystic River”) doesn’t take place just a half-continent away from MacDonald’s, it’s practically in another universe.