Following the life and extraordinary career of producer and Hollywood movie mogul Alan Ladd Jr., or ‘Laddie’, as he is known amongst friends, Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies is a heartfelt piece, lovingly directed by Ladd’s daughter, Amanda Ladd-Jones. The largely light-hearted documentary begins with an impressive montage of actors, producers and directors all getting ready for interview and singing Laddie’s praises – including Mel Brooks, Sigourney Weaver, Mel Gibson and Ben Affleck, to name a few. This is cut with impressive behind the scenes photos of Laddie mucking in with the cast and crew from productions such as The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Star Wars, as the lively credits roll. From the start, the film sets out just how prolific this producer was, whilst, ironically, no one in the fan world seems to know who he is.
Laddie amazingly green lit Star Wars: A New Hope, and enabled productions such as Alien, Young Frankenstein, Thelma and Louise, Chariots of Fire…the list goes on. As you learn throughout this impressively detailed account of Laddie’s career and personal life, he was the man ‘who said yes’ to so many film-makers in Hollywood between the 1970s and the early 2000s. He championed women on screen and behind it, using his position in power for good. For a nerdy film buff who loves that era of Hollywood, or simply loves to learn about how ‘old Hollywood’ worked, Laddie is a treasure trove, full of anecdotal gems and movie history gold.
Laddie moves forward with a slightly tongue-and-cheek tone, careful not to take itself too seriously, one of the first few scenes showing Ladd-Jones going around a Star Wars convention, asking cosplayer fans if they know who Alan Ladd Jr. is, with mostly negative responses. Ladd-Jones favours the do-it-yourself style, with a few wacky abrupt jumps between interview footage and film clips at the beginning. This seems slightly jarring at first, but the film quickly finds its stride and as soon as the film facts and exclusive star-studded interviews roll in, you can settle in and be sure of an entertaining 80 minutes.
Throughout the piece, Laddie is funny, well-researched and full to the brim with interesting and intriguing stories about what goes on behind a film production. Each interview – including quiet, modest Laddie himself –, movie clip montage and story captures the viewer’s attention; the sheer number of big titles and names seeming never-ending. Each interviewee reveals humorous anecdotes and unbelievable tales from a time when the decision to run a movie all rested on one man’s shoulders, instead of by committee in our modern film world.
Ladd-Jones touches briefly on her personal relationship with ‘the man behind the movies’, the conflict between Laddie’s work and family life evident, and shown in a touching, almost heart-breaking way.
Overall, Laddie is a production which is clearly made from love, from Laddie’s daughter and family, but also from his friends and colleagues, creating a comforting watch, as the viewer sees old Hollywood legends laughing about the good old days, and indeed current times. We learn that a group of the old writers and producers still hang out, Mel Brooks jibing about how soft-spoken Laddie is, whilst they sit next to each other at the group’s regular lunches. We are left smiling, wishing we could hang out with these old Hollywood moguls and chat all day long.