Wed 12 Mar 2014
LURED. United Artists, 1947. George Sanders. Lucille Ball, Charles Coburn. Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Boris Karloff, George Zucco, Joseph Calleia, Alan Mowbray, Robert Coote, Alan Napier. Screenplay by Leo Rosten. Story by Jacques Companéez, Simon Gantillion & Ernest Neuville. Directed by Douglas Sirk.
Douglas Sirk’s name is primarily associated with a series of glossy brilliant soap operas made in the 1950’s such as Written on the Wind, Tarnished Angels, and All That Heaven Allows, but before turning to these lush technicolor films the European Sirk produced three droll crime films: A Scandal in Paris with George Sanders as the thief turned policeman Eugene Francois Vidocq, Summer Smoke again with George Sanders and based on Anton Chekhov’s short novel The Shooting Party, and this, Lured.
The setting is post war London where the city is paralyzed by a series of murders of young women who all answered ads in the agony column of the London Times. After each killing the murderer sends a taunting poem to Scotland Yard daring them to catch him.
Inspector Harley Temple (Charles Coburn) is in a bad mood, because so far his investigation is getting nowhere, but when he meets Sandra Carpenter (Lucille Ball), the best friend of the latest victim, he has a bright idea. What if he turned the killers method of meeting his victims against him — set a trap for him with an attractive lure — and Sandra Carpenter a smart savvy American showgirl is the perfect lure.
George Zucco is the sardonic Officer Barrett assigned as Ball’s bodyguard. She will answer the ads, meet the men who sent them, and when the killer shows his hand Barrett will pounce.
After a couple of false starts, including a fine performance by Boris Karloff as a mad dress designer, they get their first real lead, Robert Fleming, a nightclub producer and impresario whose shows Ball had been trying to get into from the beginning.
But the game is complicated when Ball starts to fall for Sanders even though she has been warned by his business partner Julian Wilde (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), and he fits the bill of the killer all too well.
Ball resigns, convinced Sanders is innocent, but then a turn convinces her she was wrong, he is arrested, and then the real killer makes his move …
Coburn is a pleasure as the Inspector, and Zucco, fine in a rare comic performance, is a droll delight. In fact Zucco comes near stealing every scene he appears in, which is no easy thing because Ball is not only beautiful, but holds the screen with real star power.
If you ever thought George Sanders would be an odd match for Lucille Ball you’d be wrong. They are a perfectly matched romantic pair here, and Sirk builds some real suspense because even cast as the hero Sanders had played so many villains it was no sure thing which side he would turn out to be on.
The word that best defines this movie is droll. The screenplay by Leo Rosten is sharp (Dark Corner, Captain Newman MD, Where Danger Lives, Silky …), and the cast is a fine collection of character actors from the Hollywood Raj. It’s the kind of film where the smallest performance is perfectly timed and delivered.
Comedy, romance, and suspense are expertly blended in this one. Sirk’s notable cinematic eye never lets the viewer down and a fine cast are all at their best.
Still even among that fine cast. Lucille Ball and George Zucco are standouts and even if it is little more than a bit, it is nice to see Boris Karloff in a first class production having a bit of fun on screen.
These three films were impossible to see for many years, but A Scandal in Paris and Lured have been issued in handsome DVD’s from Kino Video and both have played on TCM. Summer Storm was released on DVD by VCI in 2009 and is worth obtaining since it contains fine performances by Sanders and Edward Everett Horton as nineteenth century Russian noblemen caught up in a crime of passion.