Herein is a slightly off-kilter serial killer, mystery-thriller and early American film in the career of German emigre Douglas Sirk. Of course, the action is actually set in England. It’s a film that builds a paranoid framework like The Lodger (1944), I Wake Up Screaming (1941) or other like-minded films. However, it goes through the normal paces only to lurch forward in the most curious directions.
The parties involved include a Scotland Yard guided by that industrious Brit for a day Charles Coburn. Other people of interest include a street-smart nightclub dancer (Lucille Ball) who saw one of her co-workers go missing after a rendezvous with a mystery man. In fact, a rash of disappearances of young attractive women has overtaken the city.
Thus, upon finding Ms. Carpenter to be a plucky and intelligent young woman the inspector calls upon her services to force their elusive perpetrator out in the open acting as the tantalizing bait. She begins to respond to advertisements in the paper — his calling card — to lure victims into his clutches.
The only problem is figuring out who the man might be because numerous candidates roam the streets and many people circa 1947 placed postings in the paper. It’s common practice. Among people she gets caught up with are a delusional fashion designer who became unstable after years of criticism. The one and only Charles van Druten is played by none other than Boris Karloff in one of the film’s many digressions.
Likewise, Ms. Carpenter answers a call for a position as a maid, though the prospective employer’s intentions prove to be far more insidious involving some dealings in South America and too-good-to-be-true promises of advancement. Once more Scotland Yard puts an end to the criminal activities but is no closer to their murderer.
One of the more prominent people of interest is Robert Fleming (George Sanders) a man of vast influence and a stage producer who finds classical music tepid and most of the upper echelons of the society’s elite even worse. He goes about it all with the playful disdain that can only be attributed to George Sanders at his best.
In fact, his manner is off-putting to Sandra as well but their prickly beginnings cannot completely derail romantic feelings. In those respects, both Ball and Sanders prove to be adequate romantic leads propelled by their wry comedic proclivities. That’s far more rewarding than any romance. The only problem is that he might not be who he claims to be and at any rate, a great deal of circumstantial evidence is piled up against him. A final push for justice must be made.
Lured isn’t an instant classic as the tension while there is never altogether sweltering. But simultaneously the screen is crammed with quality performers and just enough idiosyncratic moments and bits of humor to keep the film from being absolutely conventional. George Zucco is by far the most amusing of the many supporting characters as the crossword puzzle-loving officer H.R. Bartlett who acts as Sandra’s guardian angel while simultaneously coming upon many of his solutions through simple eavesdropping.
This is also a telling film that should make us uncomfortable and it’s not so much that things feel overwhelmingly misogynistic and objectifying of women, it’s the even more sobering fact that things have not changed as much as we would like to believe.
What is the root of most serial killing? Surely we can see familial issues or mental instabilities but oftentimes it’s tied in with a distorted sense of love wrapped up in perverse fantasies hidden from view.
Our killer is obsessed with the poetry of Baudelaire and uses it to realize the fantasies that he never seems able to act out on. The man’s interest is in destroying beauty instead of making love to paraphrase Coburn’s character. When he finally is revealed I’m not sure it’s a surprise but then need we be surprised? Many “normal” men are capable of great evil. They’re simply good at covering it up.