3 More Alan Ladd Movies


If you’ve just tuned in, I’ve been watching as many new-to-me Ladd pictures as I can find, and having lots of fun doing it. In today’s group of Ladd movies, he plays a reporter, a first mate on a whaling ship and a peace officer out West.


Chicago Deadline (1949): Ladd is a hardboiled reporter trying to solve a mystery about a pretty girl (Donna Reed) who dies alone of tuberculosis in a fleabag hotel. At first he works on it as a “human interest” story, because it seems nobody knows or cares for this woman, but Ladd soon finds that people “run and hide” at the mere mention of her name (Rosita “something French,” as he first hears it). While Ladd pounds the pavement and follows the clues in Reed’s address book, bodies start piling up, and his editor spins Ladd’s findings into a juicy femme fatale story, but that’s not who Reed was at all. Her brother (Arthur Kennedy) fills us in on her farm girl childhood and the death of her husband, but he has trouble sharing more. As we learn from the movie’s many flashbacks, Reed is a sweet but tragic figure who lost the will to love after being widowed so young, but she can’t help attracting men to whom she brings all kinds of bad luck and tragedy. Lots of familiar faces here: June Havoc as Reed’s roommate, Berry Kroeger, Shepperd Strudwick, Tom Powers, and Dave Willock as Ladd’s dutiful assistant. The plot gets convoluted, but I still really liked this, because I was as curious about Reed as Ladd’s character was, and wanted to see the twists that sucked this sad, sympathetic woman into increasingly messy and shabby situations. Even if you totally lose the plot, there’s much pleasure in watching Ladd work on this puzzle and develop a bit of a crush on Reed (shades of Laura). He made a great gritty noir lead, and here he won’t be stopped by beatings or bullets, ending his search with an exciting showdown in a parking garage.


Hell Below Zero (1954): I see that this Mark Robson movie is considered lesser Ladd, but I enjoyed it and certainly didn’t find it as dull as those reviews led me to believe. The unusual setting and different type of love story/mystery was a plus, and there was a lot more to keep me interested: Ladd as a charming drifter who gets a job on a whaling ship because he’s smitten with Joan Tetzel (looking a lot like young Kathleen Quinlan); Stanley Baker as the evil captain who murdered her father who was co-owner of the whaling company; a fiesty female captain who teaches Ladd the secrets of whaling, Baker trying to eliminate Ladd by ramming his ship, and a final chase and fight on the ice floes. I know nothing about whaling so this was an interesting look into that process, without getting in the way of the soapy action drama. Imperfect for sure, but glad I saw it if only for the way Ladd settles a score with his crooked partner; that scene had some hilarious moments thanks to Ladd’s ultra-cool deadpan way of serving up a surprise assault with a wisecrack and a smirk. That set him up nicely as someone not to be underestimated, and the combination of that strength and determination with his affection for Tetzel got me through when the plot about the family/business mystery and the sea voyages started to drag. Interesting to see the names of 007 producer Albert Broccoli and writer Richard Maibaum in the credits.


Drum Beat (1954). Here Ladd plays an Indian fighter who’s sent to make peace between Oregon settlers and a violent wing of the Modoc tribe. The nasty gang of “mad dogs” is headed by a charismatic Charles Bronson, against whose single-minded greed, childish temper and volatile crew Ladd makes zero diplomatic progress. The massacres, ambushes, and thwarted attempts at peacemaking get repetitive and frustrating, but they do have the intended effect of showing us how many lives were lost, how even Bronson’s men get tired of the killing, and how incredibly difficult peace is to negotiate when grudges, deceptions and discrimination get in the way. Even when it drags, though, Drum Beat is still good and gorgeous to look at, thanks to Arizona locations, CinemaScope and lush photography by J. Peverell Marley, and the battles, fights and falls on those rocks are impressive sights. In the end, all the troop and tribal movement, Presidential orders and neogtiations come down to one stellar fight between Ladd and Bronson over the rocks and into a river. They have terrific scenes together, including their respectful final discussion about the afterlife and possibility of peace. Good supporting work by Elisha Cook Jr. as a slimy storekeeper who gets nailed by the weapons he sells the Indians, Robert Keith as a vengeful settler, and Anthony Caruso and Marisa Pavan as good Modocs desperate to prevent violence and cleanse their tribe of the warmongers. Written and directed by Delmer Daves and done by Ladd’s own Jaguar production company.

