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Friday, August 24, 2018

Ladd's Last For Warner Release

Guns Of The Timberland (1960) Is Action Against Piney Backdrop

Here's how Aaaron Spelling got his first feature producing credit, according to memoirs. He had buddied up with Alan Ladd, then-wife Carolyn Jones introducing them after her pic with AL, Man In The Net. The fading lead man handed Spelling the script for a "damn thing" being prepped at Warners,' Guns Of The Timberland. Spelling spent a weekend making it better, for which appreciative Ladd called Jack L. and told the Warners chief that Aaron Spelling would produce his movie. Here, said Spelling, was where his career took off, with Alan Ladd to thank for it. Such was Hollywood at rare moment where dreams came true. As to Timberland outcome, if it matters, there is debate. One Ladd book called it his worst ever, tough choice among flock of clucks the star had done around this time. Guns Of The Timberland was out of circulation thanks to ownership migrating after general release. Now Guns are firing with a nice 1.85 transfer at TCM and on DVD from Warner Archive.

Ladd's was a great star persona and people should have told him that more often where ebbing confidence needed a boost. By 1960, his lean look was gone, the face fleshed to jowly despair and knowledge there wouldn't be another Shane for the playbook. Some said his weight was up, that demonstrably untrue based on the pic; what made it seem so was loss of panther pace from the 40's when Ladd in motion was a graceful blur. Alcohol had slowed reaction and he lost interest in swimming, golf ... sport that kept athleticism AL used so well. Timberland's first close-up shocks for being outdoor-lit and unforgiving of looks that had dissipated. This may have been the moment when a widest audience realized Ladd's era was done.

Veteran Stars' Insurance Policy Taken Out Often During the 60's: A Teen Idol In Support To Assure Kid Patrons

There's nothing specifically wrong with the movie. It had nice exteriors on fresh Nevada/Arizona/Northern California location, trees felled to most arresting effect since Warners' 1937 God's Country and The Woman. Ladd's sidekick is ageless Gilbert Roland. They slug out differences as expected of Ladd, even if by now his double took most of punishment. There is nod to youth with Frankie Avalon and a handful of songs, Ladd's daughter Alana the teen's love interest. AL liked his "Jaguar" productions done old-fashioned ways, each admirable at giving fans what they'd want and expect. There was no complaint with Guns Of The Timberland so far as viewership in back seats and balconies went. This was a comfort western in 1960 and it still relaxes. For $1.2 million spent on the negative (very reasonable and proof of Jaguar/WB efficiency), there was $1.9 in worldwide rentals, most from foreign receipts. Trouble was diminishing domestic returns; Timberland took but $836K in the US, so no surprise that Warner closed books with Jaguar that year. Ladd would go the plummet from here, but worth noting is even after his death in 1964, there still was booking of AL oldies at NC drive-ins and grindhousing, showman/bookers ever-aware that for action satisfaction, there was no one quite like Ladd.


Blogger Kevin K. said...

Although only 8 years old at the time, I remember Ladd's death because I was aware that he had some connection to Hollywood's golden era -- even then, my favorite time for movies. But as I watched promos of "The Carpetbaggers" on TV, and looked at his close-ups, all I could think of was, "Boy, 50 sure is old." Dissipated is the only word to describe Ladd in his final years.

11:02 AM  
Blogger Stinky Fitzwizzle said...

Stinky is a big Ladd fan, so he finds it too painful to watch those late Ladd movies. No major star aged so terribly; possibly Errol Flynn.

2:56 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

But Stinky, it does have Frankie Avalon.

4:43 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

I recall my first watch of ONE FOOT IN HELL(1960), decades ago, and it was shocking to see him looking so dissipated and underweight appearing like a wet rag doll and giving an embarrassing performance. Always a big fan of ALAN LADD; I just watched THE CARPETBAGGERS(1964), again-- and thought he looked pretty GOOD here in his final film in comparison to ONE FOOT IN HELL & those last 2 Warner Westerns. BTW-- has anyone ever seen DUEL OF CHAMPIONS(1961-ITALIAN)??? Somehow I missed this one at the 3-feature theaters as well as any TV showing of it. ....

