I was a late bloomer with Lured. I didn’t see Douglas Sirk’s remake of the 1939 French film Pieges until the mid-teens of the present century. This comedy/drama/film noir is a bit complicated, and I don’t want to reveal too much for those who haven’t seen the film. It’s so much fun, you deserve to see it for yourself. But here goes: Never-lovelier Lucille 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, probably 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 by mailing love poems to them. When Sandra goes to Scotland Yard to try and find Lucy, she is recruited by Inspector Harley Temple (Charles Coburn) to go undercover for the Yard. She will be essentially acting as bait for the killer, answering any and all personal ads that look sketchy enough to be leads. The first seeks 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 (George Sanders) and Julian Wilde (Cedric Hardwicke). Long story short, while answering another personal ad, Sandra encounters “unmitigated cad” 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…
I was lucky enough to see a beautiful print of Lured at the TCM Film Festival in 2017. Karloff’s daughter Sara introduced the film and William Daniels’ gorgeous cinematography shimmered off the screen, making it one of my all-time favorite TCMFF experiences.
Of Lucille Ball, much has been written and said, including on this very blog and on this season of TCM’s podcast, The Plot Thickens, which I’m really enjoying, and she is unquestionably the lead here. Likewise, George Sanders is in most scenes, and is listed first in the credits. If you haven’t read his autobiography, Memoirs of a Professional Cad, I recommend you do that. These two have surprisingly sizzling chemistry and represent a delightful instance of apparent opposites attracting.
As fascinating as they both are, this post concerns the talented supporting players who keep Lured humming along like the Rolls Royce Robert Fleming would probably drive around the countryside if he ever deigned to leave London. Much like the Marvel movies of today, real thespians really help to make an implausible setup work. Though Lured was filmed in the heart of Hollywood, it was set in London, and predominance of British-born actors meant that most were stage veterans, and several attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (aka RADA). “LURED IS LOADED,” the pressbook declared, and I can’t argue with that. In order of appearance…
Tanis Chandler — Born Tanis Ann Goldthwaite in Nantes, France, Chandler’s role in this film as Sandra’s best friend Lucy Barnard was supposed to be her big break, but it just didn’t ever happen. She had a privileged upbringing until her father’s illness necessitated her going to work as a model at age 11. She also ran a daycare and worked in radio before making her uncredited debut in Cinderella Jones, which was shot in 1943 but not released until 1946. She was probably most famous for landing an uncredited part in The Desert Song (1943) by dressing as a man, “Robert Archer.” The jig was up when “Robert Archer” was under consideration for a part in My Reputation (1947), one which required him to go shirtless. She passed away in 2006 in Sedona, Arizona. Work to watch: According to Mrs. Hoyle (1951)
Alan Napier — Best remembered as the butler Pennyworth on the 1960s Batman TV show, Napier was a cousin of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Born on January 7, 1903, he arrived in the U.S. in 1939 after studying at RADA and enjoying a prolific stage career. He thereafter appeared in one medium or another for almost 50 years, usually as a gentleman or a gentleman’s gentleman. He was close friends with Michael “Alfred” Gough and worked with George Sanders in seven other films. Per IMDB, “Nape” was 6’6″ tall! Work to watch: Criss Cross (1949), Young Bess (1953), Marnie (1964),
Robert Coote — Born in London in 1909, Coote served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II, an experience that informed his many military roles. He’d left school as a teenager to join a repertory company, kicking off a five-decade career. Coote originated (and was Tony-nominated for) the Colonel Pickering role in My Fair Lady on Broadway. He was good friends with David Niven and for a time, lived over Niven’s garage. Work to watch: Gunga Din (1939); A Matter of Life and Death (1946); Scaramouche (1952)
Charles Coburn — Irrepressible and incorrigible, Savannah native Coburn went his (mostly) jolly way through nearly 100 film and TV productions. He began his acting career on Broadway in 1901. Four years later, he started an acting company, the Coburn Players, with actress Ivah Willis, whom he married the next year. They managed the company and continued acting in productions until her death in 1937, after which Coburn moved to Hollywood and began his second career working in films. He was nominated for the Academy Award three times, winning for The More The Merrier (1943). Father to 7 children, Coburn is James Coburn’s grandfather. Work to watch: The Lady Eve (1941); The More The Merrier (1943); Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
