There is a sequence at the beginning of Amanda Ladd-Jones’ documentary about her father, Alan Ladd Jr., where she poses one simple question to a variety of Star Wars fans at a convention: do you know who Alan Ladd Jr. is? Many of these fans, dressed as their favourite characters from one of the most successful film franchises of all time, simply don’t have an answer. Little do they know that Alan Ladd Jr. (or Laddie to his pals) is one of the people they have to thank for the very thing that they love the most.
Alan Ladd Jr. made a career for himself as a film executive and producer, a man whose name is attached to so many classic movies ranging from the 70s to the modern day. To name but a few, Laddie helped bring not just Star Wars to the screen, but also The Omen, Alien, Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire, Police Academy, Thelma & Louise, Braveheart and many more. As both a studio exec and later a producer straight out, Laddie came to represent a type of studio head that is rare to find in Hollywood these days: the kind of backer who protects the filmmakers vision, a producer who made movies simply for the love of movies.
As much as Laddie seems a stranger to the Star Wars devoted, he was also something of a stranger to his daughter. Amanda Ladd-Jones presents this documentary as a tribute to her father, but it soon becomes clear that it is as much for her as it is for him. With her father consumed with work, from running 20th Century Fox film studios in the 70s to being a producer of his own company in the 80s, he was largely absent from her childhood. This documentary is both a look at the man’s career, but also a chance for Amanda to find out just what it was he was doing all those years when he wasn’t around, and what a significant impact he had on the industry.
The film also touches on Laddie’s childhood and his own difficult relationship with his father, classic Hollywood actor Alan Ladd, who died at the age of 50 following difficulty with substance abuse. Laddie’s relationship with his father may be a factor as to why he himself isn’t the most emotionally open individual himself. This kind of psychoanalytical look at parenting does not come to be too much of the focus in what is ultimately a tribute to his contribution to Hollywood cinema.
Instead, through talking with her fathers’ collaborators, friends and individuals who owe their career to him in some way (including Mel Brooks, George Lucas, Richard Donner, Ridley Scott and Sigourney Weaver), Amanda begins to paint a picture of what it was that kept her father so busy during her childhood. It does not bring back that time lost, but the overall sensation is one of pride and understanding, particularly as she starts to unpack his devotion to championing talented voices, both male and female, in front of and behind the camera.
This is not the most dynamically made documentary. It’s very nuts and bolts filmmaking; talking head interviews mixed with montages of archive footage and film clips set to music as it rolls through Laddie’s history. But there’s an undeniable sweetness to the proceedings. As the many faces talk about how Laddie always had their back and his attitude for pushing for movies that would open doors and explore offbeat and visually exciting stories comes to the fore, you end up falling for the sense of nostalgia that they’re conjuring. It is not so much for the man himself, as he still seems quite charmingly unfussed by his own achievements, but for the era of cinema he helped nurture and create.
Many of the directors and producers involved here talk about how Laddie was the man who protected them from the pressures of the money men at the top of the studio food chain. He was a man who recognised talent and did all he could to help filmmakers have the space to simply make their movie. They lament how much that kind of figure is extinct in today’s Hollywood movie making climate, and it’s hard not to agree when you see how much mainstream Hollywood cinema is now dominated by massive franchise properties.
If there is anything Amanda learnt about her father from this experience, it is surely that he represented something of a rare breed in the business that he made his career. Her film itself is unfussy to the point where it occasionally feels repetitive and a tad by the numbers. But as a look into an era of Hollywood cinema that produced some of the most beloved films of all time, it is undeniably a personal and sweet reflection of what was truly a golden age.
Laddie: The Man Behind the Movies is available on demand from April 26th 2021.