Friday, December 26, 2008

Bonus Noir: Lured (1947, Douglas Sirk)

Directed by: Douglas Sirk
Written by: Jacques Companéez (story), Simon Gantillon (story), Ernest Neuville (story), Leo Rosten (writer)

WARNING: Plot and/or ending details may follow!!! [Paragraph 3 only]

Director Douglas Sirk is generally known for producing weepy melodramas, so Lured (1947) seemed like an exciting exception to the rule. The title alone has the feel of a dark and claustrophobic film noir thriller, with stark silhouettes skulking in alleyways and the shadow of gnarled fingers reaching toward a heroine's throat. The Production Code Administration apparently took a dislike to the film's name, perhaps conjuring up similar mental images to my own, and the film's title was subsequently changed to the less-lurid Personal Column, which sounds more like a Lubitsch romantic comedy. Neither title quite does justice to the film's tone, which is somewhere between thriller and melodrama, stranded hopelessly in middle-ground between the two distinct genres. An impressive cast – including Lucille Ball, George Sanders, Boris Karloff, Cedric Hardwicke, Joseph Calleia and Charles Coburn – does its best with the uneven material. The tone of the screenplay shifts markedly between the moody and sophisticated first half and the less-interesting second, when each character abandons all the traits that had made them appealing.

Sandra Carpenter (Ball) is a smart-mouthed taxi dancer, the sort of girl who doesn't take any nonsense from the opposite sex. When her colleague goes missing after answering an ad in the newspaper personals column, the police suspect that she is the latest victim of a deranged serial killer, who sends the authorities flowery poetry readings to boast of his crimes. To prevent the next murder, Sandra is unexpectedly recruited to identify the man responsible, going undercover as his next prospective victim. Among the suspects is Boris Karloff, unfortunately underused as a hilariously demented fashion designer, and George Sanders, playing one of those charmingly smug suitors that he always played so well. Veteran cinematographer William Daniel's creates a nice, moody black-and-white atmosphere, perhaps lacking the grittiness of your typical 1940s film noir, though that would hardly have worked alongside a screenplay where even the most depraved murderers speak with a high degree of elegance and sophistication. Apparently, that's just how everybody is in England.

The first half of the film delicately develops a mysterious and slightly Gothic air of uneasiness, and then something happens: Douglas Sirks' melodramatic instincts kick in, and his characters suddenly become less interesting than before. Lucille Ball's sassy and independent woman becomes enamoured with George Sanders, discarding all her saucy wise-cracks in favour of the anguished cries of a weepy and vulnerable damsel-in-distress. Sanders, likewise, is effectively neutered by the onset of love, losing his indomitable lust and becoming all quiet and contemplative. George Sanders quiet and contemplative, you say? Outrageous! Even so, Cedric Hardwicke singlehandedly rescues the film's final half, refusing to subdue his grotesque depravity even before we're supposed to guess that he's the man responsible for the serial murders. I don't know if I could confidently recommend Lured to fans of Douglas Sirk, but the excellent cast of actors means that most viewers should find some degree of fulfillment in his unusual brand of film noir film-making. This is worth a look.
6/10

Currently my #10 film of 1947:
1) Odd Man Out (Carol Reed) *
2) The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
3) Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin)
4) Out of the Past (Jacques Tourneur) *
5) Dark Passage (Delmer Daves) *
6) The Lady from Shanghai (Orson Welles) *
7) They Won’t Believe Me (Irving Pichel) *
8) The Fugitive (John Ford, Emilio Fernández)
9) Lady in the Lake (Robert Montgomery) *
10) Lured (Douglas Sirk) *

1 comment:

Jump_Raven said...

Have you seen any of Sirk's weepies? Imitation Of Life? Written On The Wind?