Previous Ladd viewing: Red Mountain, Thunder in the East, The Iron Mistress, The Man in the NetWhispering SmithCalcutta, O.S.S., Two Years Before the Mast, BrandedAppointment with Danger.


25 thoughts on “3 More Alan Ladd Movies”

  1. You have inspired me to the extent that last night I made a list of all the Ladd films I have on hand and pulled out HELL BELOW ZERO. So great to discover you review of it today! Sounds like fun. 🙂

    Thanks for all these! I had never heard of the Reed film and was interested to learn he made more than one movie with her, as I recently discovered their BEYOND GLORY due to GritTV.

    Best wishes,

    1. The Hell Below Zero footage of the whaling “activities” are pretty graphic, but no more so than a nature documentary, and a look at the practices of the time. I expected something a lot duller. The scene where he throws his drink in the partner’s face and says it was an accident 🙂 so good. I have to say I’m going to miss Mr Ladd when I get through these!

      1. Thanks for that info!

        Have you seen Disney’s THE RELUCTANT DRAGON? I get the biggest kick out of him (in beautiful Disney Technicolor!) playing a Disney animator, right before he did THIS GUN FOR HIRE. 🙂

        It’s a crime his GATSBY isn’t available. He is soooo good.

        Best wishes,

        1. I haven’t seen Reluctant Dragon since I was a kid but I very clearly remember it! Gatsby can be found online so I’ll definitely check it out before it vanishes. Can’t wait for that one!

      2. I haven’t seen the first or third films, but I have seen Hell Below Zero, and I liked it too, even though I’d heard it dismissed by others. I also got a big kick out of the scene with Ladd and his partner! Love how he came from the other side of the world for their last ‘meeting’…. some things just can’t be done by phone or telegram 😉 Interesting to note that the story is credited as being adapted from a novel by Hammond Innes, the same author who wrote The Wreck of the Mary Deare, which of course had its own adaption as well (and which film I also liked much more than its reviews would have led me to believe.)

        1. Yeah, I laughed out loud at him saying “that might have been accident.” Then threatened the woman with the seltzer bottle, ha! So true, in person was the only way for that talk. And guess what, have not seen Wreck of the Mary Deare yet either! Good to hear I’ll probably like it. More Ladd coming up, just watched another handful and liked them too 🙂

  2. Great to see you getting through all these Ladd movies, many of which were very difficult to see for a long time. I haven’t seen Chicago Deadline myself but I’ll get round to it sooner or later – the others are all entertaining in my view.

    1. They are, I haven’t had a big disappointment in this whole run. And as you can see a project like this is a little addictive 🙂 for the completist in me.

  3. So glad these are better than many would have you believe. I have seen DRUM BEAT and while it’s not the best of his westerns, it was still enjoyable. Elisha Cook Jr and Robert Keith very good as usual here. I need to see the other two. I can attest once you watch a couple of Ladd’s films it’s hard to quit him 🙂 Enjoying your posts, obviously.

    1. I’m enjoying looking at all the different things he did in this era, even if it wasn’t a big success. I’m reminded with all these movies, of what a great voice he had. Especially delivering the hardboiled comebacks. Yes, I’ll have some serious Ladd withdrawal once this run is done! Thanks so much, glad to hear people have fun discovering or revisiting these along with me.

  4. Love the Ladd fest. I too think Hell Below Zero gets unfairly pushed aside. Pretty good flick with some good winter locations. Drum Beat was the first film using the new name for Bronson (formerly Buchinski). I have Deadline but haven’t got to it yet.
    I love how you’ve been binging!

    1. Yeah, I mean HBZ is not Great but I really went in expecting it to be dull and liked the originality and action in it. DB gave Bronson a good role, he steals quite a few scenes and their fight is epic. More to come!

