Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies (2017)

April 15th, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Amanda Ladd-Jones; Documentary with Alan Ladd jr, Mel Brooks, George Lucas, Ridley Scott, Richard Donner; USA 2017, 83 min.

Amanda Ladd-Jones films countless members of the industry in this eulogy to her talented father, the director and movie mogul Alan Ladd jr (*1937) whom we have to thank for Star Wars, Alien and Blade Runner to name but a few. It’s true to say that Ladd is a winner, and everyone loves a winner, particularly in Hollywood.

Ladd jr started his career in 1963 as a motion picture talent agent with clients including Judy Garland, Warren Beatty and Robert Redford. In 1968 he moved to London to produce, among other features, Villain with Richard Burton (in arguably his most miscast role). Then a return to Hollywood in 1973 saw Ladd becoming Head of Creative Affairs and three years later President of Twenty Century Fox where he was instrumental in fighting for George Lucas’ Star Wars projects, against the majority of the company’s board.

Ladd also turned his magic touch to art house features such as Julia (1977) and would cleverly change the ending of The Omen directed by Richard Donner, letting the malicious child survive, instead of killing him off, thereby spawning a whole new franchise.

The success story continues with Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, which had run into financial difficulties in 1980. The Rocky Horror Picture Show and An Unmarried Woman were also among the projects Ladd supported against a conservative board. His corporate career prospered and in the  mid-1970s Ladd named Ashly Boone Fox’s President of Marketing, the first Afro-American woman to rise to this status in the USA. Later, Boone joined Ladd jr at the Ladd Company and MGM, winning the first of his Oscars for Chariot of Fire (1981).

By comparison Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982) was a financial disappointment, only to rise to cult status a decade later and showing how masterpieces need to stand the test of time rather the sensation of the moment. Rush (1991) was directed by Lili Fini Zanuck at a time when women directors were nearly unheard of in mainstream cinema. At MGM Ladd jr was responsible for very diverse projects, like Rocky IV and A Fish called Wanda.

In the early 1990s Ladd jr left the executive world for good and established The Ladd Company, winning his second Oscar for Braveheart in 1995. Gone Baby Gone, the debut movie of director Ben Affleck, was to be the last feature Ladd jr produced in 2007.

If this reads like a rather boring celebrity roll call, it unfortunately reflects this documentary itself which is overlaid by Amanda’s over-talkie narration competing with an incessant ‘musak style’ score. Ladd jr himself seems the only participant not praising his own talents and achievements in giving the Midas touch to even doomed projects and transforming putative B movies into Oscar-worthy outings such as Fear is the Key (1972).

Certainly worth a watch for its juicy cinema titbits Laddie could have invested more time in exploring the director’s tragic relationship with his actor father Alan Ladd – or Amanda’s own lonely childhood, when she saw her Dad only in-between films, instead of claiming “He loved me the best he could.” But that would be a documentary expose rather than a eulogy, and Amanda’s telling statement shows great insight into the nature of success from a daughter who was proud of her father and recognised his limitations in the scheme of things. Laddie will certainly be appreciated by fans and cineastes alike as a worthwhile trip down Hollywood’s memory lane. AS

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