Tuesday, December 1, 2015

From the DVR: Lured (1947)

It’s a familiar story in classic movies: a talented girl, practiced in the terpsichorean arts, is determined to make it big as part of a show…but the production folds unexpectedly, leaving our would-be star stranded and badly in need of work to keep body and soul together.  This is the case for Sandra Carpenter (Lucille Ball), who has been forced to take a job as a taxi dancer to make ends meet once she’s been left high and dry in the city of London.

One night, a representative for producer Robert Fleming (George Sanders) invites Sandra to audition for a new show that Fleming is producing with partner Julian Wilde (Sir Cedric Hardwicke).  Sandra tries to coax her pal Lucy Barnard (Tanis Chandler) into auditioning as well, but Lucy is determined to quit show business in order to travel with a mysterious individual she’s met through a newspaper personal column.  Not a particular smart move on Lucy’s part; she vanishes from the scene and during a chance meeting with Scotland Yard’s Inspector Harley Temple (Charles Coburn), Sandra and Temple piece together enough suspicion to suggest that Lucy is a victim of a serial killer known only to the gendarmes as “The Poet Killer.”

Sandra is pressed into service to act as bait for the killer—answering various personal ads in an attempt to locate the poet murderer, which brings her into contact with suspects like Charles van Druten (Boris Karloff), a demented dress designer.  As her investigation continues, the finger of suspicion slowly starts to point toward Fleming, with whom Sandra is falling in love.  Qué lástima!

I recorded Lured, a 1947 melodrama directed by future cult director Douglas Sirk and written by Leo Rosten (from a story by Jacques Companéez, Simon Gantillon, and Ernest Neuville), the day The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™ scheduled a day of films featuring Thrilling Days of Yesteryear idol Boris Karloff.  I’d never seen the film, and because I had heard a few positive things about the movie I decided to take a peek.  To be frank…other than functioning as a red herring (is Karloff’s character the “Poet Killer”?) Boris isn’t too particularly well-served in this vehicle—which is why I’ve always been curious as to why his presence is as played up as it is (he’s prominently featured on the cover of the DVD release from Kino Lorber).

I didn’t dislike Lured—watching it won’t be a waste of time—but I have to agree with one online reviewer who described the film as “a delicious plum pudding of a cult movie.”  It’s nice if you’re partial to plum pudding…but for those viewers who’d like a little meat to go with their melodrama (after all—how can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat?) it’s going to come up a bit short.  For a modest-budgeted independent film (released by United Artists), Lured boasts a sumptuous sheen…and I admire some of director Sirk’s exquisite touches (the faux Victorian look of cobblestone streets and gaslights), particularly the inventive opening credits sequence.  Lured’s raison d'être seems to be to showcase Lucy’s character as a clotheshorse…which I wondered about constantly throughout the film—how does a taxi dancer afford a wardrobe like that?  (Perhaps the tips at the dance hall are better than I thought…)  The clothes in the film come courtesy of designer Elois Jenssen, who was also in charge of the redheaded comedienne’s wardrobe on I Love Lucy until she was unceremoniously pushed out in favor of R-K-O veteran Edward Stevenson, a longtime Ball crony.

The other aspect of Lured that bothered me is that the Sandra Carpenter character is inducted as a member of Scotland Yard’s police force rather quickly; her only qualification appears to be the ability to keenly observe her surroundings (she’s asked by Temple for a description of his office despite not having spent much time in it).  I don’t discount that scrupulous scrutiny is an integral part of police work but I just had trouble buying how easy it was for Sandra to join The Thin Blue Line.  (“You previously worked in a dance hall, eh?  Congratulations—you’ve got the job!  Have a revolver!”) 

I know, I know—it’s nitpicking; Lured is mostly about style than substance.  The strong cast in the film is Lured’s major asset; it’s one of Ball’s best cinematic showcases, and you know I’m up for anything featuring George Sanders (who receives billing over his co-star).  (Sanders, in speaking to one of his girlfriends in the picture, even admits that he’s “an unmitigated cad.”  True dat.)  The list of old pros also includes Coburn, Hardwicke, Karloff, Joseph Calleia, Alan Mowbray, and Alan Napier…but for me, the real joy was having George Zucco on hand as Lucy’s “handler.”  Zucco put the “sin” in “sinister” throughout his film career, so it was a treat to see him in a lighter vein; there’s a running gag throughout Lured in which he asks Lucy for the answer to a crossword puzzle entry…and while claiming she doesn’t know, she inadvertently gives him the solution through a perfectly chance remark.  The duo’s interactions are among the highlights of a movie that midway during its U.S. release became Personal Column because the bluenoses thought Lured sounded too much like “lurid.”

At one time, motion pictures like Lured were known as “women’s pictures” but their dark, melodramatic content has apparently influenced today’s critics to classify them as film noir.  If Lured is noir, it’s a fat-free one; I prefer to watch Lucy in 1946’s The Dark Corner (which might very well be my favorite of her feature films) where she plays a secretary determined to help her private investigator employer (Mark Stevens) beat a murder rap.  (A smart secretary would let her boss fry for criminal blandness…but who am I to judge?)  Be that as it may, Lured is an enjoyable time-passer despite its weaknesses, so I don’t hesitate to give it the TDOY seal of approval.

1 comment:

ClassicBecky said...

George Sanders is certainly the most "unmitigated cad" in all of films, and I love him for it! I saw this movie a long time ago, and had the same reaction you did. It's too bad, but it's hard to take Lucille Ball seriously after all the years of seeing her as Lucy Ricardo before I saw anything else. She was absolutely gorgeous thought, wasn't she?