5:10 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer reflects on Alan Ladd:

Alan Ladd in his prime moved with the “grace of a panther,” but how big a cat was he?

When Ladd was making a personal appearance in Chicago for “Chicago Deadline,” which had been filmed on location in that city during the summer of 1948, his biggest fan in the world, my mother, couldn’t get off work but dispatched one of her friends to get his personally autographed picture. The friend succeeded, but came back with the report that Ladd was “such a little guy.”

Most sources give his height as 5 feet 6 inches, while his U.S. Army induction papers list him at a more flattering 5 feet 8 inches tall. Other sources have him at anywhere from 5 feet 3 inches or 5 feet 5 inches tall. In “Shane,” he was paired against Ben Johnson in a fistfight. Johnson stood in at 6 feet 2 inches and was half a head taller than Ladd. Considering the lifts that the star wore, 5 feet 6 inches tall seems about right.

Ladd had the compact build of a gymnast or springboard diver, both of which he’d been in high school, and he moved with the ease of an athlete. His first break in show business was in radio, however, where his rich, well-modulated voice was used to advantage. Height isn’t a matter of concern in the theater of the imagination. His role in “Citizen Kane” was also in the nature of a radio role, with his distinctive voice heard in the exchanges of dialog among the ensemble, but his image only that of a shadowy figure with a fedora and pipe.

James Cagney was no taller than Ladd, but there never seemed a need to compensate for his height, when a well-timed right-hand punch could bring anyone down to size. It seemed at first that Paramount, Ladd’s new home in the studio world, was going to take the same route. In “This Gun for Hire,” he was obviously shorter than nearly everyone else, and certainly shorter than the ostensible lead, Robert Preston, at 6 feet 2 inches tall. Only Veronica Lake, at 4 feet 11 inches, was shorter. Ladd’s athletic ability was on display in a scene where he was pursued on foot by the police across a railroad yard, deftly running over or past obstacles as police bullets spattered the ground just behind him. His confrontation with Laird Cregar, at 6 feet 3 inches tall and 300 pounds plus in weight, was in the nature of a shark savaging a whale.

In “The Glass Key,” a follow-up film for the newly emerging star, there was also no attempt to make him seem taller than he was. His role was another character part, teaming him this time with Brian Donlevy. His short height and slender build were contrasted with those of the stocky William Bendix, at 5 feet 10 inches tall, to make Bendix seem a hulking monster when his character administers a sadistic beating to Ladd’s.

About this time, however, Paramount apparently decided that Ladd’s good looks were better suited for more conventional leading man roles, and that meant playing opposite actresses taller than the diminutive Veronica Lake. Hence the need for the usual subterfuges to disguise his height, with lifts for his shoes, boxes to stand on, ramps to walk along, and supporting players whose height was not so challenging to his own. Given Ladd’s insecurities, this could only have been another source of anxiety.

Also, few of these aids could be employed on personal appearances, though this would not have mattered to my mother, who was in the Veronica Lake class.

3:56 PM  
Blogger rnigma said...

Ladd's co-star in "Boy on a Dolphin" was 5'8" Sophia Loren, and a trench had to be dug for her to walk in for a beachside scene with Ladd.

His son David was starting his own career as an actor, in such films as "A Dog of Flanders" (there was a comic book detailing "David Ladd's Life Story"). David seemed to give up film acting as he grew up - his wife Cheryl became one of Charlie's Angels.

9:05 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

Obvious of note this month: you haven't changed your INTRO card/scene!! What gives?

8:50 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Problems with the index site, and unable to change the banner until I get them fixed. Am working on it.

8:57 AM  

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