3 More Alan Ladd Movies

gatsby4

I’m still busy watching through Alan Ladd pictures, and in today’s triple feature, he’s one of the best known literary characters, a man for whom cash is a name and a way of life, and an idealist entrepreneur who believes if he builds it, cattle will come.

gatsby

The Great Gatsby (1949) is a gritty, noirish take on the novel, directed by Elliott Nugent, and adapted by Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum. Upstart bootlegger Gatsby (Ladd) makes a big splash with his arrival on Long Island, renovating an old mansion to luxurious glory, driving fancy cars and throwing the most extravagant parties, all in an effort to attract and win back the long lost love of his life, Daisy (Betty Field). Ladd gets a range of emotions and qualities to play here; ambitious, classy and stoic, patiently building his wealth, then showing off with it. He’s like an excited little boy when he flings open his closet doors to show Daisy all his fancy imported shirts, in every colour. He’s loyal to old pals, and his squad shares his new high life (including a piano-playing Elisha Cook Jr.). By the end he’s vulnerable, sympathetic and tragic, and anti-hero whose shady past looks positively angelic compared to the deception and opportunism practiced by his dream girl and her shallow, fickle upper crust friends. When, in a hit and run, Daisy kills Myrtle (Shelley Winters), who was having an affair with Daisy’s husband Tom (Barry Sullivan), Gatsby’s heroic offer to take the blame, opens his eyes to her betrayal and the truth about this cruel, careless rotten world he’s worked so hard to fit into. He’s reduced to a small, pathetic figure dwarfed against that massive house, and becomes the victim of their miseries and misdeeds through the vengeance of Myrtle’s husband (Howard da Silva). Macdonald Carey is a likable Nick Carraway, and Ruth Hussey is a quippy Jordan. Overall, a pretty good adaptation that leaves out a lot of the novel’s subtleties and ironies but gets the main notes right. The sad, powerful ending has Ladd sitting dejected by his pool and fully realizing what a joke is this dream he’s chased, just before he’s gunned down in a surprisingly bloody scene.

santiago

Santiago (1956) has Ladd as a gun runner who’s forced into an uneasy alliance with rival Lloyd Nolan, when they get involved in a deal to sell weapons to Cuban rebels. Fairly interesting historical adventure, produced by Ladd’s own Jaguar company and directed by Gordon Douglas. The pace is slow at times, and Rosanna Podesta’s performance is lifeless and uninteresting, whether in action, romantic or patriotic mode. Thank goodness for the many good and memorable exchanges between Ladd, the disgraced former soldier who grows a heart, and Nolan, who’s itching to eliminate Ladd but has to wait for the payout. There’s a great supporting cast, including Chill Wills, Paul Fix, L.Q. Jones and Royal Dano. Wills and Jones have a fantastic death scene where they drink to their close friendship and all they’ve experienced though slavery, war and freedom, then take their positions in a literal boatload of explosives, lure the Spanish troops in close and blow it all to smithereens. A similarly clever bit had Ladd and Nolan tie dead Spanish soldiers on a wagon laden with dynamite and let it trundle into the base.

bigland

The Big Land (1957). Gordon Douglas directing and Ladd’s company producing again, but this time with no pacing problems or dull parts. Ladd plays a former Confederate soldier and big dreamer who saves hopeless alcoholic Edmond O’Brien from a lynching and conditions him into being a productive partner in the development of a cattle trading town on a railway spur. They get far with the help of O’Brien’s sister (Virginia Mayo) but things fall apart when Ladd’s old enemy and crooked cattle buyer (a delightfully dastardly Anthony Caruso) shows up to bully the customers. The stress drives O’Brien back to the bottle and tragic death. This is a comfortable, well-done western, predictable in all the good ways. It’s a certainty that Ladd, the stoic, quiet man who wants to be done with the gun will be the only one who can bring justice to the town he built, and it’s a given that he’ll end up with Mayo, even though in the worst of her grief she rips his heart out by saying they were all better off before he showed up with his grand ideas. You know from Mayo’s early warnings that O’Brien is doomed to fail, but does he ever give a great performance before his time is up, and all of it makes for an enjoyable picture. Loved the fun appearance by Alan’s son David as the little “echo” who repeats everything he hears.

