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With both its star Alan Ladd and its director Michael Curtiz nearing the end
of their careers, The Man in the Net has a valedictory feel that surely
wasn't intended. Ladd looks puffy and seems bored by issues that are
literally vital to him (and his sprints through the woods look labored and
abbreviated). Behind the camera, Curtiz fares a bit better; the old pro
(Casablanca, Mildred Pierce) knows how to shape a story and sustain tension,
but he didn't bother to plaster over the cracks in the far-fetched
screenplay by Reginald Rose.
Ladd plays a commercial artist who has moved to rural Connecticut to pursue his dream of becoming a serious painter; another reason for leaving New York's `rat race' was the gin-fueled nervous breakdown of his wife (Carolyn Jones). She still chafes under their genteel poverty when she knows he could make big bucks by returning to his old job. She takes her revenge in a clandestine affair (all the while trying to look and act like Bette Davis as Rosa Moline in Beyond The Forest).
When Ladd takes a commuter train into the city to turn down the job and incidentally to visit her psychiatrist (isn't it customary for the patient to go?), he returns to find all his paintings slashed and a typewritten note telling him she's left for good. But then a suitcase full of her clothes is found burning at the local dump, and other evidence points to foul play. The townspeople, who range from rural bumpkins to the country gentry, jump to the conclusion that the aloof Ladd murdered Jones. They profess shock at Ladd's revelation that she was a drinker, even though she has already staged a drunken scene at a big party where the hosts know her well enough to have a `special tomato juice' waiting for her.
Then we're asked to buy the spectacle of this Connecticut town, in 1959, turning into a Balkan village, with a lynch mob gathered in pursuit of a short, middle-aged white male. Luckily for Ladd, he's forged bonds of trust with a bevy of children whom he's forever sketching in the bosky glades (this seems a stretch, as he appears as stiff and uncomfortable being with them as they do being in front of a camera). They hide him in a surprisingly spacious and well-appointed cave they use as their clubhouse, and, at his bidding, undertake a series of ruses to smoke out the real killer. There's enough going on in Man in the Net to keep you watching, including Charles McGraw as a surly sheriff, but it's not fresh enough to make you suspend your considerable disbelief.
Alan Ladd gives up the city life and rat race for himself and also for
dipsomaniac and nymphomaniac wife Carolyn Jones. They move out to quiet
and peaceful Connecticut. Where Ladd paints out in the woods with his
only true friends the town children. Jones on the other hand gets an
affair going with one of the town movers and shakers.
Jones winds up very dead when Ladd makes an overnight trip to New York. Local cop Charles McGraw thinks Ladd did it as does most of the town, his only friends are the children and Diane Brewster, one of the suburban wives.
Alfred Hitchcock might have made the rest of this film seem plausible. In fact Man in the Net plays like an expanded version of one of his half hour TV stories.
There are some plot similarities to The Blue Dahlia made back during Ladd's Paramount hey day. In that one he's also a husband on the run after his wife has been killed. Back then though Ladd put a lot of passion into his role of John Morrison, returning war veteran. As John Hamilton though he seems just tired and bored.
One thing that doesn't ring true is the lynch law mentality that takes over this suburban town. That plays more like a western than a modern story. Again, maybe Alfred Hitchcock could have made it more believable.
It's kind of cute and fun to see the kids outsmart the grownups including the local law for a good deal of the film. But it only goes so far for Man in the Net.
There's a nice New England feel in the Connecticut opening scenes of
THE MAN IN THE NET and director Michael Curtiz makes striking visual
use of the B&W camera in artfully photographing a country farmhouse
with its rustic interiors full of paintings supposedly done by local
artist ALAN LADD.
Ladd's wife, CAROLYN JONES, doesn't share his passion for the arts, staging quite a scene with neighbors when she breaks into a birthday party with a shiner and accuses her husband of mistreating her during one of their arguments. It provides a nice set-up for someone to eventually murder her, making Ladd look like the main suspect.
Alan Ladd, only 46 at the time, seems almost lifeless and delivers a completely stiff performance that has him befriending neighborhood kids in such a fashion that they become willing to help him avoid detection when the villagers turn on him. This aspect of the story simply rings false, as does the rest of the plot which is too pat and contrived to seem plausible. The children are not exactly adept at delivering most of their lines.
DIANE FOSTER does a nice job as a decent neighborhood woman who helps Ladd prove his innocence and CHARLES McGRAW, JOHN LUPTON and TOM HELMORE are fine as other suspects in the supporting cast.
But for a man accused of a crime he didn't commit, Ladd has all the facial animation of a department store mannequin.