Gerald Hamer — B-picture fixture Hamer wasn’t credited in Lured as Fleming & Wilde talent scout Harry Milton, though his character prompts our couple to meet. He mostly appeared in small and/or uncredited roles, usually kinda sus, in series like Sherlock Holmes, The Saint, and Bulldog Drummond. Another British stage veteran, he arrived in Hollywood in 1935 and promptly debuted in Swing Time (1936)…uncredited. Work to watch: The Saint Strikes Back (1939); The Scarlet Claw (1944); The Sign of the Ram (1948)
Marjorie Hoshelle — Hoshelle (Robert’s Rejected Girlfriend) worked steadily if thanklessly from 1943 to 1953 (like other actors mentioned here, most of her roles were uncredited). From 1946 to 1959, she was married to actor Jeff Chandler. Pre-Hollywood, she had earned degrees from the Art Institute of Chicago and UCLA, and she later taught acting and directed plays at Santa Monica City College and Los Angeles Harbor College. Work to watch: Cloak and Dagger (1946)
Sir Cedric Hardwicke — Another RADA alumnus, Hardwicke was knighted in 1934 for services to drama. He had been working steadily since 1912 and continued to do so until his death in 1964 from COPD. His parents wanted him to be a doctor like his father, but he apparently couldn’t pass the exams.1 Authority figures — aristocrats, cops, and yes, doctors — were his wheelhouse. Father of Edward Hardwicke. “Actors and burglars work better at night.” Work to watch: Suspicion (1941); Rope (1948); Around the World in Eighty Days (1956)
George Zucco — Spoiler alert (minor): Inspector Barrett in Lured was a departure for Zucco, who usually appeared as a villain
. He was born in Manchester, UK but by 1908 was working in a Canadian stage company and by 1910, in the U.S. He returned to England to enlist when World War I broke out and afterward studied at, yes, RADA, where he later taught. He progressed up to leading man roles through the 1920s and made his first film, The Dreyfus Case (1931), with Cedric Hardwick. Zucco returned to the U.S. in 1935, and from 1936 to 1948, never made fewer than 4 pictures per year. His roles varied from authority figures to baddies and mad doctors. Work to watch: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939); The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939); The Cat and the Canary (1939); Having Wonderful Crime (1945)
Boris Karloff — What can I say about this icon of horror? Born in London on November 23, 1877, as William Henry Pratt (!!!), Karloff also emigrated to Canada and joined a touring company (just across the river from me in Ontario). His nom de scène originated from that time. Touring North America apparently wasn’t particularly lucrative for him and 1920 found him in Hollywood, appearing in silent films and moonlighting as a truck driver. In 1931, that all changed — he was cast as the monster in Frankenstein. Introduced as “?” Karloff became a hot property and worked steadily into the 1970s. Alphonse Bergé was originally cast in Karloff’s Lured role but was cut from the film by producer Hunt Stromberg and his scenes reshot with Karloff due to the latter’s name recognition.2 Work to watch: The Old Dark House (1932); The Lost Patrol (1934); Isle of the Dead (1945); Black Sabbath (1963)
Ann Codee — Anna Maria van Huffelen was born in 1890 in Antwerp. Her mother was a circus artist billed as “The Strongest Woman in the World” and Ann and her two sisters followed in the maternal footsteps in their teens. In the 1910s and 1920s, she was half of the vaudeville act Codee and Orth with her husband Frank Orth; they had married around 1911. They made their film debut in 1929 and continued to work through the 1950s. Though Codee usually played Frenchwomen, with more than 50 credits to her name, she is likely Hollywood’s most successful Belgian actress. Work to watch: Jezebel (1938); The Mummy’s Curse (1941); Kiss Me Kate (1953)
Alan Mowbray — Lured‘s sleazy Lyle Maxwell was one of the founding members of the Screen Actors Guild. Born in 1896 in London, he served in WWI, earning the Military Medal and the French Croix De Guerre for bravery in action. He claimed that he turned to acting after the war because he had no other skills. Possessed of the stiffest of upper lips, Mowbray specialized in mostly delightful aristocrats of many nationalities, doctors, and, occasionally, butlers. From 1931 to 1949, he played in more than 120 films, and though I haven’t seen all of them, I have yet to see a bad performance. Work to watch: My Man Godfrey (1936); Topper (1937); Stand-In (1937); That Hamilton Woman (1941)
Joseph Calleia — Perhaps more than any other on this list, Calleia’s career serves as a reminder that typecasting is real, though he fought it mightily, bringing humor and complexity to standard baddies, and refusing well-paid villain roles. Born on Malta in 1897, he was a talented and experienced singer, musician, and composer whose role in the 1934 Broadway play Small Miracle led to a contract with MGM. Two directors saw his potential more than any others: John Farrow and Orson Welles. Calleia’s work for them is his best. Work to watch: After The Thin Man (1936); Algiers (1938); Five Came Back (1939); The Glass Key (1942); Gilda (1946); Touch of Evil (1958)
1 Source: Who Was Who via Wikipedia
2 Source: Noir Alley intro
If you have TCM, you can stream Lured via Watch TCM until December 6. It is also available on many streaming services.
This post is part of the 10th Annual What A Character! Blogathon, hosted by myself, Aurora of Once Upon A Screen, and Kellee of Outspoken and Freckled. Remember to check out the Morning and Afternoon posts as well.