Review: Lured (1947)

Written by Leo Rosten
Directed by Douglas Sirk
Starring George Sanders, Lucille Ball, Boris Karloff, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, George Zucco
US Release Sept. 5, 1947
RT 102
Home Video Kino Video
Classic Horrors rating = 8 (out of 10)

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Warning: review contains plot spoilers.

As Lured began with a spotlight exploring a London street to reveal the opening credits on various sections of brick walls and signs, I had a feeling I was in for treat. I wasn’t necessarily expecting that in a supposed crime mystery starring Lucille Ball that I was watching only because of its co-star, Boris Karloff.  However, I was thoroughly entertained for the entirety of the movie’s 102-minute running time.

Four years later, Ball would become America’s favorite comedienne and television sweetheart with I Love Lucy.  Having never seen her in a serious role, it was hard for me to accept the fact that every man in the movie talked about how beautiful a woman she was.  It’s not that she’s unattractive, but I’ll maintain her casting may have been a bit of a stretch and that it was really the spunky personality of her character, Sandra Carpenter, that made her so appealing.

Carpenter came to London from the U.S. to be in a show that closed after four nights, forcing her to become a taxi dancer at a bad nightclub to make ends meet.  While pursuing better employment, she’s temporarily hired by Scotland Yard to help identify a serial killer who uses personal ads to abduct and, presumably kill, young unattached women.  She’s recruited when a friend of hers becomes a victim and Inspector Harley Temple (Charles Coburn) notices a spark in her during questioning.

Temple gives her a verbal test and, indeed, she has innate skills of observation and deduction.  He warns her that it will be dangerous (“Are you scared?”), but also tells her he’s assigned a man to watch out for her.  His identity must remain unknown to Carpenter, which creates a couple opportunities for us to think he’s the killer stalking her.  I hate to spoil his identity, but since he’s played by George Zucco in an uncharacteristically light role, I have to say he’s a highlight of the film, interacting with Ball in an often humorous way.

Karloff appears in only a single memorable sequence during one of two “false alarm” meetings with people who are not the serial killer.  He seems to have a ball with the role and is good at being both a kindly old gentleman and then a completely crazy oddball.  It’s played for a while like he could be the killer, but I never fully expected that to be revealed so early in the movie. The sequence is representative of the fine line Lured straddles between comedy and thriller.  It’s definitely not a comedy, although it has many delightful moments.

The two lives of Carpenter cross when she encounters Robert Fleming (George Sanders), the man with whom she hopes to get an audition, as well as the man who may also have sent eerie poetry to Scotland Yard, warning of the murderer’s next moves.  He’s a better red herring than Karloff, and the rest of the movie focuses on his relationship with Carpenter, his eventual arrest for the murders and the pursuit of the real killer.

The other key player is Julian Wilde (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), Fleming’s business partner and friend.  He’s kind of creepy, but shouldn’t be considered the prime suspect.  There’s also a menacing-looking chauffeur wandering the halls.  Lured does a solid job maintaining the mystery without solving it in an obvious manner.  It was a long time before I felt confident about my guess for the identity of the killer.

Lured was written by Leo Rosten, based on a 1939 French film, Pieges (Personal Column).  I don’t know how much dialogue is original, but it’s often clever and snappy.  It was directed by Douglas Sirk, who would later become famous for melodramas like Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, and Imitation of Life.  Hints of the woman’s point of view which would become one of his movies’ distinguishing characteristics are apparent here with such a strong woman (and actress) in the lead role.

Although it’s not exactly “classic horror,” the movie does feature not only Karloff, but also horror icons Zucco and Hardwicke.  It reminds me a bit of Mystery of the Wax Museum in that Glenda Farrell, playing a strong central female character, was an unanticipated treat.  While the matter of a gruesome subject like a serial killer is mostly taken lightly, the movie revolves around it.  Therefore, I don’t hesitate in wholeheartedly recommending Lured from within this particular forum.

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