Lured (Douglas Sirk, 1947)
This is post-war, pre-Magnificent Obsession (1954) Douglas Sirk film. Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak, and Edgar Ulmer have already made dents on the noir genre. While still irresistably beautiful, the way Lured opens with a pretty face aboard a bus to meet her deadly lover (always covered by the shiny damp cement walls or the shadows or the man selling newspapers tagged with the headlines about a suspect serial killer), there's always a feeling that we've seen this before. Sirk cuts to Scotland Yard where we get a glimpse of the investigatory work of Britain's agents; they pinpoint the unique marks of the typewritten poem, explains the similarities of the killer's poetry with that of a certain Baudelaire.
Club dancer Sandra Carpenter (Lucille Ball) is introduced to us. She's no dumb beauty; when her friend tells her about marrying a stranger she met through the newspaper personals section, she quickly throws questions and queries to quell her curiosity. True enough, her friend becomes the next victim of the mysterious killer. She is tapped by Scotland Yard to undercover for them. She passes off as everything each personal asks her to be, until she finally discovers who the mysterious killer is. Along the way, she flirts with debonair urbanite Robert Fleming (George Sanders), who somehow lures her to his beguiling charms, or killer's instincts; a prospect Sirk plays with and keeps hidden until the film's conclusion.
Sirk keeps the noir elements muted. There's an uncharacteristic romanticism to Sirk's crime-thriller; the way Fleming almost always shows up during perfect opportunities for romantic interludes, the way Carpenter is drifted from a supposed undercover life of crime-busting to a stable romantic opportunity, the way Sirk keeps the plot from floating in standard noir world weariness by portraying Carpenter as always hopeful and always optimistic. Moreover, Sirk makes minimal use of noir visual elements; almost everything happens indoors (very graciously decorated) and when Sirk does make use of noir visual elements, it almost always ends up in uncharacteristic triumph instead of the standard downward spiraling that characterizes noir plotlines. When Carpenter meets up with world-class fashion designer (played with impeccable passion by character actor Boris Karloff) under the dimly lit streets of London, it makes us assume that a plot-connected tragedy will ensue. The opposite happens; Karloff turns out to be a deranged has-been, setting up a fashion show for a crowd of dogs and mannequins; Ball chews up the scene with her sarcastic face before the sequence ends with Ball being rescued by another undercover cop (George Zucco, who from then on, provides unessential humor to the feature).
Lured is quite overlong. It's uncertainty on what it is actually makes its uncomfortable length apparent. The middle part strays the film in so many directions, almost to explicit tedium. It seems that Sirk is quietly enjoying the cat-and-mouse game that got us hooked, and is unable to confidently give off a satisfactory conclusion to the exercise. But he does (after several minutes of dull exposition); when the culprit is finally revealed, Sirk gives us another taste of his pressure pot cinematics: he puts Carpenter and the evil culprit inside the living room; Sirk's eye for extravagantly capturing lush interiors serves him well by turning the climactic scene into something out of a sick melodrama (an unready exclamation for hidden lustful longing, a surprised and slightly affronted object of affection; a passionate expression of that longing that tumults (although not exactly to serve the culprit's intentions) into one happy ending).