Trivia note: The bit about the slashed paintings reminds me of the Ronald Colman/Ida Lupino flick THE LIGHT THAT FAILED, but Jones' emoting in the party scene is on the level of Bette Davis at her histrionic overkill.
Good drama about a man chased by hot headed vigilantes and the police for a crime he claims to be innocent of. Along the way he is aided by a group of kids who believe in his innocence. Very exciting show with a satisfying ending.
After seeing the excellent "13 West Street" (1962), with Alan Ladd, I
had high hopes for "The Man in the Net". Another B&W film from his
later years might be similar, I thought. I was very disappointed. This
movie had, I thought, MORE going in: like, famed Director Michael
Curtiz, and co-star Carolyn Jones. They were not at their best.
As others have noticed, Ms. Jones does a totally-out-of-the-blue Bette Davis impression. I would have spotted her as a boozy floozy right off the bat, but even her BEST friend has no clue??? Mr. Ladd, great in "13 West Street" and one of the only things worth watching in "The Carpetbaggers"(1964), is not very good. The story is very weak. How is it that all the townspeople are stupid and their children so smart? Despite the weakness of the premise, there are some interestingly played scenes; the film does have a structure, which is easy and somewhat satisfying to follow, despite the implausibility.
**** The Man in the Net (1959) Michael Curtiz ~ Alan Ladd, Carolyn Jones, Diane Brewster
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
While this was a far cry from Alan Ladd's best films (such as THIS GUN
FOR HIRE and THE GLASS KEY), it is better than most of the films Ladd
was making towards the tail end of his career. By this point, most of
his performances lacked energy or any sort of spark--partly due to
poorer scripts and partly due to Ladd's advancing addiction.
Ironically, a major plot element of this movie is Ladd's wife's
alcoholism! Carolyn Jones (yes, that's Morticia from the Addams Family)
plays the exceptionally flaky wife who is both chemically dependent and
appears to have many features of a Borderline Personaliy--a personality
that craves excitement, addiction and self-destruction. Psychologically
speaking, this makes the movie very exciting to therapists, though the
average person might think that she overplayed her part--though she
captured the volatility of these types of individuals well and
Borderline Personalities ARE seemingly impossible to believe due to
their shallowness and volatility.
It's obvious that Ladd can't stand his wife, but he stays with her because he married her and he tries to be a good husband. His wife, on the other hand, has little commitment to him and eventually her wicked and dangerous ways result in her murder. Unfortunately, Ladd is blamed, as few know her for what she really is--as Ladd protected her and hid her escapades from everyone else. Unfortunately, he did such a great job that EVERYONE thinks he's the murderer and he spends most of the film trying to prove his innocence and avoid a lynch mob! His assistants in this endeavor are local kids who like him and can't believe he'd hurt his wife. This is a stretch to believe, but it does create some interesting story elements. Overall, the film is pretty exciting and different and well worth a look--particularly if you are a fan of Alan Ladd.
Alan Ladd, (John Hamilton) plays the role of an artist who decides to leave New York and the rat race mainly because his wife likes to drink and is getting out of control where she has to see a doctor for help. Carolyn Jones, (Linda Hamilton) plays John's wife and lives in a very quiet town in New England where John paints pictures of children all day and never seems to sell a picture. One day John receives a letter offering him a job in New York City with an Art Firm for $30,000 dollars but refuses to take this position because of his wife's chemical dependency. Linda goes into a rage and starts drinking and goes completely out of control. In real life, Alan Ladd is really doing all the boozing and you can see it in the close up's of his face and eyes are puffy. The children in this picture take complete control over the entire film and gave great supporting roles in trying to hid and help John Hamilton from the police.
The Man in the Net (1959)
What a great movie with a flawed Alan Ladd bringing it down. This is toward the end of his career, and he plays his part, of a man falsely accused of a crime, with such deadpan reluctance, you think he's being forced to act. We do feel for him because the plot is so clear about the facts, but we can't really get emotionally involved. The movie around him a late 50s modernity mixed with old school Hollywood pace and mise-en-scene, thanks to veteran director Michael Curtiz ("Casablanca" and "Mildred Pierce").
The real star is the almost unknown Carolyn Jones--almost unknown, except as Morticia in The Addams Family (mid-60 television, for the uninitiated). She played a number of important secondary roles films of the 1950s, but also had a t.v. career, and who know why she never quite made it. But, she shows up here right away and is astonishing, like a young Bette Davis, even with the same wide eyes and snappy mannerisms. She plays Ladd's wife, and at first she seems merely feisty. Then you realize she's a live wire inside, and possibly drinking too much. And then it cracks open from there, and Jones makes the character cunning and yet also weirdly enchanting.
