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My Take on Man in the Net from VA in CA
My Take on Alan Ladd’s films often takes the form of disagreeing with the majority of reviews by other reviewers and critics. That is certainly true of the three I have chosen to review for this blogathon. Perhaps no-where is this more the case than in my take on Man in the Net. Part of the disagreement between my view and that of other people commenting is due to the 50 or more years between our viewpoints. Man in the Net began filming on June 23rd, 1958 and finished sometime in August of that year. It opened in the USA on June 10th, 1959. That was 60 years ago this summer.
Many features of this movie don’t play well with modern audiences because times have changed so greatly since the late 1950s. I spent my childhood back in the 1940s and 1950s, when life was safer. On weekends and during the summer we would go outside to play right after breakfast and morning chores. We could be gone all day and not return home until time for supper, or until it got too dark to see. Our parents didn’t have to worry about us because there were no dangerous drugs available to children, nor were there evil men to kidnap and sell us to sex traffickers, or to molest us for their own sick pleasure. There may have been such people around, but they were not publicized and so there weren’t dozens of copycats out there getting ideas. A grown man who enjoyed hanging out with kids would not be suspected of being a pervert.
Most adults in those days didn’t pay any attention to kids and didn’t even notice us. We existed on two different levels or planes of society. Neither adults nor children intruded into each other’s lives. This separation is seen in the movie.
Notice how the kids spend the day with John, and later when they have hidden him in the cave, they go all over town, getting his mail and the newspaper and bringing him food to eat, buying tubes for his tape player, spying on the staked-out deputy at John’s house, and so on, and none of the adults really pays any attention to the kids. No adult asks what they are doing or where they are going. No one thinks to ask them if they have seen John after he disappears. The kids are allowed to wander around at will even though there might be a “dangerous murderer” on the loose in the area.
Other critics attack the implausibility of the idea that a small town in mid-twentieth century Connecticut would get up a lynch mob. I don’t think it was a lynch mob. There was never a rope in view. I think they were only determined to get him so he wouldn’t escape to “get away with murder.” Probably they planned to beat him up for murdering his innocent wife, Linda, and then turn him over to the authorities to try and, of course, convict. They had no doubt that he was guilty because of the lies Linda told about her black eye just before she disappeared, and the note purportedly from her (that the actual murderer had typed) telling John to “get another woman to torture.”
Most of all, it’s the comments about Alan Ladd’s performance that I disagree with in the usually negative reviews of Man in the Net, especially those by ordinary people posting their evaluations of the film (called “user reviews”) at online movie sites.
Parroting earlier reviews by some “professional” critics who should have known better, but who rarely took Alan Ladd seriously, “user reviews” said that Ladd is terrible in this, and “sleep-walks” through the film. I don’t think they give Ladd any credit for being a professional actor with a brain, so they don’t realize he deliberately chose to play many of the scenes in a kind of “numb” fashion because that’s how a person would probably feel under similar circumstances.
Early in the film, Linda, his character’s wife begs off going to a birthday party and sends him, John, to deliver the gift to the birthday girl, and to make her apologies for missing the party with a migraine. Having nothing in common with the rich clique she has joined, he doesn’t want to go, but he does, to humor her. Then she shows up at the party with a black eye and an embarrassing untrue tale about a fictitious fight with her husband, during which he “hit” her. How else would you expect him to look?
Two days later, he comes home from an unpleasant business trip that another of his wife’s lies has forced him to make. He’s turned down a job offer that would have paid him $30,000 (or $260,000 in 2018 dollars) that he couldn’t take even if he wanted to because of the temptations and dangers in the city to his wife’s fragile mental health. The appointment he had hoped to make with his friend a psychiatrist to see his wife had failed to materialize due to the friend’s absence on vacation. So everything would seem pretty hopeless as he returns to a wife he has sworn in his wedding vows to cherish and protect. He’s a decent honorable man, and because (as he tells her) he once loved her, he is trapped in a truly thankless position with a mentally ill wife who is only 28 years old. Imagine how that would affect a person. His expression isn’t wooden or clay-like, as some critics claim; it’s resigned. When he finds her missing, his paintings ruined, plus all the other puzzling details that quickly pile up, he’s just flummoxed and doesn’t know what to think or do.
One critic* I found on a site that streams movies online noted that Linda, in addition to her alcoholism “appears to have many features of a Borderline Personality—a personality that craves excitement, addiction and self-destruction.” He also says, “Psychologically speaking, this makes the movie very exciting to therapists,” which leads me to believe he knows whereof he speaks.
(*Martin Hafer, 11 March 2007, User Reviews https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0053045/reviews?ref_=tt_ov_rt)
I personally raised a foster-then-adopted daughter who was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. I can attest to the fact that people with this disorder can lie and deceive while being completely plausible. They are also unpredictable and extremely difficult to live with. A book on the disorder sums them up in the title — I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me. Provoking anger is one of their specialties. If you live with them, you either become enraged and hit them or ruin your voice screaming at them, or you become numb and unresponsive. I ruined my voice; John, Alan Ladd’s character in this story, trained himself to tune his wife out and become as unresponsive as he possibly could. Respon-siveness, however, is difficult to turn on and off. If you ignore things that could make you angry, you won’t be able to see things that could make you happy.
