And, over the past four years, I have done exactly that. I've now seen more than 30 of his movies, and I have a good-sized stack waiting to be slowly savored in the future too.
Appointment with Danger (1950) is actually one of the first dozen or so of Ladd's films I watched when I went on my first Ladd bender. For some reason, I've never reviewed it here, so today's the day, my friends!
Some people classify this one as film noir, but it doesn't really get very dark either in tone, subject matter, or visuals, so I think of it as really just an action movie, with some mystery and suspense thrown in here and there.
It all begins with an infomercial about the wonders of the United States Post Office and all the perfectly marvelous men and women who work for it. How well it delivers our letters, how tirelessly those mail carriers go about their appointed rounds, etc, etc, etc.
Then we cut to the action. And this movie, which is a little bit formulaic, pulls off its first surprise. Who do we zoom in on? A nun. A very nice nun (Phyllis Calvert). Who does not get murdered or murder anyone, she just has a bit of trouble with her umbrella. A nice young man named George (Harry Morgan) helps her with it. He and his friend Joe (Jack Webb) are hanging out in this alley with "a friend" that George says is drunk. But he's actually dead. The nun buys the story that he's drunk, and George shoos her away. Joe thinks this is a big mistake because she can identify George now, but whatever, it's raining, and they figure they'll never see her again.
Well, lookee here! It's the man of the hour! Hello, Wonderful. What's new?
What's new is, a postal inspector has been murdered, and they're sending a different postal inspector to investigate. His name is Al Goddard (Alan Ladd), and he's ruthless and hard-nosed and efficient to the point that people basically accuse him of being a Tin Man and so on. He doesn't care. He has a job to do and he does it well, and that's all he cares about. He doesn't quite go into a little speech about how his only friends and family are his horse and his six-guns the way he does in Branded (also 1950), but he comes close.
Al investigates the murder and turns up the clue that a nun saw the body get dumped in that alley. So he tracks down the nun, Sister Augustine. If he feels out of place in this holy setting, he doesn't show it. He's all business. Just here doing his job, ma'am, and so on.
Sister Augustine doesn't see why she should have to come try to identify any suspects. Surely they could get someone else to do that. She's busy here, teaching children and arranging flowers.
Second surprise of the film! Al says, "Letting someone else do your job is a design of the Devil." Sister Augustine is impressed and agrees. She says he's very wise. Al says, no, that wasn't an original thought. It's from the writings of Martin Luther.
And that's where I bust up, because he's totally testing her, trying to see what kind of a person she is, how she responds to a little mild antagonism. She zings right back, "Must be from some of his earlier writings." And I bust up again. They have a marvelous kind of friendly rivalry, Al and Sister Augustine, verbally sparring now and then, both being as helpful and yet aloof as they can. She agrees to help him, and we get treated to a few scenes of nuns hanging out at the police station, being serene and calm and flummoxing all the policemen.
Okay, time to talk about Jack Webb and Harry Morgan. Who, you probably know, co-starred in a little show called Dragnet 1967 (1967-70) as police detectives. That show was a sort of sequel to Dragnet (1951-59), which also starred Jack Webb, and was created and often written by him as well. And that show was actually a TV version of the radio show Dragnet (1949-55), which Webb created, produced, and starred in as well. I'm quite fond of the radio show and have seen quite a number of eps of both TV iterations, so it absolutely cracks me up to see Jack Webb in this playing the very mean and very nasty and very horrid bad guy, Joe Regas instead of good cop Joe Friday. With Harry Morgan as his bad guy sidekick George instead of his good guy sidekick Bill.
Anyway, Joe and George work for another bad guy, Earl (Paul Stewart). Earl owns and operates a hotel, but he wants to get rich, and he's planning a great way to steal lots of money from the US Mail, which Joe and George are going to help him with.
Except George isn't sure this is such a good plan. George has some mental and emotional issues -- his wife left him and took his kid, and all he has left are his son's baby picture and bronzed baby booties, and he's not sure it's wise to get mixed up in this mail job anymore because the nun finding them was bad luck, and he wants to go away and start over new, and yeah.
Yeah. He's young and kinda sweet and almost a little bit honest. This isn't going to end well for poor George.
Meanwhile, back with the other half of the plot, Al Goddard has decided to pretend he's a corrupt postal inspector instead of an honest one so he can get in with this gang and find out what their plan is. He spends quite a bit of time in the early parts of the film insisting it doesn't bother him that everyone he meets thinks he's the world's only living heart donor, but I'm not sure he's convinced himself. Once in a while, he goes all wistful when he thinks no one is watching. Wistful about what, I don't know, but it definitely gives him an Air of Mystery.
