Laddie (1940)

Dir: Jack Hively.  Scr: Jerome Cady, and Bert Granet, based on the novel by Gene Stratton-Porter.  Photographer: Harry J. Wild.  CAST: Tim Holt (Laddie Stanton), Virginia Gilmore (Pamela Pryor), Joan Carroll (Sister Stanton), Spring Byington (Mrs. Stanton), Robert Barrat (Mr. John Stanton), Miles Mander (Mr. Pryor), Esther Dale (Sarah, the Housekeeper), Sammy McKim (Leon Stanton), Joan Leslie [Brodel] (Shelley Stanton), Martha O'Driscoll (Sally Pryor), Rand Brooks (Peter Dover), Mary Forbes (Mrs. Anna Pryor), Peter Cushing (Robert Pryor)

 

Young farmer Laddie Stanton (Tim Holt) falls in love with beautiful Pamela Pryor (Virginia Gilmore), daughter of the Stantonsí haughty British neighbor, Mr. Pryor (Miles Mander).  Laddieís meddling little sister (Joan Carroll) does everything she can to help the two get together, but the snobbish Pryor sees farmers as a lower class and rejects Laddie as a suitor.  Pryor harbors a secret having to do with his disowned son (Peter Cushing) and his hostility toward the honest and upright Laddie only grows, but happily, it all ends wellĖif not precisely following the book.

Indiana author Gene Stratton-Porterís books had been turned into popular movies for many years by the time this one was made in 1940.  This is the third filming of Laddie, coming after the 1926 version, made by Porterís own company (after her death), and the 1935 version, made by RKO with new director George Stevens.  Tragically, both of these films are apparently lost.

 

The 1940 Laddie is not lost, but it is very difficult to see.  The film was produced independently but released through RKO.  Subsequently, a contractual agreement with the producer prevented RKO from re-releasing it.  The producer, Cliff Reid, failed to renew the copyright, which results in one of the strangest film quirks ever: Laddie cannot be shown on television due to the contractual restrictions, and yet an existing print can be freely shown by anyone except the original distributor!  The negative and a preservation print are on file at the Library of Congress.

 

Laddie looks more expensive than it actually is, since it takes advantage of some standing sets on the lot at RKO.  One of them is the set from They Knew What They Wanted (1940), which is used here as the family farm.  The performers are all relatively inexpensive B actors or newcomers, notably Tim Holt in his second leading role. 

 

Other noteworthy actors are Spring Byington, Virginia Gilmore, and Joan Leslie (here billed as Joan Brodel).  Nine-year-old Joan Carroll is wonderful child actress, stealing every scene she has. 

 

The most famous actor in Laddie was hardly known at the time.  Billed last, young Peter Cushing had a brief stint in American pictures, appearing in nine pictures from 1939-41.  Three of these were uncredited, and two were shorts, so it cannot be said that Cushing was a rousing success.  His largest role was probably as Carole Lombardís husband in Vigil in the Night (1940), but he can be seen in several others. † Cushing eventually returned to England and was not seen on movie screens again until 1948, in Olivierís Hamlet.†

(Eric Grayson)