Alan Ladd Jr is, as his daughter, Amanda describes: ‘The most influential executive you’ve never heard of’. Unless of course you work in the movie business, where anyone who is anyone has a story to tell about him, with the names signed up to this documentary reading like a Who’s Who of Hollywood: Mel Brooks, Morgan Freeman, George Lucas, Ben Affleck, Sigourney Weaver, Ridley Scott… the list goes on.
Ladd Jr, or Laddie as he’s fondly known in the business, also has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame. And once you hear his back catalogue of classic movies it’s clear why. Laddie was the executive who gave the green light for George Lucas to make Star Wars and for Ridley Scott to make Blade Runner. He gave Ron Howard and Ben Affleck their first shots at directing. He enabled Mel Brooks to make Young Frankenstein in black and white, and later supported him on another unconventional project when Brooks wanted to make a comedy without dialogue, Silent Movie.
Looking back, we can think of these as easy decisions to make. Who wouldn’t see the blockbuster potential of Star Wars? Well, at the time when Laddie commissioned Lucas to write the script, quite a lot of people, including the Board of 20th Century Fox, who thought having a big dog driving a spaceship was never going to sell. History tells a different story, but George Lucas and Star Wars weren’t the huge names they are now when Laddie chose to believe in them.
The son of actor, Alan Ladd, Laddie was born into Hollywood glamour. But while he loved the escapism of the movies, he felt the pain of the industry’s inflated egos from an early age, when his father left home and practically erased Laddie from his public life. Perhaps that’s why in his own career, Laddie seemed more interested in the art than the glitz of movie making. From listening to those closest to him he certainly seems kinder, more generous, and artistically adventurous than you might expect.
Most surprising was Laddie’s willingness to catapult careers of women both behind and in-front of the camera, giving breaks to female producers like Jenno Topping and directors including Betty Thomas, and Arlene Sandord. Laddie set a trail for the strong female lead, by suggesting Ripley, the lead character in Alien, originally written for a man, should be cast as woman instead. He later worked again with director, Ridley Scott on the ground-breaking female road movie, Thelma and Louise.
Following her father into film-making, Amanda Ladd-Jones is the youngest of three daughters from Laddie’s first marriage to high-school sweetheart, Patricia Ann. She is the narrator, producer and director of the documentary, creating an intimacy beyond the usual biopic. As viewers we are drawn both by her father’s film legacy and her search to learn more about his life, outside of the family home – to see him not just as ‘Dad’ but as those who’ve worked with him do.
It is a side of him Amanda admits to not appreciating until she joined her dad on the set of Braveheart as an adult in her 20s. Recalling this experience to Mel Gibson, who won an Oscar for the film alongside her dad in 1996, we catch a glimpse of the personal cost of such success when Gibson opens up about the relationship with one of his daughters, aged 12 at the time.
It feels like Amanda Ladd-Jones hasn’t just taken us behind the scenes but has revealed ordinary emotions, aspirations, and personal relationships, of some the biggest names in Hollywood doing what for them is their day-to-day job. And it is this honest humanity, intertwined with 50-years of magic movie moments, that makes the documentary a compelling watch.
Laddie: The Man Behind The Movies is available to rent and buy from 26 April 2021 on Sky Store, iTunes/ Apple, YouTube, Google Play and Rakuten. Run Time: 83 Mins.