As #TCMParty people and/or readers of this blog may or may not know, I’m obsessed with the 1947 mystery-drama Lured. Sure, the presence of one of my favorite velvet-voiced British thespians, George Sanders, has a lot to do with it. But its major charm is Lucille Ball’s fine performance in the lead role, which, while allowing flickers of her comedic genius to show through, always makes me wish she’d done more dramatic roles.
Lured, a remake of Robert Siodmak’s 1939 French film Pieges, is a bit complicated, and I don’t want to reveal too much for those who haven’t seen the film. Ball portrays Sandra Carpenter, an American showgirl stranded in London. She’s working as a taxi dancer when her friend and co-worker Lucy (Tanis Chandler) disappears, apparently the latest victim of the “Poet Killer,” a shadowy murderer who advertises for his prey in the personals section of the newspaper and taunts the police with love poems in the post. When Sandra goes to Scotland Yard to try and help find Lucy, she is recruited by Inspector Harley Temple (the irrepressible Charles Coburn) to go undercover for the Yard. She will be essentially acting as bait for the killer, answering whatever sketchy personal ads that look like leads. Her first ad is for a dress model. She goes to the studio of Charles van Druten (Boris Karloff), a former fashion designer, who is certainly unhinged. Is he the Poet Killer?
Meanwhile, Sandra had been trying to audition for a better dancing gig, in a new show with real producers, Robert Fleming (Sanders) and Julian Wilde (Cedric Hardwicke). Long story short, while answering another personal ad, Sandra meets Fleming, and sparks fly. She’s on duty at the time, but he keeps turning up in the most unlikely places as she pursues the investigation. Hmm… [Edited for chronology…I was a little overzealous in trying to avoid spoilers.]
The setup of the film is ridiculous, yet Ball, under Douglas Sirk’s solid direction in her 73rd movie, is always plausible. The script wisely lets her be a plain-spoken, compassionate, and resourceful American, and whether reacting with fear in a dangerous situation, lobbing a wisecrack to a presumptuous male, or getting romantic with Sanders, she sells it well. Though Sanders and Ball may seem like an odd match, they have real chemistry. In the beginning, he is an agreeable variation of the cad he often played, but as the story progresses, he shows a welcome vulnerability rarely seen in his other roles.
Ball is gorgeous as well, and gorgeously costumed by Elois Jenssen (who later, not surprisingly, worked on “I Love Lucy”). Sometimes, despite its beautiful black-and-white cinematography by William Daniels (The Naked City, Brute Force), I can’t help but wish this film had been shot in color, particularly toward the end when Sandra is dolled up in a white dress…it must have been stunning with her red hair and big blue eyes.
This is an atypical Sirk film, not really like the melodramas for which he’s known. He hated the title, thinking people would read it as “Lurid,” hence its original U.S. title, Personal Column. Some might say it’s too light-hearted to be a noir, but most of the elements are there. However Lured is classified, those who can suspend their disbelief and buy into the concept of an American dancer going undercover for Scotland Yard will be rewarded with stylish and enjoyable thriller.
If you have TCM, you can catch Lured on Friday, August 26 at 6:00 a.m. Eastern, part of Boris Karloff Day for Summer Under The Stars.