By choosing numbness, John lost the ability to feel anything. I think the kids in the story helped him. Kids are very responsive little creatures. That is probably what drew him instinctively to the children, and that probably drew John out of his numbness a little bit. The beginning of his awakening shows in the confrontation between him and Linda after they arrive home from the disastrous party. Some of John’s anger leaks through his numb affect as he can no longer suppress it.
What finally forces him to snap out of his numb acceptance of his situation is the immediate necessity to escape the rampaging townsfolk who pursue him with obvious intent to harm him before they turn him over to the law. John would probably have been railroaded through the courts to a long term jail sentence or execution, so the true murderer would never be found.
Running from the mob was probably the most physical exercise John Hamilton had had for years. Exercising his brain to take an active role in solving the mystery he was presented with was also something he probably hadn’t done in a long time during which he had only reacted indifferently to his wife’s actions and statements. And the genuine support and caring he got from the kids also awakened his sense of belonging and connectedness with other humans.
John’s transition from unresponsiveness to full engagement is symbolized by the failure of his earlier paintings to connect with reviewers or the public. After he started painting the children and then burned all the earlier ruined paintings, mostly of his wife, his new paintings connected because there was life in them, reflecting the rebirth in himself of an active appreciation for life.
My Take on 13 West Street from VA in CA
Thirteen West Street was the last film Alan Ladd made as the star. Filming began in April 1961. He would turn 48 in September. Like most of his final films, he was also involved in the production end. The film was released in June, 1962.
Quite a few of Ladd’s later films tackled various social issues. The Big Land, The Proud Rebel, and One Foot in Hell (all “Westerns”) dealt among other things with prejudice against strangers, especially former Confederates. The Man in the Net, to some extent, also dealt with the prejudice against, and unfair treatment of newcomers, especially against an “artist” whom many philistine-type people consider weirdoes. An artist who didn’t care to fall in with their clique rules and who knew the difference between Beethoven and Brahms would have been especially suspect. All the Young Men dealt with racism.
In 13 West Street, there is a social issue that was pretty big in the 60s and 70s–the fear of crime. Crime was actually worse then, especially in the cities, than it is now, little though modern people are inclined to believe that. Older people stuck living in inner cities knew they were vulnerable and as a result they were afraid.
In this film Ladd plays a middle-aged man, Walter Sherill, who lives in a posh neighborhood and is kind of an innocent, working in an ivory-tower sort of job. If he grew up to be a rocket scientist, he was probably a nerd as a boy, so he’s also innocent about the kinds of mischief and rough “play” boys often engage in. His innocence undergoes a tremendous shock, and he suffers a huge awakening to an awareness of his mortality and vulnerability when he unexpectedly becomes the victim of a major mugging. He just can’t stand it that he was unable to defend himself and avoid the attack and his injuries. He can’t face his helplessness when he is forced to confront it again and then again. It is so humiliating and frightening that he goes from being a confident scientist to being rather a dithering old man who can’t even perform his job. He becomes so focused on his need to punish the thugs that he gets caught up in a revengeful kind of vigilantism and embarrasses himself in the process. (Apparently vigilante and revenge movies were popular when this movie was made.)
It’s more than just the need for revenge in Sherill’s case. He literally hates the boys for what they have done to his self-image. He keeps striking out in all directions trying to prove that he is still competent and manly, that he can defend himself and his wife against a bunch of kids, and that he can prevail and bring the culprits to justice. In so doing, he risks botching the case for the police and he does bear partial responsibility for causing two people to die. Ultimately he “triumphs” but just in time, he realizes that in his effort to prove himself capable and better than the thugs, he has sunk himself to their level. He also remembers that Chuck is just a boy, and that he, the adult, has the responsibility to act like an adult.
Rod Steiger is excellent as the detective assigned to the case. He’s a superior actor and it’s fascinating to watch him go from a sympathetic cop, who is impressed with the victim’s eye for detail to a frustrated cop who can’t keep his witness from butting in where he has no business being, and finally to a very angry cop who wants the victim/witness to butt out before the whole case blows up. It’s very well done. I also admire the way Ladd lets Steiger shine even though it shows his own character to be in the wrong.
Michael Callan is effective as the ringleader of the delinquent kids. He becomes crazier as the film progresses, and he portrays that well.
It was quite a daring feat of acting for Alan Ladd to play so against his established tough guy persona. He deserves great credit for this. He also insisted in changing the original name of the film from 13 East Street to 13 West Street because he wanted the point clearly made that delinquency was not limited to the bad neighborhoods in east Los Angeles, but could also be found in the ritzy west end.
Although Alan Ladd was only 47 when making this film, alcohol and cigarettes had aged him prematurely, and I think he deliberately plays this role to look a dozen years older in order to emphasize the issue that all of us must face when we begin to lose our youth and physical abilities. Here he reminds me of my father when he was facing that issue, which fortunately he didn’t really have to deal with until he was diagnosed with lung cancer in his early 80s. Both Ladd and my father were heavy smokers, so they both had rather worn-out faces, but both were still handsome in spite of that. Both were trying to be strong capable men despite the diminishment of their youthful strength and vigor. This diminishment is a universal theme and a difficult realization to face. Alan Ladd portrays the challenging confrontation well.