Previously: Chicago Deadline, Drum Beat, Hell Below ZeroRed 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.

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26 thoughts on “3 More Alan Ladd Movies”

  1. Another interesting trio of films, Kristina! This is a great thread and I look forward to hearing who your next binge star will turn out to be……

    I’m not at home right now so cannot check my records but my memory tells me I have seen ‘Gatsby’ just the once and long ago. I think this is ripe for early re-view, based on your enticing write-up!
    “SANTIAGO” is one I have never seen, as far as I can remember. It sounds pretty good generally. “THE BIG LAND” though is one I recommended to you recently, having just re-viewed it myself after many years and enjoyed it a great deal. Ladd is very ably assisted by a fine, able cast with O’Brien and Mayo in top form.
    Had a feeling you would really like it too.

    Any Ladds left to review (I hope)??

    1. Yes they were interesting, even with my quibble about Podesta, Santiago still had lots of other good moments to make up for it, so I was happy to see it. Liked Big Land very much, thanks to you and some others for recommending that! Agree about the good cast there. And yes I do have several Ladds left to go and an idea of who to line up next. Thanks so much for following along with my viewing, this is a fun project!

    1. Now Caruso has been in 3, and different in all, reminding me how much I like him. Such a great villain, too. I’m easy to please on these movies, for the reason you mention, give me actors like these and I’ll forgive a lot of other flaws.

  2. Yay, glad you got to check out GATSBY! I especially enjoyed Carey and Hussey in support. As I complained at the time I saw it, Betty Field’s casting always baffled me!

    I also liked THE BIG LAND. I have a copy of SANTIAGO bought in a Warner Archive sale which I hope to see before too long.

    Keep this series going, it’s great fun!! 🙂 🙂

    Best wishes,
    Laura

    1. Yes I didn’t say much about Field but she didn’t do much for me either. That is a tough role though, somewhere reading up on reviews someone said they’d have liked to see Veronica Lake! Thanks, love doing this and will keep it going with some upcoming breaks for regular programming 🙂

  3. A great series and most inspired choices,
    I might add.
    Trivia note: In the UK THE BIG LAND was
    called Stampeded. SANTIAGO was titled
    The Gun Runner.
    Isn’t that final showdown between Ladd and
    Caruso in THE BIG LAND a doozy. Ladd and
    Caruso were pals from way back…Ladd always
    got him parts in many of his films.
    I’m looking forward to Kristina’s take on SASKATCHEWAN
    and PARATROOPER
    (aka The Red Beret)) where Ladd plays “Canada”)

    Laura and myself were intrigued by the appearance of
    Jack Wrather Jr as Ladd junior’s brother.
    Wrather senior,who was married to Bonita Granville,
    was an oil tycoon who also produced films and classic TV
    One of Wrather’s finest films was the Noir THE GUILTY which
    featured Granville and Don Castle.Castle is also in
    THE BIG LAND in one of his final roles.
    From what I understand,the Wrathers’ tried to help the
    troubled star by giving him a production role on their
    TV enterprises.
    Castle was ideal as a Noir actor because he seemed to
    be troubled in real life…he smokes the likes of Tom Neal as
    a B Movie Noir icon.
    Anyway,having said all that,according to Laura THE GUILTY
    is due for a “proper” restoration from the Film Noir Foundation.
    Laura, I hope I’ve got that right as THE GUILTY is cracking Noir,
    if a tad cruel and mean spirited.
    At any rate the Wrather/Castle connection to THE BIG LAND
    is most interesting.

    1. Thanks, there’s not much logic going into grouping these, but naturally thanks to frequent collaborators and studios, they always end up with some connections. Really enjoy this background you add, and also just read your comments over at Laura’s and enjoyed those. Red Beret, Black Knight and Saskatchewan are indeed coming soon at the Kristinema. Very interesting re Castle, I didn’t know that and will be sure to look for more of his movies. I understand what you mean about the cowboy riding off, and in your other comment listing the MacMurray titles, haven’t seen any of those so maybe that’s another binge I better start planning!

    2. Hi!

      I’ve seen the FNF restoration of THE GUILTY and it looked great. If the May releases of TOO LATE FOR TEARS and WOMAN ON THE RUN being put out by the FNF in conjunction with Flicker Alley sell well, word is that we might then see other rare FNF restorations come to DVD/Blu-ray — including THE GUILTY.

