“I have the face of an ageing choirboy and the build of an undernourished featherweight. If you can figure out my success on the screen you’re a better man than I.”
And that was the thing about Alan, despite being a leading man, a sex symbol and star of big money making films, he had the face of an innocent. Sullen and closed off at times, almost ponderous. But when he smiled, his face became open and sweet. That was the dichotomy though. Alan had never really been allowed to be innocent or young. He had never fully experienced the carefree privileges of childhood. He had grown up malnourished and humiliatingly poor. And these experiences haunted him. Carved into the memory of the boy and then the man, making his stardom feel hard won but also dreamlike, transient. Likely to fade away at any moment, leaving him as he was before.
I first discovered Alan thanks to the You Must Remember This podcast episode dedicated to Veronica Lake, which was part four of the “Dead Blondes” series. During the episode, Karina Longworth discussed the classic film noir The Blue Dahlia. I had also heard about this film because of its supposed inspiration for the moniker for Elizabeth Short’s murder, The Black Dahlia. I wanted to see the film for a long time, and was finally able to in 2017 when I bought the DVD. I was immediately struck by Alan’s performance. Here was a man who could flawlessly portray a character that was haunted by his past, but so subtly that there were painful flashes of this, the knowledge that he and the character he was playing had known terrible suffering.
Sadly, despite being one of the biggest, if not the biggest, star of his day, Alan has largely been forgotten. Overshadowed by his contemporaries Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum and Dick Powell, whose aesthetic he very much inspired, especially the trilby and trench coat ensemble. But, thankfully, Alan seems to be entering a kind of renaissance. Although he died young at the age of fifty from an accidental overdose of prescription medication, he made a large number of films, mostly in film noir and westerns, the two genres for which he dominated the box office for much of the 1940s and 50s.
And so, thanks to inspiration from Musings of a Classic Film Addict who has recently undertaken the task of watching as many films as possible starring her favourite actor Tyrone Power, I have decided to start a new series of posts, hopefully bimonthly, dedicated to the life and films of Alan. I have seen just over a quarter of his one hundred films, and I am going to try and watch and write about as many of his films as I can manage. I am also hoping to write articles about some of his more frequent costars, his personal relationships and the impact he has had had on popular culture. This series will be entitled Adventures in Alan Ladd, which is a nod to the comic book that detailed his fictional adventures in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
I hope you’ll join me on this journey, and if you know anything about Alan or would like to suggest anything that I could possibly cover in this series, I’d be delighted to hear from you!
In the meantime, here are the links to the articles that I have already written about this wonderful actor and man:
Saigon starring he and Veronica.