LURED aka PERSONAL COLUMN (1947)
Running Time: 102 mins. Rating: xx Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Douglas Sirk
Distributor: United Artists
Cast: George Sanders, Lucille Ball, Charles Coburn, Boris Karloff, Cedric Hardwicke, Josephy Calleia, Alan Mowbray, George Zucco, Robert Coote, Alan Napier
Sirk’s “most German” Hollywood film?
LURED (1947) is interestingly enough, the most Germanic film Douglas Sirk directed in the US. It’s not in his pre-war style, which was at least, on a superficial level, light and happy, no matter the dark world underneath in the human psyche. Rather this seems to be set in a certain milieu familiar to German filmgoers for the ‘20s and ‘30s – urban paranoia. The settings are a dance hall, police headquarters, night clubs, concerts, we see men wearing evening dress and “ein zilender”, black top hats, cigarette holders, the whole urban life which mixed French Fuillelades and urban decadence. Fritz Lang was the master poet of this genre whose films standout so much as individual works (“M”) that it’s difficult to envisage as an integrated genre. Try watching this film and ignore the English dialogue and it looks like one of these German crime films. The scenes in Scotland Yard with its strange antiquated high tech devices like the map case with its retinue of city maps. There are always maps in Lang’s films, especially considering the fact that for Lang the dark world underneath is also very literal.
All of the characters confirm to the typege of the German genre. There is the chief, an older man (here played by Charles Coburn), a Scotland Yard Inspector, wise and clever in the ways of crime and criminals. He has two assistants, the angular Alan Napier and the haimish Robert Coote.
The film takes place in London, or rather a sort of London, London/Hollywood via UFA. The plot is rather simple. Someone has been placing personal ads attracting young women and murdering them with pseudo-Baudelaire poems to taunt the police. Lucille Ball is a tanner- a-dance girl who suspects her friend has met with foul play and goes to the police who recruit her to go undercover, answering likely personal ads. She goes on a series of “dates” all of which might be described as perverse in some way or another. In fact, ALL of the male/female relationships have a tinge of the perverse about them. They range from whimsy to the mentally unbalanced to the genre staple of the white slave ring (Alan Mowbray is the “catcher”, Joseph Calleia the mastermind who rejects Ball as potential meat because she’s too intelligent). George Zucco plays his usual menacing visage but turns out to be a cop guarding Ball. There are many juicy character parts. There are nightclub scenes with songs that one feels Sirk would have given to Zarah Leander before the war, highlighting what all of us dedicated Lucy watchers always knew – she couldn’t even fake singing. The songs bear the very Sirkian titles “All For Love” and “You Stole My Peace of Mind”.
LURED is a re-make. The original was PIEGES, a 1939 French film directed by German refugee Robert Siodmak who is generally credited with making the first true noir, THE PHANTOM LADY (1944). PIEGES was written by an important French screenwriter, the Russian born Jacques Companéez. If LURED resembles a film noir that is because it is assembled from a lot of the same bloodlines as noirs.
From German expressionism there are the dark and shadowy streets, scenes of schattenspiel (scenes of the murderer typing his Baudelaire pastiche poem, the police in silhouette, examine a huge blow-up projection of the typed poem to perceive some clues from it). From the French there is the pre-disaster fatalism and poetic realism. Boris Karloff plays a top fashion designer who went mad when his designs were stolen. It’s his one scene and he swallows three arrondissmont as he makes a true meal of it. Apparently the original version had Erich Von Stroheim in the role, whose performance must have been equally juicy.
The first hour of the film takes place entirely at night. It doesn’t brighten up until after the White Slave Gang has been locked up and a false climax arrived at. The film changes character as first Ball’s fiancé, George Sanders, is suspected of being the killer and locked up, and then she is placed in jeopardy by the real killer who first plays a cat and mouse game with the inspector but is finally lured to his own destruction. So the concept of being “lured”, as in the murder of women who answer personal ads is turned around, and it’s the killer who is now lured. However these goings-on are just run-of-the-mill cop mystery film stuff of the era. A real noir would have invested the killer with some more of a character so that no matter how insane he is there is some empathy, some transference, and a sense of fatalism and inevitability for the mechanisms of the universe to grind on to the end. This is the Karloff/Von Stroheim character that is confined to the one scene. An error in construction perhaps. I guess nobody told the filmmakers that they were making a noir and had to respect certain niceties to qualify.
There is something Sirkian strange about the last scene. George Sanders is drinking at his nightclub’s bar. There is a mirror behind the bar. It is a real mirror as the bartender can be seen reflected in it. However there is a whole scene reflected in it of people coming and going from the entrance to the nightclub. Ball can be seen entering in an ermine coat, walking out of the mirrors frame and then entering the shots frame to stand next to Sanders. They have a conversation while life seems to be going all at full pace in the mirror. The curious thing is that I could swear the actions seen in the mirror are a reflection of a back projected scene, which seems to imply that it is easier to work with a technically difficult shot then to have to direct two different mise-en-scene actions at the same time in different places on the soundstage.
If you like this recommendations: