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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Favorites List --- Alan Ladd and Appointment With Danger

Ladd Always Pleases Here: Boy, for the number of times I've read that exhibitor comment in trade journals. So why's Alan Ladd so forgotten now? Well, partly it's films out of circulation. Most of his good Paramounts are below ground, and don't ask about ones he produced of which negatives his family came heir to. Some of those played television in syndication years, then vamoosed. Remember Drum Beat, Hell On Frisco Bay, Guns Of The Timberland? They were Jaguar Productions. That was Alan's company. He was plenty big enough to have his own company. Jack Warner said there was nobody more reliable for boxoffice (AL moved to WB in the fifties). Like Warners' Errol Flynn, Ladd was an action man, easiest to sell in that capacity and welcome in all venues ... first-run, drive-in, or grind. You could call him a half-pint Flynn were size the issue. For too many people it was, and that's part of what tortured Laddie (was that nickname inspired by his diminutive stature?). Maybe they forgot that little guys often move fastest, and believe me (or your eyes), AL was like a gazelle when time came to lift off. He's another I'll watch no matter the film. There's depth to Ladd no one could have got while he was alive and darker truths of his life were unknown. All that was well concealed by happy time merchants who made him seem essence of fame and family in harmony, when in fact he was Sad Ladd from start to a lonely finish. Those that knew him got to live longer to tell how melancholy it all was. Herbert Coleman gave a chapter of his Hollywood memoir to meditation of final inning Ladd trying to put together ill-starred projects and dodging a wife who seemingly ran every aspect of his micro-managed life. Just dare me to jump out that window shouted Ladd at a 1963 low-point, shortly before the end.

My sixth-grade band teacher and former Our Gang-er whom I've talked about before was represented by Sue Carol, actress turned agent who took over Ladd and went about said micro-doings. Well, she also handled Priscilla Lyon's teenage castings and invited her out for barbecues from time to time. Priscilla recalled to me how parties around the grill were usually minus by-then husband to Sue, Alan Ladd having repaired poolside and alone. He was cordial but distant, she said. This year's Columbus Cinevent gave opportunity to meet onetime kid actor Charles Herbert, who'd worked with Ladd at age ten when they did The Man In The Net (1959). He told me AL was way to himself and had nothing to do off-camera with several youngsters that figured into Net's story. By then, Ladd was deep also into cups and decline that followed. His features got puffy and reactions slowed. The lithe figure that monkeyed up a slick pole in The Iron Mistress was thicker and far less alert. He'd die early (at 50) before his last, The Carpetbaggers, was released. You knew from watching that starring days were done in any event. Carroll Baker spoke later of crew folk at Paramount being glad to have well-liked Ladd back on the lot, even as younger and less gracious George Peppard showed little respect for this star who'd really kept the studio in chips over a long, lucrative haul.

So this rambling brings me round to out-on-DVD Appointment With Danger, one of my favorite Ladds and a sterling film noir if you prefer slapping a more commercial label on it. I'm very much for reviving Alan Ladd. Back when I collected vintage scrapbooks, there was no male name that filled more of them. Good gravy, he was huge in the day. But enough of that for a moment. Consider Appointment With Danger. Ladd's a postal inspector who goes undercover to bust up a mail robbery. Jack Webb and Harry Morgan are among the heavies, and Jan Sterling is a quasi-bad girl. Here is about the most pleasurable investment of 89 minutes you could make. It was part of a noir cycle where enforcement agencies were methodically glorified badge by badge. T-Men, C-Men, and immigration watchdogs had been celebrated. Now it was the post office's moment. That institution could use a back-pat right now for all I'm hearing about them going broke, but we're too cynical to extend plaudits for fed employees on any job, so Appointment won't likely get remade, but 1951 being that simpler time we keep hearing about, Paramount sent out bands blaring for the USPS and put flyers into (wow!) 21,000 post offices tieing-in across the land. There was even a commendation letter from ye Postmaster General himself (below). If real-life inspectors went about business as ruthlessly as Alan Ladd in Appointment With Danger, there must surely have been fewer letters (and payrolls) lost in 1951. His character was by then a patented one ... the loner, only friend is his gun, women don't melt him, etc. Ladd had played that in everything back to This Gun For Hire, and each time it worked because folks liked him best silent and deadly. AL moved forward by holding back and made underplaying a signature. Talent like this wasn't much rewarded except at cash registers, but hey, where else did it matter?

