Lured (1947): Douglas Sirk’s Serial Killer Film Noir, Starring Lucille Ball and George Sanders

Douglas Sirk directed Lured, a mystery-thriller film noir, which is a remake of Robert Siodmak’s 1939 French film, Pieges.

Produced by James Nasser, Lured was an independent film, scripted by Leo Rosten, a Polish-born scholar and prolific scribe, who wrote scripts and one of the first unbiased chronicles of the film industry operations titled, “Hollywood: The Movie Colony.”  He was later known for his Yiddish scholarship, manifest in the popular 1968 book, “The Joys of Yiddish,” laced with humorous anecdotes and linguistic expressions.

The movie offering Lucille Ball one of her strongest big-screen roles–a romantic lead for a change–before she became a TV star in the early 1950s.

Ball plays Sandra Carpenter, an American showbiz girl in London, who’s now working as a taxi dancer.
When her friend and peer Lucy Barnard (Tania Chandler) goes missing, she thinks Lucy was the victim of the notorious “Poet Killer,” who lures victims with ads in newspapers’ personal columns.

Scotland Yard Harley Temple (Charles Coburn) holds that the killer is influenced by the late French poet Baudelaire, because he sends poems to the police.

He asks Sandra to work undercover in helping to find her missing friend and the killer, handing her a police identification card and a gun. Sandra is tasked with answering personal ads, protected by officer bodyguard, H.R. Barrett (George Zucco).

Sandra answers an ad placed by Charles van Druten (Borils Karloff), a former fashion designer who is mentally troubled.

An elegant stage producer, Robert Fleming (George Sanders), who she meets by accident, saves her from Mr. Moryani (Joseph Calleia), a mysterious man who lures young women to South America by offering them better future, while in actuality, his goal is to recruit them for forced slavery.

Fleming shares a stately home with Julian Wilde (Cedric Hardwicke), his business partner and friend. After courting Sandra, the couple gets engaged.

During the engagement party, Sandra accidentally discovers incriminating evidence in Fleming’s desk, including a bracelet worn by Lucy and her photograph. Circumstantial evidence increases when his typewriter is identified as the one used for the poems, although he denies any involvement in the crimes.

When Lucy’s body is found in the river and Fleming is arrested, Wilde promises to hire the best attorney to clear him.

Inspector Temple suspects that it’s Wilde who fancies poetry and might be the killer, but having no proof, he and Sandra arrange a trap.

Wilde is obsessed with Sandra, just as he was with the other abducted women. When she visits him, he expresses his desire, then tries to strangle her with his scarf.  At that crucial moment, the Scotland Yard’s men break into the house and rescue her.

Most film noirs do not conclude in happy ending, and so Lured differs by showing Fleming and Sandra having a toast for their future together, in a bar, with Sandra wearing white mink.  “Welcome back, darling,” Sandra says, “Welcome home,” prompting Fleming to say, “Two glasses.”

It doesn’t help that Charles Coburn is not compelling as a Scotland Yard inspector–he’s too American–which becomes evident in every scene in which he interacts with the superb British actor, Sir Cedric Hardwicke.

Though well shot by ace cinematographer William Daniels (Garbo’s favorite lenser), Lured is not one of Sirk’s strongest films, nor a powerful noir, lacking the genre required menace and darker tone. As noted, the plot is too conventional and straightforward–a routine serial killer.

The constructed sets–Lured was filmed on the backlot–are really not adequate substitute for London, where the story is supposed to take place.