Lured (1947)

LuredPoster.jpg

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.

3.5/5 Stars

Scarface: The Shame of a Nation (1932)

Ga220px-Scar2ngsters, prohibition, Al Capone, the St. Valentine Day’s Massacre. It all sounds like some distant piece of folklore that by now is far removed from our modern day sensibilities. But when films like The Public Enemy, Little Caesar, and of course Scarface came out, these things were at the forefront of the national conscience. In fact, it seems like these films have seeped into our culture, making it hard to pull the legends and cinematic stereotypes away from the cold hard facts that have now dissipated with time.

Like the other gangster dramas, Howard Hawks‘ effort makes it blatantly obvious with its introductory title card that it is a story condemning the rise and fall of the gangsters. Much like many modern films, there is a great deal of screen time given to corrupt characters, but in this case, there is meant to be less ambiguity. The audience is directed to the fact that this is not a glorification, but an indictment. That didn’t mean controversy was not stirred up since Scarface’s immense amount of violence got it held up by the censors. But it did finally make it past in 1932.

What follows is what we would expect: The rise and fall of one ambitious mobster Tony “Scarface” Carmona. He starts out as an enforcer and tough guy who is ready to make his way up the ranks and he’s not going to allow any Tom, Dick, or Giuseppe get in his way. He often incurs the displeasure of his worried mother, and he is often distraught with his baby sister (Ann Dvorak) since she will not keep away from the boys.

Pretty soon Tony is made second in command, and his boss is looking into taking over the South Side after the previous big shot was knocked off. The little men cannot do much about Johnny and his crew moving in on the territory, but of course Tony’s not satisfied. Along with making a pass at the bosses girl, he starts taking it to rival mobsters on the North Side even when Johnny told him to lay off.

Retaliation follows with a vengeance and the cops are also taking an increasing interest in nailing Tony since he’s such a smug hotshot. But Scarface’s new best friend is the Tommy Gun. Tony only increases his ambitions by countering the rival mobsters, ambushing and gunning them down all across town. There’s no mercy and he even annihilates the rival boss Gaffney (Boris Karloff) at a bowling alley. Tony even manages to escape a hit put on him by Johnny and pretty soon old Scarface is running the show like he always wanted.

Every rise is always followed by a crushing fall, and Tony is no different. He is enraged to find his buddy and perpetual coin flipper Little Boy (George Raft) calling on his sister. Tony literally loses his mind gunning his friend down in cold blood and thus unwittingly setting himself up for an undisputed murder wrap. He deliriously holds himself up in his barricaded flat, but the hourglass is slowly running out. The game is up as quickly as it began.

Paul Muni is a fairly captivating lead who pulls off the gruff Italian tough guy pretty well. His supporting cast including the glowering George Raft and his hapless “secretary” (Vince Barnett). Although Ann Dvorak felt like a girl miscast. Otherwise, this pre-code film has its fair share of bullets flying and sirens blaring. It’s a film full of grit and shadowy avenues that are sometimes swimming with beer and sometimes blood. It is extraordinary to think of where Hawks went from this film, one of his earlier works because he really was one of the most adaptable and successful directors I can think of. His films do not always reflect his own personal style per se, but they are more often than not engaging, self-assured, and dynamic. Scarface is little different. An early classic from one of the great American visionaries of film.

4.5/5 Stars

Frankenstein (1931)

e7a7f-frankenstein13Starring Colin Clive and Boris Karloff, this archetypal horror film is loosely based on the novel written by Mary Shelley. Frankenstein is a man intent on creating life. However, his creation is made out of corpses and then comes the fateful day that he brings his Creature to life. Once it is alive his own life will never be the same. Soon it begins to cause havoc by killing a little girl and scaring others. It even attacks Frankenstein and his wife on their wedding day. In the end the Creature meets his demise in a burning barn and Frankenstein seemingly escapes utter disaster. This became the perfect set up for the Bride of Frankenstein (1935).
4/5 Stars