Saturday, September 11, 2010

Film Review: Lured

"Lured" *** (out of ****)

"Lured" (1947) is an interesting forgotten work from famed filmmaker Douglas Sirk. Sirk, as some readers may known, was the man behind several melodramas such as "All That Heaven Allows" (1955) and "Written on the Wind" (1956). "Lured" doesn't have much in common with those movies, on the surface. This is a noir/mystery starring Lucille Ball. If that doesn't grab your attention, nothing will.

"Lured" was one of Sirk's first American films. He had directed several films in Germany under his given name, Detlef Sierck. The majority of his early English language films are difficult to come by. The only ones in wide circulation seem to be this movie and "A Scandal in Paris" (1946).

This film doesn't have the qualities Sirk fans may have come to expect. There isn't a beautiful color scheme, lavish sets and no melodrama. But "Lured", like "Written on the Wind" and his other better known films, is suggestive. Today, many audiences consider Sirk's films campy. They hinted at risque subjects. "Lured" is no different. The film did run into some problems with the censorship board.

Here we are dealing with a serial killer, who puts ads in the personal columns, hoping to attract innocent, young women. He says his intentions are noble, he is marriage mind for instance. He tauts the police by sending them poems, which offer very subtle clues as to whom his next victim will be. The police, headed by Inspector Temple (Charles Coburn) can't figure out the poems and are no closer to finding out the identity of the man, even after 8 women have been killed.

Events take a turn when Sandra (Lucille Ball) learns that her friend is missing. This all comes after the friend had exposed to her intentions of running away with a man she met through a personal column. Could she have fallen for the serial killer? The police think so.

Inspector Temple wants to use Sandra as bait to lure the killer. She is to answer all personal ads and meet the gentlemen, while a police officer tails her. Eventually she will run into the killer.

This all makes "Lured" sound interesting and suspenseful but it never quite reaches its potential. First of all, there isn't really any genuine suspense. We never really feel Sandra's life is in danger. The film was written by Leo Rosten, who wrote Sirk's next movie, another mystery film, "Sleep, My Love" (1948). But here the film has a sarcastic undertone. There is a dark humor. Ball gets a few laughs. This reminded me a bit of a Hitchcock film, but not quite as polished.

One of the film's main objectives is to present Lucille Ball as a beauty. After all, it is her beauty which is suppose to lure the serial killer to attack. Every man in "Lured" falls under her spell. Creating a strong sexual undertone. However, while Ball may have been an attractive woman, Sirk and his cinematography, the Oscar winner, William Daniels, don't do enough to accentuate her beauty. The camera doesn't linger on her. She needed better lighting.

And finally, once Sandra takes the case there is never another murder. This also creates a lack of suspense. There is no cat and mouse game between the police and the killer. And as a result we really don't have a list of suspects until late into the picture.

Some of those suspects are suppose to be Charles van Druten (Boris Karloff). Sandra answers his ad and agree to meet him at a dark corner at an empty street. We can sense Charles may not be all there and Sandra is uneasy in his presence.

Then there is Robert Fleming (George Sanders). He is a nightclub owner and wants to offer Sandra a job as a dancer. He is a playboy type who appreciates young, beautiful women. Now, as I said, the film reminded me of a Hitchcock film and oddly enough Sanders appeared in Hitchcock's first two American films; "Rebecca" (1940) and "Foreign Correspondent" (1940).

And lastly we have Lyle Maxwell (Alan Mowbray) as a butler who has lingering eyes for Sandra, after he gets her a job as a maid. Dr. Moryani (Joseph Calleia), whom along with Maxwell have a questionable scheme they want to include Sandra in. And Fleming's friend and business partner Julian Wilde (Cedric Hardwicke).

For a 1947 film there is a pretty good cast here. Coburn had already won an Oscar for his performance in George Stevens' "The More the Merrier" (1943). He was an effective character actor also known for roles in such films as "Kings Row" (1942). Many of us know Lucille Ball of course for her comedy and her most famous role on the television show "I Love Lucy". But she was a struggling actress back in the 30s and 40s. Mostly appearing in light comedies and musicals. Some of her better known performances, at this point, would include appearing in "Room Service" (1938) with the Marx Brothers, the Cole Porter musical adaptation "Du Barry Was A Lady" (1943) with Gene Kelly and the all-star female cast comedy "Stage Door" (1937). So seeing her in this kind of film was unusual.Though one of her prior films to this was another mystery film, "The Dark Corner" (1946). I wonder if her performance in that movie led to this movie.

Despite some of its flaws "Lured" is a curiosity piece for film buffs. Especially those with an interest in Sirk's career and Lucille Ball fans. Even if you are only familiar with her work in television, this will catch your attention because you won't be use to seeing her in this type of film. "Lured" is no masterpiece but it is fun to watch. There is a lot going on under the surface here which makes it quite risque for the times.