Film Reviews

Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies – Documentary Review

Alan Ladd Jr. is probably best known to the general filmgoing public for his role in green-lighting, for 20th Century Fox, George Lucas’ Star Wars.  Now, with Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies, his daughter, Amanda Ladd Jones, has created this 83-minute documentary looking at his entire career: from his time as an agent, to his early forays into production, through his time at Fox and on to The Ladd Company, probably still best known for its role in creating Blade Runner.

This documentary has seen significant delays in finding its way into the UK market.  With Ladd born in 1937, the original release in the United States was in the spring of 2017, in the year of his 80th birthday.  This pre-dates the death of his youngest daughter, and is led by the perspective of a woman who knows only what her parents thought fair to share with her as a young girl.  As such, the film is low on insight and very high on praise.

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The first factor that becomes clear to the viewer is Alan Ladd’s extreme work ethic.  Beginning as a talent agent in 1963, he moved to London towards the end of the decade to take on a role producing movies.  In short, rules in the industry at that time prohibited individuals acting both as agents and as producers at the same time.  Choosing to concentrate on production work, Ladd returned to the US in 1973, as the Head of Creative Affairs at Fox, taking the role of President of the Film Division three years later.

The second trait focused on by the film is Ladd’s defence of creativity.  A huge range of star filmmakers from Ben Affleck (discussing his debut and Alan’s final film Gone Baby Gone), to Richard Donner (discussing the role Ladd played in getting a green light for The Omen – as well as suggesting that Damien survive at the end of that film), to Mel Brooks describing the producer going to bat for him in allowing Young Frankenstein to be released in black and white, and to allow Silent Movie – the whole concept of a film without dialogue at the stage in film history – to be made later in the 70s.

We hear from several female filmmakers and executives regarding Ladd’s attempts to enable more diversity of talent in the industry, many years before it became a pressing issue.  Mel Gibson is good value in discussing Ladd’s input into getting Braveheart made.  Finally, Ridley Scott is engaging in describing Ladd’s spotting of his talent, through his work on debut feature The Duellists, and his gamble – after the might of Fox was no longer behind Alan – to put his weight behind Blade Runner, as well as gambling on Ridley’s ability to bring Thelma and Louise in at a budget level thought unachievable.  All filmmakers are engaging in describing the producer’s judicious use of advice.  Sparingly, he would weigh in to encourage a better ending for Donner’s work, an affordable budget for Scott’s, and less bloat from Affleck’s.

The film makes some concessions to failure.  The Right Stuff is a film that underperformed, and this work is happy to accept this, but it is made by a loving daughter happy to let her father offload the blame to editors.  We have some discussion of his exit from Fox, but no-one really knows what happened behind closed doors, and the narrative becomes one of Alan bravely fighting private battles to protect the talent, and the integrity of the filmmaking.  This may well be true, but it is skirting becoming hagiography.

Ladd himself is a man who comes across as thoughtful and kindly, but he also seems somewhat private.  Apart from a few flashes on the steel under the surface – his discussion of The Right Stuff being a prime example – there is the sense that all the most interesting stories are being sacrificed to protect the privacy of a man who would find it unseemly to discuss such things.  These are fine ideals, but it does not make for the most riveting filmmaking.

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Amanda takes some time to discuss how she struggled to get close to her father in her youth.  Some of the best sequences of the film are when she is discussing this with Mel Gibson, who explains he had the same issues with one of his children when she was in her teens, he was caught up in the peak of his fame, and the busiest of schedules.  At this point, the confident filmmaker disappears, to be replaced by the daughter who simply wanted to know her father better, and appears to have made this almost with a sense of bridge-building with a parent whose motivations she now understands more thoroughly.

With a raft of star names contributing – Ron Howard and Morgan Freeman adding to the names above – Laddie is never less than engaging.  There is a high level of respect from all participants, with both warm memories of the man, and a great deal of gratitude for what he did, both to make the work better and to fight for their opportunities in the first place.  That said, Amanda Ladd Jones was absolutely the wrong person to shepherd this work.  Although her contacts and reach within the industry are impressive, the analysis is surface level, and the insights lacking.  Laddie required someone more distant from its subject in order to shine.

Laddie: The Man Behind The Movies will be released on 26th April and available to rent and buy on Sky Store, iTunes/ Apple, YouTube, Google Play and Rakuten.

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