      Best wishes,
      Laura

  4. More BIG LAND……..

    What I didn’t like about the end of
    THE BIG LAND is that Alan Ladd walks off
    with Don Castle’s woman (Virginia Mayo)
    I guess it’s just me,but I like my Western
    heroes riding off alone into the sunset.
    There is a bitter irony that both Ladd and
    Castle were deeply troubled in real life.
    Ladd passed away from an overdose
    aged 50 in 1964,Castle also from an overdose
    aged 48 in 1966.

    Caslte could have been and should have been
    a major star.He has a minor “cult” reputation for
    his excellent work in a string of low budget but
    very good Noirs.
    If the Film Noir Foundation release of THE GUILTY
    goes ahead,it can only enhance Castle’s reputation.

  5. More Cowboy’s riding off alone………..

    When people talk about Fred MacMurray
    Westerns they normally cite QUANTEZ or
    FACE OF A FUGITIVE.

    The underrated GUN FOR A COWARD is
    just as good,if not better.
    In GUN FOR A COWARD Fred MacMurray
    is constantly looking out for his more sensitive
    younger brother (Jeffrey Hunter)
    At the end of the picture Hunter finally redeems
    himself but at the same time steals Fred’s sweetheart.

    Fred then has no choice but to ride off alone leaving
    behind all he has built up,off into an uncertain future.
    Again,and it’s just me; but I much prefer this kind of
    ending,in Westerns at least.

    GUN FOR A COWARD has just been released
    on Blu Ray by Koch in Germany and it’s a major
    upgrade over the DVD.

  6. The 1949/noir-ish version of The Great Gatsby sounds fascinating. I’ll see if I can track it down through our library.

    Really enjoying this Alan Ladd marathon!

    1. It’s amazing how tough that novel has been to adapt and though it’s not perfect, this one is pretty interesting, the dark stuff works for me, as does Ladd in this role. Hope you get to see it, thanks!

      1. I don’t think it’s “amazing” that it’s a tough novel to adapt. Look at Fitzgerald’s command of language and how expressive it makes the novel. That would be hard to match and would take a really great filmmaker, who would need to rethink it in a cinematic way.

        But that said, I like this version of “The Great Gatsby” very much, and Alan Ladd was well-cast, much better than the two actors who played it in later versions.

        1. I liked this one a lot too and totally agree about Ladd being the best Gatbsy by far, definitely one I’ll be watching again.

  7. “Fred then has no choice but to ride off alone leaving
    behind all he has built up,off into an uncertain future.
    Again,and it’s just me; but I much prefer this kind of
    ending,in Westerns at least.”

    This moves me to say what ending I like best in Westerns–it occurs it no fewer than three of my all time top tier favorites.

    The heroine is emotionally involved with some man other than the hero (may be the villain or simply flawed in some other way), and this other man dies before the end of the film, though not at the hand of the hero. Blossoming affection between hero and heroine than has to be put on hold until the painful past may hopefully recede and be healed. So they separate, and the hero does ride off alone, but there is a promise that they will meet again and someday be together.

    The three I mentioned (each case a little different):

    1-My Darling Clementine (1946; John Ford)–Clementine (Cathy Downs) has come West in hopes of reuniting with the man she loves Doc Holliday (Victor Mature)–he is now bitter, plagued with illness, and has a dark reputation but he doesn’t give up hope–meanwhile, Doc’s friend Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda) is enamored of her, takes her to a Sunday morning dance in the face of Doc’s rejection, and she starts to warm to him. Doc is killed (in this version, not historically) at the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and Wyatt leaves Tombstone for family reasons and says goodbye while Clementine stays there. They talk about his coming back sometime, and it brightens the parting.

    2-The Man from Laramie (1955; Anthony Mann)-Seeking revenge Will Lockhart becomes friendly with Barbara Waggoman (Cathy O’Donnell)–a mutual attraction develops but she is engaged to the foreman Vic Hansbro of the Waggoman ranch–Vic is a sympathetic man though troubled within his position in the Waggoman family. It turns out Vic is the villain (actually one of two, and the other more obvious) that Will seeks but in the climax, he remedies things without taking revenge on Vic, who is killed by Indians with whom he had been trading guns. Vic’s reasons for villainy are fairly complex, and Barbara cannot just turn off all her feelings but it is evident her affection is going to Will as he leaves town to return to Fort Laramie. Again, there is mutual encouragement that they will see each other again.

