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By the late 1950s, Michael Curtiz was having a difficult time finding worthwhile projects. The director of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Casablanca (1942), and Mildred Pierce (1945) often undertook projects for the money to meet the maintenance agreements he had signed in 1954 to support illegitimate children he allegedly fathered. He may have considered The Man in the Net (1959) one such film, and it remains little more than a footnote to an illustrious career.
Alan Ladd had also seen better times. After ten years in the business doing small roles and such uncredited bits as the barely seen pipe-smoking reporter in Citizen Kane (1941), the actor broke through to stardom with the back-to-back release of two film noir classics This Gun for Hire (1942) and The Glass Key (1942). He became a mainstay of 40s films, usually as the brooding, laconic tough guy with a shadowy past, an image that reached its peak - along with Ladd's career - in the Western Shane (1953). After that, although he continued to work regularly, Ladd's popularity began to wane, contributing to his already depressive nature and increasingly severe alcoholism. By the late 50s, he needed a solid hit in a good picture so he agreed to take on The Man in the Net, having recently completed another film with Curtiz, The Proud Rebel (1958), which featured the actor's young son David (later husband of Charlie's Angels star Cheryl Ladd).
In the film, Ladd plays painter John Hamilton, whose alcoholic, mentally disturbed wife Linda keeps pressuring him to leave their cozy New England home and return to New York, where he had been a successful advertising artist. But he prefers to remain in his quiet, rural surroundings, painting the lively activities of the neighborhood kids. Returning from a day trip to the city, Hamilton finds his house ransacked, his paintings slashed, and his wife missing. All of the evidence seems to point to him, and his neighbors are ready to lynch him - except for their children who believe he's innocent.
The Man in the Net never really found an audience, and critics mainly praised the superior performances of the child actors, ignoring the leading players. Ladd was left still needing a hit; ironically, the picture was overshadowed at the box office by the re-release of Shane that year. He made five more pictures, all of them less successful than this one, and in 1962 he attempted suicide. Finally he found a good though minor role as Nevada Smith in the hit movie, The Carpetbaggers (1964). Unfortunately, he died two years later of what is believed to be an accidental overdose of alcohol and sedatives.
Ever the survivor, Curtiz kept working until shortly before his death in 1962. He made four more pictures after The Man in the Net; the last of these, The Comancheros (1961), a John Wayne Western, is generally considered a return to his former directorial glory.
Carolyn Jones, who plays Ladd's wife in this picture, appeared in about 40 feature films but is best known to today's audiences as the gothically glam Morticia on the popular Addams Family TV show of the 1960s. She was cast opposite the diminutive Ladd despite being previously rejected by him as being too tall to be his female lead in The Deep Six (1958).
After The Man in the Net, acclaimed cinematographer John Seitz worked on two more movies in 1959 and then retired, ending a 43-year career. Seitz had done outstanding work on such films as Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), and Sunset Boulevard (1950), all for director Billy Wilder, several Preston Sturges films, and much of the "Dr. Kildare" series. Seitz photographed Alan Ladd in 22 other films (they were both under contract to Paramount for many years), including This Gun for Hire and The Great Gatsby (1949).
Director: Michael Curtiz
Producer: Walter Mirisch
Screenplay: Reginald Rose, Hugh Wheeler
Cinematography: John F. Seitz
Editing: Richard V. Heermance
Art Direction: Hilyard M. Brown
Original Music: Hans J. Salter
Cast: Alan Ladd (John Hamilton), Carolyn Jones (Linda Hamilton), Diane Brewster (Vicki Carey), John Lupton (Brad Carey), Charles McGraw (Sheriff Steve Ritter).
by Rob Nixon