Another Alan Ladd 4-Movie Roundup

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The continuing story of my Alan Ladd movie binge, this time with four of his 1950s pictures.

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Red Mountain (1951). Ladd is a Confederate Captain whose rendezvous with Gen. Quantrill (John Ireland) is interrupted when he helps a prospector (Arthur Kennedy) escape lynching for a murder Ladd did. Kennedy won’t let Ladd get away without sorting the matter out, so he and his sweetheart Lizabeth Scott track Ladd into the mountains. They find him but end up prisoners of the ruthless General, who wants Kennedy’s gold to build his dream of a Western empire with allied Indian tribes.

I really enjoyed this one, you can’t go wrong with a cast that also includes Bert Freed, Jeff Corey, Neville Brand, Whit Bissell, and Jay Silverheels, in an interesting, fairly suspenseful, great-looking movie with good action. After a brief chase, followed by Ladd’s capture and a reversal of power, most of the drama between Kennedy, Ladd and Scott happens inside a high mountain cave overlooking beautiful New Mexico scenery. There, Kennedy grows delirious from a potentially gangrenous broken leg, Scott fends off a creepy soldier and reveals that Quantrill killed her whole family, and Ladd and Scott fall in love with each other. Ladd has a tricky time trying to conceal his changing loyalties and disillusionment with Ireland’s plan and methods, and pretends to obey orders while trying to help the couple. This is a nice change from Scott’s femme fatale roles; she’s still a strong equal who tracks, shoots and fights but she’s also sensitive, torn between the two men and guilty about falling for Ladd when Kennedy has been a decent guy to her. Ireland is good, acting like an unstable, desperately lonely intellectual who sees an equal and potential buddy in Ladd, and won’t accept the slightest betrayal. Directed by William Dieterle with an uncredited John Farrow, my favourite of these four movies.

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Thunder in the East (1951). Here Ladd is in India, playing an arms dealer who hopes to make a big sale during the early, rocky period of that nation’s independence. He has no luck finding a customer in the pacifist PM (a curiously cast but still fascinating Charles Boyer), so his gun shipment is impounded and he gets sucked into the battle between the Maharajah, the rebels and the English who can’t believe they have to run for their lives after years of rule and comfort. As the guerrillas burn and massacre their way closer, Ladd falls for a classy blind woman (Deborah Kerr) who deeply loves the place and realizes she is but a guest there. She’s reluctant to leave the only life she’s ever known, but agrees to go when Ladd offers to fly her, her grandpa (Cecil Kellaway) to safety. Things change when Ladd, still looking to milk some money out of this trip, demands an astronomical fee to fly out the rest of the Brits, thereby revealing a heartless, mercenary streak which turns Kerr off completely. Meanwhile back at the palace, Ladd and the British plead with Boyer not to let his own pacifism doom them all, but he refuses to use any weapons or violence, even when everyone and a kid are surrounded with the guerrillas shooting in and breaking down the door. There’s a startling moment right before the abrupt ending, where Boyer makes his decision, and while it’s satisfying in an action movie way, it’s one of the things that makes this feel like such a peculiar film. It was certainly interesting and action-packed, full of intrigue and close calls in a countdown plot. It has several pretty scenes and memorable moments, like Kerr tinkling away at the piano when shooting starts, and it’s a good, wounded, bitter hero role for Ladd. The violence isn’t graphic, but the suggestion is brutal, as people are clearly massacred, hands are chopped off, etc. At times this wants to be (and sometimes is) a serious drama about the distance between different cultures, the breakdown of colonial attitudes (religious conflicts weren’t really addressed), and the inability to let go of the past, but it’s mostly an adventure yarn with the moral that pacifism stinks.

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The Iron Mistress (1952). This Jim Bowie biopic felt like about 4 movies crammed into one, all tied together by the wicked, selfish acts of Virginia Mayo, a New Orleans maneater and socialite. During the years covered in this story, Ladd is mostly bewitched by Mayo (that’s no surprise, when she’s at her most gorgeous and alluring here), and allows himself to be manipulated into settling her debts, offing her poor useless husband, and sometimes just providing some unexpected excitement as she sets her suitors against each other in the duel-happy culture. Despite seeing the damage she does and the jams she gets him into, despite the fact she considers him a hick not worth marrying, despite his mama’s advice to find himself a decent woman, Ladd can’t quit Mayo.

