My book Bowie Knife Fights, Fighters, and Fighting Techniques is available from Paladin Press. This blog contains additional information about the bowie knife, as well as the fighting knives of other nations.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Alan Ladd as Jim Bowie


Alan Ladd as Jim Bowie in "The Iron Mistress" (1952). There's something to be said for the edge-upward blade position, but the hand-barely-closed-around-the-hilt grip is not recommended.

Alan Ladd is credited as author of a newspaper article about his experience playing Bowie, which I reprint below. I would guess it's not Ladd's work but that of some press flack, but it does provide some background to the movie.
I like to make action pictures and I like them to have plenty of action. As a result, I guess I've got as many scars as any man in Hollywood, because it's up to the star of an action film to do as many of his own stunts as he can. This doesn't mean I'd look forward to parachuting out of a plane for the cameras or taking on any really hazardous stunt that might leave me in a plaster cast for a long time. But when it comes to fist fights, sword fights, leaps and plunges and all the various types of muscular activity that go into a good bang-up picture, I like to do the job myself.

This does not stem from vanity. There are a lot of stunts that either I can't do or the studio won't let me do. They won't let me take a fall from a fast-moving horse because the chances are that I'd break my neck, which would do neither the picture, the studio nor me any good. But I'm an actor and if the script calls for me to fight, duel, jump or climb, then I want to do it if I possibly can. The primary reason is that when you do your own stunts you're going to give a better performance. You can change, you can improvise, you can improve during the course of the action itself, both in rehearsal and before the camera. When I do a stunt myself it has a real value to me. If someone else should do it, it would seem a synthetic thing as far as my own ability and desire to act are concerned. In other words, I'm more of an actor when I do the acting myself, even though my back's to the camera.

Of course you pay a price for this sort of artistic integrity--and I hope that doesn't sound pompous because I don't mean it to be. Every once in a while you'll take a sock in the jaw or a bump on the head or some sort of injury from a sprained ankle to a concussion. I got more than my usual share of cuts, scratches, bumps, bruises and contusions on "The Iron Mistress" at Warner Bros.

In this picture I play Jim Bowie, the famous knife fighter, pioneer, adventurer and all-around tough cookie who invented the Bowie knife. I was involved in more than a dozen fights of one kind or another in this picture and I was right in the middle of all of them. "The Iron Mistress" is chock-full of action and we might use it as an example of what an actor in an action picture goes through. About the second day of the picture I dueled with Ned Young. It took place in a dark room, illuminated only by a skylight, and I fought with a knife while Ned used a sword. The hazards of this kind of jousting with cold steel are bad enough on a well-lighted set. In a pretty dark room, it is wise to be mighty careful. Well, I was, but not careful enough. I got nicked on the ear and the right arm. I progressed through a few fist fights and then came a brawl with Richard Carlyle and Dick Paxton. They play my brothers in the picture but the scene had us playing a little rough back on the old farm. Before we go through, I banged my knee on a tree and had to be taken to a doctor's office for X-rays. It wasn't broken but I limped for a few days, during which time they shot around me. Out on location at the Warner ranch, we had to do a scene which involved my leaping from a river bank onto the backs of two heavies who are looking for me with murderous intent. Now I could have scrambled down the bank, but Jim Bowie wouldn't have done it that way. I flew out into the air and down on the villains. I guess I was about the last of the three to get my breath back, but I was proud of that stunt. By the time the last day of the picture arrived, I was in pretty bad shape. I was cut and bruised, my knee hurt, my back hurt and so did my side. That last injury was received during what I thought would be a pretty simple stunt, which just goes to show. I fell down when someone shot me. Somehow, in trying to break my fall, I put my hand under me. Only I had it doubled up into a fist and my ribs were the first to make contact with it. Off to the doctor's again for another X-ray, but again, fortunately, nothing broken. Anyway, the last day of the picture arrived and I thought I'd get by without any further damage. It was a scene in which I stick a knife into a tree. The knife caromed off the tree and I whacked it with my fist. Back to the doctor's again and more X-rays. This time I wasn't so lucky. My hand was really broken and required a cast for several weeks. So I can truthfully say "The Iron Mistress" was a three X-ray picture for me.    

Naturally, I don't like to banged around and hurt any more than the next fellow. But it's all part of the business. It probably isn't any more dangerous than taking a jaunt by car through Los Angeles traffic.

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