Laddie: The Man Behind The Movies is a deeply personal love letter from director Amanda Ladd-Jones, both to movies and to her father, film industry executive and producer Alan Ladd Jr.
Whilst not always inventive in its structure, Ladd-Jones’ directorial debut manages to breath new life into the ‘talking heads’ format and provide a whirlwind tour of the second golden age of Hollywood filmmaking.
We first meet Ladd Jr. started at the bottom despite being the son of a famous actor, and follow his rise from lowly mailroom worker to producer of a veritable cornucopia of hit movies, including Star Wars , Chariots of Fire, Alien, Blade Runner, Thelma and Louise and more. It’s remarkable how many members of Hollywood’s elite—George Lucas, Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver among them—Ladd-Jones has convinced to speak about her father on film, and as a result we get a deep insight both into Ladd’s unconventional talents for movie-making, and the process of the studio system itself. This in turn evokes nostalgia for the days when production companies were seemingly more invested in the creative process, and provokes interesting questions about the role of the executive and of profit in Hollywood.
What elevates the film into more than the sum of its parts is our insight into “Laddie” as an individual. We are given an equal view into both the independence and creativity allowed by Ladd, and the poor effect his actions had on his family relations. Indeed, the relationship between Ladd-Jones and her father becomes the quiet heart of Laddie: The Man Behind The Movies. Through this, the documentary morphs into a study of appreciation and reconciliation from Ladd-Jones to her father, paralleling how Ladd never got the chance to reconcile with his own, and provides a sweet backbone to the rest of the film. The combination of the personal and professional here is deeply moving.
However, the film often loses sight of this key theme in favour of movie anecdotes. The documentary often jumps around from film to film, and whilst the observations of the contributors are frequently interesting, we sometimes don’t get as much of an in-depth look at the filmmaking process as we might have liked. Similarly, Ladd’s failures are sometimes obscured or lightly touched upon, and it might have been more productive to delve deeper. However, in scanning across multiple areas of Hollywood—acting, screenwriting, producing—for Ladd’s influence, we do get a firm grasp on how this quiet, self-effacing man became the powerhouse behind so many iconic films, which is after all the goal of the documentary.
The film often uses clips from movies produced by Ladd to illustrate particular moments in his life, a stylistic choice that definitely works but seems to trail off as the documentary progresses. Leaning into this more, as well as into the less triumphant moments of his life, might have made for a stronger picture, but you become so swept along in the creative prowess of the film’s subject that these are only minor quibbles.
A deeply personal but admirably wide-ranging portrait, Laddie: The Man Behind The Movies is a triumph of documentary making. Despite occasionally being a little surface level and conventional in its style, it never fails to thrill you with the myths and realities of Hollywood, whilst highlighting the often under-appreciated production side of the business. In particular, Ladd-Jones’ respect and love for her subject shine through.
Laddie: The Man Behind The Movies will be released on 26th April and available to rent and buy on Sky Store, iTunes/Apple, YouTube, Google Play and Rakuten.
Words by Issy Flower
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