Eventually one of the grudges resulting from her engineering inspires Ladd, the expert knife-fighter and -thrower, to design and order a custom blade to end them all, one with a meteor fragment mixed into the metal. In between Mayo encounters, Ladd makes a fortune in land speculation, gambling (fairly, there’s some good action in scenes against cheaters), horse racing and cotton. Colourful drama that feels overstuffed but gives Ladd a lot to do, including some quality swashbuckling. I loved one spectacular duel in a dark room lit by flashes of lightning, and the knife fight with Anthony Caruso, with their hands tied together.

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The Man in the Net (1959). Michael Curtiz’s thriller was like Gone Girl (2014), if that movie also had a gang of cute kids helping the wrongly accused husband in their handy cave clubhouse, and if the bored, scheming wife actually was murdered. Here Ladd plays an artist who’s so aloof and emotionally numbed by his wife’s (an excellent Carolyn Jones), cruelty, neuroses and alcoholism, that his neighbours too easily buy her lies about his abuse and her misery, and when she goes missing, they become a lynch mob. Ladd must depend on the kindness and the tidbits of info from a group of kids he’s befriended, in order to clear his name and get to the bottom of the blackmail scheme that got Jones killed.

I ended up liking this one a lot, even though I felt the combination of noirish tension and scary mob mentality with precocious children-who-know-best and their Utopian setup didn’t always feel right together. Little Susan Gordon was great, as was Charles McGraw as the menacing Sheriff with a disturbing influence over Jones and the town’s residents. The identity of Jones’ lover remained a mystery longer than I expected, and there was a good payoff concerning the only adult who believes in Ladd’s innocence (Diane Brewster). The irony of Jones’ complaints that she’s dying of boredom in this little Connecticut suburb, is that she ends up tangling the place in a net of juicy secrets and exposing some other scandals. This movie came late in Ladd’s career, and I see some reviewers calling his performance wooden, but for me it fit his character, someone who lost and sacrificed a lot to help his wife, and gets all this in return. He hardly knows how to feel anything until he’s free of his wife once and for all.

Some more Ladd at this blog: Whispering SmithCalcutta, O.S.S., Two Years Before the Mast & BrandedAppointment with Danger

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17 thoughts on “Another Alan Ladd 4-Movie Roundup”

    1. I know I felt the exact same way, I like Ladd yet when I was looking through my collections I hadn’t seen all these movies (and there are more!). This si fun. Man in the Net has its flaws but a good noirish movie that feels very “modern.”

  1. Your Alan Ladd binge is tremendous fun, Kristina, as well as being interesting and well-written (natch).

    Quite a varied group of films here, “THUNDER IN THE EAST” & “THE IRON MISTRESS” being lesser Ladd for me. I know I have seen “MAN IN THE NET” but long ago and I don’t remember it. Your review makes me want to seek it out though.

    “RED MOUNTAIN” is high-point Ladd, isn’t it? One of his best films. I have struggled though to find a really decent print of it, annoyingly.

    Have you seen “THE BIG LAND” yet? I re-watched it (after many years) just recently and really enjoyed it. Made by Ladd’s own company, Jaguar Productions, in 1957.

    1. This is loads of fun for me too, so you can expect more such themed posts, including more Ladd. I haven’t seen the Big Land and would love to (also his Gatsby which is tough to find). Red Mountain I rented from itunes, they have quite a nice print of it. That was a great one with good scenery and acting all around. Thanks!

  2. Keep’em Coming! Love this celebration of Ladd titles. Red Mountain i haven’t seen in years and would like to revisit it. Gatsby is on that site I’ve been talking of if you go for a third trip down Alan Ladd lane. Like you I wanna like The Iron Mistress more but in the end it’s somewhat of a letdown.

    1. Oh, many thanks for that tip! I will be getting it to that asap and include it in my next Ladd round! Haven’t done a run like this in a long time, I used to do these when I first got into classics and rented everything by an actor or director. Fun way to go through the movie collection.

  3. How much fun to watch all these in quick succession! I agree with your assessments of the first three. I was kind of surprised to find I really liked Ladd and Scott as a couple and wished they’d made more films together. RED MOUNTAIN was good in tension, characterization and visuals. THUNDER IN THE EAST was ok but could have been better–I don’t know, maybe a more convincing narrative (?). Same with THE IRON MISTRESS–I really wanted to like it more but it veered all over the place. (Although Ladd cuts a good figure in those colorful period costumes! 🙂 ) It does have perhaps the single best moment of facial acting in Ladd’s career when Mayo tells him she went off and got married–the combination of shock and hurt on his face was brilliant and palpable. Mayo made mention of that many years later in an interview when asked about working with Ladd. And you’ve convinced me I need to see MAN IN THE NET. I have been cautious approaching his later work but this one sounds worth it; I did make it through THE CARPETBAGGERS and 13 WEST STREET.