The other fascinating turn to the storytelling is the role children play in it all (a little ironic given that the movie promotions say loudly: not appropriate for children). At first the group of five kids, all under 10, are part of the innocence of this little Connecticut town far from the ravages of New York. Then a lot of adult stuff happens, the good stuff really, the stuff that Curtiz has the best feel for. Then the children reappear, and it almost becomes a two layer movie, with the children keeping a kind of fairy tale element to what is a very very horrible situation. In fact, as the townspeople become more and more childish (and cruel), the kids become reasonable and mature.
But then there is Ladd. Even reviewers at the time (when Ladd was still riding his star power) remarked that he was all wood and clay (or as Richard Neson said in 1959, Ladd "mutes his personality to the point of unreality"). Even physically he seems a bit awkward, making me think he was getting old, even though he needed to be in his 30s or 40s for the part and was only 45 at the time of shooting.
So, this is an odd beast of a film, but a truly interesting one. Even the story has a quirky genesis--the author being listed as Patrick Quentin, which was a pen name for a group of four writers who pounded out popular detective fiction. Certainly anything by Curtiz is worth a look, and the direction, per se, is actually first rate, if we can overlook his handling of his lead male. And the cinematographer is the wonderful John Seitz,which helps with a lot of the scenes (the cave scenes, the party). The movie almost has the potential to be a cult classic, like "Night of the Hunter," but Ladd never was as commanding as Robert Mitchum, was he?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The estates of Reginald Rose and Hugh Wheeler should be looking at Gillian Flynn's novel and ask how much of this this film influenced her novel. We have a neurotic somewhat psychotic wife, Carolyn Jones here channeling Bette Davis, upset and angry with her husband because he refuses to return to New York. She makes a scene at a party implying her husband is a wife beater. Once the stage is set incidents make it appear her husband killed her. The big difference is the band of local children who believe John, Alan Ladd, is innocent and join forces to protect him and help prove he is innocent and if his wife is dead then there must be another killer. And yes, in this film she really was killed. What I find most amusing about the film is its being set in a mythical town in CT that seems a lot like Westport in the 1950's except for the townspeople who have a lynch mentality and don't want to hear the facts that would clear John. But who really did it--yes she was was really killed--her lover or the local sheriff or was it someone else. The ending is a bit of a surprise but all ends well; almost too well.
Like a lot of classic film stars, Alan Ladd's career ended on a low
rather than a high note, and one of his last films, 1959's Man in the
Net, is a good example of this. It was also one of the last films for
director Michael Curtiz who directed such classics as "Casablanca."
It's a poor effort from such an accomplished man.
Ladd plays an artist who has left the pressure of NYC and his full time job in order to paint. He spends most of his time in the woods, painting, while a group of local kids play nearby and talk with him. His major problem isn't the brushes and colors, though, it's his wife (Carolyn Jones), an alcoholic who wants to return to the social atmosphere that helped her drinking along in the first place. Here in the boondocks, she's hooked up with the ritzy set, to Ladd's displeasure.
When he returns from a business trip to New York City, his wife is missing, there is blood on his painting clothes, his paintings have been destroyed, and everybody thinks he's responsible. With the help of the children he has befriended, he eludes the police and is able to get the proof he needs to exonerate himself.
With a tighter script and someone other than Ladd, this might have been a decent movie. The kids are adorable, and that angle of the script plays out nicely. Ladd, unfortunately, sleepwalks through the role and at times, actually looks like a blind man. I tried to figure out why, and I think it's just because he's literally staring into space instead of focusing on something. There was never anything spectacular about Ladd's acting - what he had was a presence, a toughness, and good looks. These are all gone, and in their place is a puffy, heavy-lidded, slow man.
In contrast, the striking Carolyn Jones is full of energy in her role. With her signature short haircut and Bette Davis eyes, Jones was an edgy actress who left us too soon. She was very good at playing neurotic party girls and straying wives, though she's remembered today as Morticia on "The Addams Family" TV show.
All in all, "The Man in the Net" plays like a television drama, with the suburbanites going after Ladd like they all live in the wild west. Someone commented that today he would be suspicious for hanging out with children, and that aspect dates the film as well. It's a shame, because the nicest aspect of the movie was the way the kids rallied around him and helped him.
If you loved Ladd in "This Gun for Hire," "The Glass Key," "The Blue Dahlia," and "Shane," skip this. You don't need to see a fallen star.
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