And now back to the diary of my Alan Ladd movie binge. This trio of pictures spans 16 years and has Ladd playing two doctors and a lumberjack.
And Now Tomorrow (1944): Good romantic medical drama about an heiress, Emily (Loretta Young), who goes deaf after contracting meningitis. After exhausting every known treatment, she accepts she will never hear again and goes on with her life, which means marrying Jeff (Barry Sullivan) who’s having an affair with Emily’s sister Janice (Susan Hayward). Emily’s doctor (Cecil Kellaway) brings in a young new associate, Dr. Vance (Ladd), who tries out his experimental and possibly dangerous new serum on Emily while also teaching her a few things about her privileged life, and the two fall in love. I really liked the interaction between Ladd and Young here. Initially Vance judges Emily harshly, by her parents’ money and actions, which impacted his family when he was a boy. It isn;t fair, but it’s that tough love, administered by a cool and distant but still charming Ladd, that challenges Emily’s worldview and opens her eyes to the plight of the poor all around her. Emily’s curious about Vance’s actions and motives, and the first night she begs to go with him on a call, she shows she has a big heart and ends up assisting him in an emergency surgery on a dying child. By being useful to someone for more than her money, apparently for the first time in her life, she learns the value of work and humility and becomes someone Vance can love.
Emily’s not nearly as spoiled as Vance thinks, nor is he as prickly and unfeeling as he pretends to be, and the way these two learn those things about each other, makes for a relationship nicely woven into her treatment process, with twists like Vance getting an opportunity to move on to another city and better lab, and his discovery that Emily’s being cheated on and married out of pity. Young plays deaf very well, she carefully reads peoples’ lips and studies their expressions, and speaks in a softer monotone, and when she realizes her hearing is restored, her disbelief and joy is affecting. The scenes where she has fun surprising everyone with her hearing are great, and quickly turn into a shock for her, when Hayward tricks Sullivan into telling which woman he really loves. Directed by Irving Pichel from the Rachel Field novel.
Botany Bay (1952): This is a story much like Two Years Before the Mast (1946), in that Ladd plays a man wrongly taken prisoner on an excruciatingly long sea voyage and mistreated by a sadistic captain. Both movies have the same director, John Farrow, but they’re different enough to both be entertaining in their own right. In this story, Ladd is Hugh Tallant, a medical student cleared of the “crime” of stealing back his own inheritance from a crooked executor, but evil Captain Gilbert (James Mason) won’t bother waiting a day to see that pardon. He sets sail for Botany Bay penal colony with Hugh on board, because he could use a doctor and another man to torment. Hugh’s attempts to escape earn him a flogging and a charge of mutiny, and the more Hugh acts and speaks out against Gilbert’s inhumane treatment, or tries to help the women and children locked up and dying below, things get worse for him. Gilbert orders a keelhauling and is dismayed when Hugh survives it; their battle goes on right through their arrival and camp at Australia, where Gilbert almost wins before being killed by an Aborigine’s spear, and Hugh finds mercy from the Governor.
Patricia Medina plays an intelligent prisoner who tries to stay on the Captain’s good side so she can share his luxurious living quarters and good meals, but she also has something juicy to blackmail him with, and plays that card once she falls for Hugh. Mason is, as usual, fantastic, and makes a memorable and relentless villain.
Guns of the Timberland (1960): Ladd is lumberjack Jim, who arrives at Deep Well along with his partner Monty (Gilbert Roland) and large crew (including Noah Beery Jr.). The loggers may have the legal right to start clearing the forest, but as rancher Laura (Jeanne Crain) tells Jim, the townspeople won’t let them do it, since it’ll mean rains will wash out all their topsoil, destroy the ranches and leave the place a ghost town. When the loggers push back, Laura’s foreman Clay (Lyle Bettger) resorts to blocking roads with dynamite and trees, and things escalate until Monty and Jim’s friendship is ruined and all must work together to stop a raging forest fire.
Frankie Avalon gets a couple songs in his role as Laura’s ward, he looks up to Jim, has spats with his sweetheart, played by Ladd’s daughter Alana, and ends up collateral damage in the Deep Well war. Every time Laura and Jim think they’ve made progress, come closer to understanding each other and made headway in a working and romantic relationship, someone else destroys the truce. The ending felt terribly rushed, and I’d call it a lesser Ladd western, but it was still interesting, featured gorgeous colour photography, and Crain had a strong role. Directed by Robert D. Webb and adapted from a Louis L’Amour book.
Previously in my Alan Ladd festival: Salty O’Rourke, The Black Knight, The McConnell Story, The Badlanders, The Deep Six, The Red Beret, The Great Gatsby, The Big Land, Santiago, Chicago Deadline, Drum Beat, Hell Below Zero, Red Mountain, Thunder in the East, The Iron Mistress, The Man in the Net, Whispering Smith, Calcutta, O.S.S., Two Years Before the Mast, Branded, Appointment with Danger.