This post was previously published on Java's Journey and is today resurrected for Java's Fabulous '40s marathon on Thriller Thursday.
What a wonderful mystery! It does not succumb to the tried and true, if a bit old-fashioned, story arc of gathering a group of suspects into one room at the climax then naming the murderer. If there’s anything that Lured (1947) wants its audience to take away from this film is that Great Britain’s crime-solving skills are up-to-date, serious and as effective as reality will allow.
Lured constructs shades of a modern Jack-the-Ripper story, with random disappearing women and a murderous fiend on the loose in London. This narcissistic law-breaker sends the police cryptic typed poems - clues to his crimes. He’s daring them to outsmart him, to play a little game of chess in his twisted world.
Post-World War II films in the U.S. and across the pond were often not shy in portraying mentally unstable individuals and trying to get to the root anxiety. This movie is one; the police unflinchingly and carefully delve into the murderer’s psychosis, sort of like examining an unexploded bomb. Soberly, the film emphasizes the reality of not catching a criminal soon enough; showing photos of smiling victims, now-deceased, drives home the danger of the situation. It’s meant to feel real.
|Coburn and Ball|
Charles Coburn plays a Scotland Yard detective who is thoroughly in command of the case, and of the room. He reminds me of American television detectives and attorneys of the past sixty years or so – Perry Mason, Laura Holt, Lt. Columbo, Adrian Monk. Just as they do, when Coburn plays his cat-and-mouse game with a suspect, it is very intimate. Having done his homework – matching fingerprints, noticing the typewriter errors on the page, checking the brand of paper used, even consulting a poet- the detective already knows the answers and carefully encourages the perpetrator to unfurl the confession like a budding flower. Coburn has third billing but we see him more often than any other male; perhaps he should be called the leading man of our piece.
Top-billed George Sanders is, at different times in the movie, alleged to be either a villain or a hero, which leads to some wild shifts in tone. At one minute he’s an admitted (though relatively innocuous) cad, the next a suspected criminal mind. In a whole other twist of tone, he’s playing the main love interest with great sincerity, almost like a little boy with his first crush.
The famously stoic actor even smiles when talking to or thinking of his lady love - not the sly smirk for which he won the Oscar in All About Eve (1950), but the gentle, genuine smile of a man deeply and irreversibly in love. However, his scenes are sprinkled throughout the film, so you don’t realize he’s inadvertently playing three characters. [And you don’t care because George Sanders can seduce anyone.]
Sandwiched between these two men (in the story and in billing) is Lucille Ball, playing a no-nonsense New Yorker who, after her friend is killed, helps the police lure the murderer by using herself as bait. When the police begin to suspect Sanders, her new beau, she’s torn. In a way, it’s a triangle of loyalties.
Despite the drama, the scenes of a persistent Sanders gently courting a resolute Ms. Ball are funny and charming, giving a much-needed light touch to the film. Lured is filled with red herrings, perhaps a few too many at two hours and twenty minutes. It is nonetheless entertaining with breathless cameos, stirring dramatic music, beautiful costumes and an actual mystery that the audience is not likely to solve until late into the show.
Other films by director Douglas Sirk include Magnificent Obsession (1954) and Imitation of Life (1959).