    3-Seven Men from Now (1956; Budd Boetticher). Annie Greer (Gail Russell) is married to John Greer (Walter Reed), who, it is revealed late in the film, is carrying the gold for the outlaws against whom Stride (Randolph Scott) seeks revenge. During the journey that makes up the film, another bad guy, Masters (Lee Marvin)–not one of the “Seven”–observes that Greer seems like a weak man and that Annie and Stride are falling in love though it’s not declared, and openly suggests in a memorable scene how this will end. It doesn’t end that way, as Greer gathers courage to do the right thing and is killed by the leader of the seven (John Larch). After the final action resolves things with all the villains, Stride and Annie say goodbye though again with hope they will see each other again. As he rides off from Flora Vista to take the gold back, Annie tells the stagecoach driver she won’t go to California, at least “not just yet.”

    I find this ending in these three variations complex and poignant, especially in the understanding they show toward the heroine’s old love not being replaced by a new one all at once as well the way the resolution of the narrative action and the sensitivity of both hero and heroine make it impossible for the couple to simply unite at the end.. There’s hope for these couples in each case, but the movie ends and they are apart.

    1. Really enjoyed this, and just wanted to add how lucky I feel that I saw My Darling Clementine last yr on a big screen, had seen it a bunch of times before but it was never half as impressive, and that ending…

  8. re Clementine (of course, should have said “…but she doesn’t give up hope…”

    I guess maybe I should have said “Spoilers” for what I wrote–it just didn’t occur to me until now. We’ve all seen these three classics, hopefully. If you haven’t, just forget what I wrote and see the movie and if you are like me, you’ll be happy seeing how it plays out.

  9. Three films I haven’t seen – though I do have a copy of The Big Land – and hope to catch up with at some point.
    I think you’ll like Saskatchewan as it looks terrific even if the story is just so-so. The Red Beret was one I found rather dull and flat, but you may like it better.

    1. Good to know, we’ll see how the remaining ones go, so far I can’t say I’ve been disappointed, even in the ones that were slower there have been some good moments. Santiago is the best example, wasn’t excited about the story but such great interactions between the men made it memorable.

  10. I liked THE GREAT GATSBY, but its noirish influences bothered me a bit. I want to watch it again–I find that often I appreciate a film more upon a second viewing. I didn’t care for Betty Field, but Ruth Hussey was irresistible. It’s a shame that this production didn’t get a bit more attention, a better director, etc., as this was supposedly a pet project of Ladd’s. That said it’s great to appreciate him in the role considering the limitations. I haven’t seen SANTIAGO but I’m sure I’ll get to it as I work through Ladd’s filmography. I will watch it for the moments you mention. THE BIG LAND I really liked. As you say, it was somewhat predicable but emphasis was put on relationships, which I really was attracted to. I thought the film was unique among many Ladd films in that they do a good job of credibly building the main male-female relationship during the course of the movie, rather than a perfunctory pairing at the end which seemed common. I love Ladd and Mayo together, too; they seem to bring out the best in each other. And wasn’t Edmond O’brien great! He’s a favorite of mine, too. He and Ladd had great on screen chemistry which apparently extended into real life where they became great friends.

    1. Really enjoyed reading this, thanks! Agree about O’Brien and also Ladd and Mayo being a good pair, seeing BL and Iron Mistress so close together was double the fun, and part of why I felt so blah on Podesta, there was no spark there, for me anyway, your mileage may vary. The Ladd a thon will continue..

  11. If you haven’t seen any of the Fred MacMurray westerns mentioned above, Kristina, I would heartily recommend them to you (a Fred ‘binge’ would be great!). He made some of my favourite westerns. ‘SMOKY’ (1946) would be a great start.

  12. I’ve only just read your Ladd reviews as I didn’t get the usual email telling me your post was up. Hope I don’t miss any more. I am ‘following ‘ you!
    Always like Ladd films though I haven’t seen Big Land and Santiago for a while.

    1. Hi! I’ve had other people say they no longer get email notifications, seems to be a wordpress glitch. Thanks for reading up on my festival!

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