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FILM REVIEW: Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies

Reviewer: Helen Tope

Directed by: Amanda Ladd-Jones

A fascinating look at the inner workings of Hollywood, Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies is, in every sense, a family affair. Directed by his daughter, Amanda Ladd-Jones, Laddie is a documentary looking at the life and work of film producer, Alan Ladd Jnr.

The documentary starts with a simple question: who is Alan Ladd Jnr? Film buffs and sci-fi fans are quizzed – they all draw a blank. Introducing herself on camera, Amanda Ladd-Jones sets out her objectives. In addition to examining Ladd Jnr’s contribution to cinema, Amanda wants to find a deeper connection to her father.

The film combines biography with present-day interviews. George Lucas, Ron Howard, Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver lay out for us Alan Ladd Jnr’s extensive influence. Starting as an agent, Ladd Jnr worked his way up to studio executive, eventually becoming President of Twentieth Century Fox. As a producer, Ladd Jnr’s CV is not only box-office gold, but has films with real, creative clout. His credits include Star Wars (championing the film when it was spurned by other studios); The Omen, Chariots of Fire, Thelma & Louise and Braveheart. Ladd-Jones proudly notes that her father’s films have amassed 150 Academy Award nominations.

For a documentary that is mostly all-business, Ladd-Jones attempts to show us the man behind the credits. Ladd Jnr’s father was an actor, with a star-making role in This Gun for Hire. An unlikely leading man, Alan Ladd smoulders alongside co-star Veronica Lake. His steely toughness was also played off-screen. Alan Ladd’s relationship with his elder son was difficult. Ladd’s dependency on alcohol didn’t help, and in 1964, Ladd was found dead after an accidental overdose.

The documentary never really gets to grips with Ladd Jnr’s relationship with his father – we get no further than the testimony from Alan’s brother, David. Despite its initial aims, Laddie instead explores Ladd Jnr’s life through his work. The generous spirit with which Alan approaches film-making is where the documentary finds its heartbeat. Ladd Jnr’s passion for film – complex, daring, innovative – is evident throughout.

Ladd Jnr might not be the obvious choice for a documentary subject: even through the gentle interviewing style of his daughter, he remains a stoic, implacable presence. This, the film makes clear, is not sternness, but modesty. When Ladd-Jones asks her father to sum up his achievements, he simply replies “I was doing my job”. The documentary infers that modern cinema would look very different without his involvement. Ridley Scott credits Ladd Jnr directly with bringing Blade Runner and Alien to the big screen.

While this is not an intimate psychological portrait, this documentary is a love letter to the art of film production. Amanda is careful to separate Ladd Jnr’s time at the office – and by implication, time away from home – from the ambivalent, shadowy figure of Alan Ladd. Laddie reveals the considerable sacrifices made by the family, but also the extent of what was achieved. The affection – on both sides – is there for all to see.

Available now on Digital Download

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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