    1. It sure is fun and I’ll definitely being doing more soon. Again, agree with your comment– Thunder has a lot going for it but couldn’t seem to decide if it wanted to be a Casablanca style romance-adventure or a serious historical drama. Even with quibbles like that, and whatever didn’t work for me overall though, all 4 had great casts and some memorable moments for Ladd. Time well spent and looking forward to more 🙂

  4. May I add my approval for this Ladd binge.
    Again very well chosen titles.
    I also like RED MOUNTAIN a lot and isn’t that Ladd
    Caruso duel a doozy in THE IRON MISTRESS.
    I also liked the aforementioned 13 WEST STREET an
    early “Death Wish” type film. What raises this one is a very
    non-hammy Rod Steiger and the fact that the thugs all come
    from well off backgrounds-not the slum kids that you usually
    get in these films.
    Kristina,have you heard about an outfit called Hollywood
    Scrapheap. They are selling reasonably priced DVD’s of films that
    the majors (mainly Paramount) refuse to release.
    They do have two of the Ladd titles you have reviewed on their
    site. I recently got their CAPTAIN CHINA a film I have been after
    for ages in decent quality. The ones I had previously were very
    murky. I know CAPTAIN CHINA is on your “hit list” and I can highly
    recommend the quality of the Hollywood Scrapheap version.
    Nice packaging and graphics too.

    1. Great to hear you enjoy this as much as I am because I plan to do more! Yup, loved the dueling in Mistress, and really enjoyed all of these. 13 WEST ST sounds like my kind of thing, will check for that one. Have not heard of the Scrapheap and those are good titles to have out there. Right now Paramount has a few up on their YT but never enough for people like us. Good to know, thanks!

  5. I usually like Alan Ladd and have good thoughts of most of these you’ve written about (a few of them I just don’t remember well now). In your first group of four, my favorite is definitely BRANDED so I strongly agree with you about that one (and it seems like a lot of folks here do).

    But in this second group, I favor THE IRON MISTRESS and like it much more than you and others do. I’m not sure I get the disfavor since it’s an unexpected approach to the whole Jim Bowie story with that neurotic romance at the center. Settings are unusual (and colorful) and there are lots of imaginative touches, both visual and dramatic, life the knife fight in darkness. I find director Gordon Douglas very stylish in this. When I got back to this as an adult I still liked it as much but was kind of surprised, and initially let down, that it didn’t follow Jim to the Alamo. But thinking about this, we do know what will happen to him and it’s interesting that the movie leaves him at a point of peace and happiness after such a troubled life, but knowing that this will not last long and he will die young.

    Hope you’ll consider SASKATCHEWAN in the next round–beautiful Raoul Walsh movie filmed in Canada! And maybe among others, BOTANY BAY, DRUM BEAT and DESERT LEGION. Well, that’s four–all from 1953-1954, good years for Ladd.

    1. Oh I liked Mistress, despite those few things I picked on. I haven’t found a dud yet in these 8 (9 if I count Whispering Smith which started me down Ladd road). Thanks, all these suggestions are noted and not only will I watch, I’ll do a lot more of these runs. I haven’t been able to find Botany Bay or Desert Legion yet but have those other 2, plus Big Land seems to be a popular one.

    1. Will do! Still have some in my collection and a few more floating around YT and the like. Amazing how many I hadn’t seen, once I started tallying them up.

  6. I’ve seen two out of these four, and one of them was Man in the Net. I liked it too, and agree with your assessment. But I don’t think whoever wrote the TCM synopsis ever saw it! It reads: “An artist falsely accused of ransacking his own house is proved innocent by the children of the neighborhood.” Uh, as long as you’re not violating health codes, I’m pretty sure that’s not illegal. I have a mental image of the police coming in and saying ‘What a mess! Forget about the murder, you’re in big trouble for this! Ransacking your own home is as low as a man can get!’

    1. Too funny, yes who cares about murder when you wrecked your own paintings. That was dramatic, when he came home and found the place that way. I always hate to see, in movies, people who should know better, but jump to conclusions about someone’s guilt.. in this case even laughing at his claim that his wife was an alcoholic. You really feel for him.

  7. Oh yes, few things can get you more on a character’s side that a situation like that… (falsely accused by ill-informed know-it-alls.) I also think Ladd was well cast as the character. Living with a woman like that would not be conducive to joie de vivre.

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