Alan Ladd had a small role in Citizen Kane as a reporter but it was two films he made in quick succession for Paramount, This Gun For Hire and The Glass Key that made him a star.
In the best of his early movies he was partnered with Veronica Lake. He was small, tough, impassive, she an icy. amoral blonde, and together they walked those mean streets with an unequalled coolness and class. Some dull action pictures spoiled Ladd’s record at the end of the Forties, but in 1953 he played his greatest role as Shane, the gentle but lethal gunfighter and the most mythical of Western screen heroes.
Ladd’s last notable part, following a final decline at Warners and Universal, was as the Hollywood cowboy in The Carpetbaggers. but he was already on the skids and died soon after from alcohol and medicine poisoning. A popular star in his prime and a strong actor too, here then is our pick of five of his best movies.
This Gun for Hire (1942)
Ladd emerges as a major screen presence as a paid killer who gets mixed up in a sabotage ring. The story follows the cold-blooded killer as he goes about his day’s work, and then to a double-cross by Laird Cregar, a client who smuggles poison gas to the enemy. With both the police and Cregar’s henchmen on his tail, nightclub singer Veronica Lake teaches Ladd that he doesn’t have to kill and the murderer makes a too-late decision to do the noble thing. Ladd’s performance, a frightening exercise in cold, somber detachment (watch his eyes as he decides whether or not to slay a little girl), made him an instant sensation. Although designed as a B-movie the movie was derived from a down at heel novel by Graham Greene – A Gun for Sale. He and Lake made three more pictures together, including “The Blue Dahlia” (1946).
Director: Frank Tuttle
Cast: Alan Ladd, Marc Lawrence, Robert Preston, Mikhail Rasumny, Laird Cregar
The Glass Key (1942)
A classic murder mystery, based on the Hammett novel and said to be the inspiration for Kurosawa’s Yojimbo. When a corrupt politician is accused of murder, his assistant hunts the real killer, avoiding amorous advances from his boss’s fiancée and attacks from gangsters along the way. Ladd and Lake make this a better version than the 1935 film of the same name. Future leading man Dane Clark appears in the uncredited role of Henry Sloss. At the time, he was still using his real name, Bernard Zanville; it was changed when Warner Bros. put him under contract in 1943.
Director: Stuart Heisler
Cast: Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix, Joseph Calleia, Richard Denning, Brian Donlevy, Bonita Granville, Moroni Olsen
The Blue Dahlia (1946)
When Johnny Morrison returns home at the end of the war, he expects to receive a warm welcome from his wife. Instead, he discovers that she’s been unfaithful to him with the owner of the Blue Dahlia nightclub. After a heated argument, he storms out of their house. Later that night, she’s murdered–and Johnny winds up the prime suspect. Joyce Harwood, the estranged wife of the club’s proprietor, lends Johnny a hand and the two fall in love while tracking down the killer. Though conceived as a novel, author Raymond Chandler turned The Blue Dahlia into a piece custom-made for Alan Ladd. Chandler saw his own novels filmed, and he adapted others’ works, but this was his only original script. Academy Award Nominations: Best Screenplay.
Director: George Marshall
Cast: Alan Ladd, William Bendix, Howard Da Silva, Howard Freeman, Tom Powers, Will Wright
The Great Gatsby (1949)
The second screen adaptation (after the silent 1926 version) of Fitzgerald’s story features a fine performance by Ladd in the Nick Carraway role. A searching young man observes the Jazz Age society of Long Island as go-between for an upwardly mobile gangster and a frivolous woman trying to rekindle a romantic spark. The novel’s mixture of envy and repulsion seems to resist big-screen treatment. Howard Da Silva, who plays Wilson in The Great Gatsby would later appear in the 1974 version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story, playing the shady Meyer Wolfsheim. In the years in between, Da Silva was a victim of the Hollywood blacklist.
Director: Elliott Nugent
Cast: Alan Ladd, Barry Sullivan, Howard Da Silva, Betty Field, Shelley Winters
Considered one of the greatest Westerns, this is Ladd’s finest role. Like “High Noon”, with which it shares some similarity, Shane proposes that the stain of killing can’t be washed away, even if the death comes in a righteous cause. Ladd gets involved in a nasty skirmish between ranchers and farmers when he rides up to Heflin’s farmhouse looking for water. From the first, he impresses young De Wilde with his instinctual quick draw and then earns Heflin’s trust when he backs down bullying Meyer. Ladd seems to be putting down roots as he fights for the farmers. But after a final showdown with steely-eyed Palance, he rides away from the farm he’s made secure, knowing that his mere presence will bring more death. A landmark Western, beautifully directed and photographed. Despite speaking only 12 lines Jack Palance received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. He would eventually win for his supporting role in City Slickers (1991). Academy Award Nominations: 6, including Best Picture; Best Director; Best Screenplay; Best Supporting Actor: Jack Palance; Best Supporting Actor: Brandon de Wilde.
Director: George Stevens
Cast: Alan Ladd, Jack Palance, Jean Arthur, Edgar Buchanan, Elisha Cook Jr. , Brandon DeWilde, Van Heflin, Ben Johnson,
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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