I like this little trick he does where he uses his bathroom mirror to see a guy sneaking into his hotel room to check up on him and see if he's really as corruptible as he claims.
Anyway, Al gets to go meet Earl, and Earl thinks he seems pretty much on the level. Or, more accurately, pretty much crooked. He invites Al to go play handball. Because of reasons.
What reasons? Why, the reasons that Alan Ladd is a fine specimen of manhood, and we really ought to have an excuse for him to run around shirtless for a while.
I've mentioned before, I think, that I have this theory that Paramount had a policy that in any particular film he starred in, Alan Ladd had to either appear shirtless or get beaten up. And sometimes he even got to get beaten up while shirtless. Those movies got double points, I suppose. This movie drew the shirtless straw, so he doesn't really get roughed up much.
Anyway, he convinces Earl he's as crooked as he claims, and Earl introduces Al to his girlfriend Dodie (Jan Sterling). Dodie loves jazz. Al thinks maybe he can get her to tell him about the gang's plans. He decides to pretend he's a person and not an automaton and agrees to listen to her jazz collection. Al is not enthused. Dodie is, though.
Eventually, Al and Dodie dance, there in her hotel room. You don't get to see Alan Ladd dance much, since he's usually playing tough guys who go around socking people and jumping over fences and so on. But he dances very nicely, being so athletic and graceful. Shame we don't get to see him dance more often.
And here's another surprise this movie gave me: Al and Dodie don't fall in love. They nearly kiss once or twice, but you can see it's just part of the job to Al, and Dodie's just bored and curious as to what a kind of guy he is. I really dig that because it doesn't try to shoehorn a phony romance into a story that doesn't need it. Also, it keeps Al's character of Mr. Heartless Tin Man more believable, with those wistful flashes being our insight into the fact that he's probably never been in love, probably doesn't know what what it would be like, maybe is a little curious, but is too dedicated to his job to really give it much thought or effort.
Anyway, remember Joe? He's not convinced Al is as crooked as he claims. He thinks Al's a plant. Al has to keep proving his commitment to this robbery over and over because Joe is so suspicious. Joe is also creepy and totally obsessed with finding that nun who could identify him and the late George. The nun that Al totally brought to town to identify them. Oh, Al, that was maybe not the best plan, you know.
I like Dodie. At first she was kind of annoying, but she grows on me. Especially in this scene, when she's sitting on the floor of her hotel room, listening to jazz and drinking, her door open so she'll see Al when he comes past. I like sitting on the floor myself, and I like jazz, and I like that she's not pretending to be sophisticated or fascinating. She's just a jazz-lover who makes comfy nests on the floor and drinks alone. And waits for Al to walk past.
I mean, gosh, who can blame her for waiting for Al to walk past?
Yeah, anyway, Al finally finds out the gang's plans and promptly fills in the rest of the Post Office inspectors, and they make their own plans.
He goes and says goodbye to Sister Augustine and encourages her to go back to her home because she's done all the identifying they need, and she's probably in some danger here, so shoo now, Sister, okay? Bye. He is definitely not worried about her or fond of her or anything nonsensical like that, not Al. Still the logical and robotic Tin Man, you bet. Just because he's learned to smile doesn't mean he's turned into a human being. Obviously.
Um, so Sister Augustine does go to the train station. Where creepy Joe the nun-stalker finds her. And kidnaps her. ARGH.
This comes as quite a shock to Al when she turns up at the gang's hideout. She could give away the fact that he's not actually crooked! What will happen then? Oh, the suspense!
This picture is only here cuz yum.
Anyway, back to the suspense! We all know what's going to happen next: Al and Joe are finally going to have the brawl they've been itching to have for like forty minutes now.
And then we have about twenty minutes of various thrilling heroics and brave battling all over the place. Inside the shack. Outside the shack. Lots of running and shooting. Fun to watch, but impossible to screencap. Sorry.
Everything turns out great in the end, AND the Tin Man gets a heart. Maybe. Sorta. I mean, not that he'd ever admit to it. Except he can't help smiling once in a while now, so yeah... there's hope for him to join the human race one of these days. Atta boy, Al.
Thank you for your attention, ladies and gentlemen! This concludes tonight's festivities. I hope you enjoyed the show, and don't forget to toss your empty popcorn bags and soda cups in the trash on your way out.