  5. Wonderful! Another Ladd binge from Kristina!

    Checking my records, I find I have never seen ‘CHICAGO DEADLINE’ and this is something I have to put right as it sounds from your great review like my sort of movie. I would assume it cannot ever have been shown on TV in the UK.
    ‘HELL BELOW ZERO’ is lesser Ladd but only marginally so really. It was another film he made in Britain with a mainly Brit cast, including the always-reliable Stanley Baker, and was adapted from the 1949 novel ‘The White South’ by Hammond Innes, a favourite author of mine.
    ‘DRUM BEAT’ is a western I re-evaluated quite recently and found to be much better than previously thought, in fact very good. Being a Jaguar production, I would guess it was a story and film Ladd cared about and I think it shows.

    More great reading, Kristina – thanks!

    1. You bet, this is fun and why stop now? My copy of CD is very poor and dark, so I’d love to take another look at it someday with better sound & picture, hope that comes out sometime. I’m a big Baker fan so that was another plus for me with HBZ, and yes DB was very good and a nice-looking picture. That Victor Young theme is stuck in my head too.

  6. And sadly, it seems ‘CHICAGO DEADLINE’ is completely unavailable to buy on DVD. Rats!!

  7. I recently had the pleasure to interview Audrey Dalton and asked her about DRUM BEAT. She had nothing but wonderful things to say about Alan Ladd and Delmer Daves. The latter is an underrated director; I even enjoy his 1960s soaps.

    1. That’s really cool, thanks for adding that! Agreed on Daves too, so many good movies to his name and glad I caught up with this one. Thanks!

  8. Thanks to your inspiration I watched the first half of my copy of HELL BELOW ZERO tonight and I am really enjoying it. It doesn’t hurt that I enjoy Antarctic type stories, but it’s also a good watch for all the reasons you say. (And I do love Alan Ladd’s voice…) Just one of those nice solid movies.

    Rick, that’s wonderful to hear Audrey Dalton’s positive memories of Ladd and Daves.

    Best wishes,

    1. There you go, good to hear and we have the same tastes in these types of movies. It does have a lot going for it, look forward to reading your thoughts!

  9. When Irving Allen and Broccoli were trying to entice
    Ladd over to the UK to appear in several of their Warwick
    pictures part of the deal was that Ladd’s friend Richard Maibaum
    be taken on board.
    Their first outing THE RED BERET (Paratrooper) was
    a smash hit.
    Maibaum stayed on and wrote several other
    non Ladd Warwicks.
    This turned out to be an even better deal for
    Maibaum as he worked with Broccoli
    on the Bonds right up to the Dalton era.
    The other Ladd Warwick picture was THE BLACK
    KNIGHT a hugely enjoyable Swashbuckler that Ladd
    did very much against his better judgement.
    The writing on the wall for Warwick was when they tried to
    go up market with THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE a huge
    flop at the time.
    Irving Allen hated the idea of the Bond films and even
    upset Ian Fleming’s agents.
    Broccoli pressed on without him and when Allen saw his old
    partner had struck box office gold then went on to produce
    the Matt Helm flicks with Dino.
    Another great Ladd/Jaguar picture is HELL ON FRISCO
    BAY a gangster flick in ‘scope and color.
    I understand Warners are having restoration problems with
    this one and I hope it finally happens.

    1. All the Ladd titles you mention are ones I’m getting to soon, all are avail online in various places-Hell/Frisco is on Google play store for purchase or rent. I watched 3 good ones in the meantime but a busy day & might not have them written up right away. That was a neat background re Maibaum, very interesting and I look forward to seeing their others. Really great stuff as my fest rolls on. Already have my next star subject lined up!

  10. Maibaum cowrote the aforementioned GREAT GATSBY for Ladd…his son Paul came to the Noir City screening four years ago along with Alana Ladd Jackson and one of Macdonald Carey’s sons. 🙂 Very interesting career!

    Thanks to John for adding in more info on the Warwick films!

    Best wishes,

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