Fouled-Up Kids Land on Ladd in 13 West Street (1961)
Extremely unpleasant drama, and for so many
reasons. CapeFear would go a similar route the
following year and be as much an ordeal. The beaten-down star that was Alan
Ladd by 1961 takes further punishment at hands of teen delinquency led by
wealth infected Michael Callan. Ladd in prime would never have stood for humiliation
meted to him here. He'sground down in a first reel and spends balance of 13 West Street on
crutches or a cane. For those who'd known quick-as-a-lick Ladd at Paramount peak, this must have been painful. Still, it
was a "Ladd Enterprises" production, with the Jaguar logo, so those
lights were still on, but there'd be no more US starring work for the once-great
action man. Known well is how drink and home issues brought Ladd low, but on him,
every misery showed. Once sharp dialogue delivery comes out halting and slurred.
Close takes saw puff and wear on a face that had once sustained fan mag covers.
Ladd's was as ghastly a fall from grace as any Classic Era star we'd known.
It's by Ladd's diminished measure that 13 West Street ends
up working so well as it does. What begins as seedy exploitation becomes an
interesting ponder on vigilante theme that movies forever address, but never
endorse. Just once I'd like a revenge yarn where the lead man gets his fill
killing off all villainy, then says "I feel better now" for a close.
That, however, was no-no under the Code and remains largely so. Taking law into
one's own hand remains a dangerous policy to applaud, for what of audience
members with their own scores to settle? 13 West Street does persuade us that
Ladd is better off letting police detective Rod Steiger conduct investigation,
though it's interesting that this film and Cape Fear allow victims to
succeed in at least trackdown, if not disposal, of oppressive force. 13 West Street
shows up on Sony's Movie Channel from time to time in HD, the added clarity
exposing cruelly what short years had done to Alan Ladd.