Ladd loved his fans and treated them like pen pals. These at-home with secretaries shots were no puff. AL with wife's (no doubt hovering) assist made business of being Alan Ladd a 24-7 proposition. He needed an athlete's build for stamina that required. Ladd's screen character seemed always to be coming in from the outside and going out the same way --- alone. Audiences were well prepared for him as Shane. That one's the definitive statement of what it was to be Alan Ladd. Without him, it wouldn't have been near the show it was. AL used to joke about his abbreviated gestures, not appreciating (because maybe no one told him) just how effective they were. I gave a really good "look" today was how he summed up performing so close to the vest. Could be that look he referred to happened in Appointment With Danger when bad guy Paul Stewart slams a bar counter on his fingers. Well, for that split moment, Laddie's eyes widen but slightly to reveal a panther's quickness held barely in check, letting us wonder when he'll cut loose (he does, in short bursts like on a handball court with Jack Webb, and it's magical). Should this kind of coiled quality be revered over acting chops easier to spot and applaud? In movies, where action always speaks more effectively than words, I'd say yes. Women went kooky for Ladd because he could never quite be reached . The pistol that doesn't jam was his preferred date, but gals could dream, couldn't they? Teaming him with a nun in Appointment With Danger was inspired outcome of a Ladd image going into Decade Two. He offers this untouchable counterpart protection and tender concern withheld from mainstream reps of the opposite sex who might want more commitment than he's got to give.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

Alan Ladd was an Honorary pallbearer at George Reeves' funeral.

2:05 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

Interesting. I never thought about Alan Ladd that hard, but then I kind of have only seen about 3 of his movies (Shane, Glass Key, and... The Blue Dahlia, I guess). I don't suppose there's another star of that magnitude who lives in that same realm of half-known-half-unknown obscurity as, say, Dane Clark or Van Heflin.

The interesting thing for me is that I've seen him plenty of times in early bits-- just saw him in the '41 Black Cat at Cinesation, where his noir line readings seemed way out of character next to Basil Rathbone and Bela Lugosi. He had an unusually long apprenticeship (including one appearance nobody seems to have confirmed; I've seen La Fiesta de Santa Barbara, that MGM Technicolor short with the Gumm Sisters in it, on the big screen, and I'm convinced that's him in the black caballero costume at about 1:10. You can see it at You Tube here:

5:46 PM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

A little credit, please, for the scribe of this film, Richard L. Breen. The man came into pictures just a couple years earlier, almost entirely on the strength of a radio collaboration with Webb entitled PAT NOVAK FOR HIRE that had set the coast on fire in '46. The scripts were recycled for an ABC network run in 1949, the same year APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER was shot. (Held back from release for 18 months to keep the recently-departed Ladd in Paramount's pipeline.) You want crackling dialogue? Seek out a few of the PAT NOVAKs... you'll not only be entertained, you'll marvel at the sheer audacity. Extra points if you can figure out if you're listening to a private eye drama or a parody of same. I still haven't made up my mind.

11:04 PM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

Whenever the new Warner Archive titles are announced, I immediately look for "Hell on Frisco Bay." Not yet, but I'm still hoping. "Drum Beat" has been turning up on the Encore Westerns channel, so maybe "Hell on Frisco Bay" will turn up soon. Dying to see it. Alan Ladd, Edward G. Robinson, Paul Stewart. Even with never seeing it, it's an instant purchase.

10:14 AM  
Anonymous Bill Luton said...

Just saw Appointment last week and thought it an excellent and underrated noir. Lots of Ladd's I'd love to see such as Calcutta, Saigon, O.S.S., Chicago Deadline, Two Years Before the Mast & others. One of my favorite bits by Ladd was in My Favorite Brunette where he has a cameo as tough PI Sam McCloud opposite Bob Hope's baby photographer. Great send up of the hard boiled PI by Ladd.

12:01 PM  
Blogger Christopher said... that you mention it..I haven't seen many Ladds on TV in quite awhile..especially the Paramounts

12:29 AM  
Blogger Mike Cline said...


As Carl Denham would say,
"Holy mackerel! What a show!"

8:46 AM  
Anonymous Cladrite Radio said...

Can you tell me which Herbert Coleman memoir you were referring to? There seem to be two -- The Hollywood I Knew and The Man Who Knew Hitchcock.

Actually, I'm hoping the latter is a retitled reissue of the former, since it's more widely (and affordably) available, but I'll await your response.

12:42 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

"The Hollywood I Knew" is the one I was referring to.

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Cladrite Radio said...

Thanks. And in case anyone else is interested, it turns out that my hunch was right: "The Man Who Knew Hitchock" is, in fact, the same book as "The Hollywood I Knew," retitled for a softcover reissue.

8:18 PM  

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