MGMs fabled producer Hunt Stromberg (The Thin Man series, Pride and Prejudice, Ah, Wilderness!, etc.) returned to his independent filmmaker roots with 1943s Lady of Burlesque and for the next eight years gave us a number of nifty films we've enjoyed through the years (Too Late for Tears, Guest in the House, Between Midnight and Dawn). Two of those films were made with director Douglas Sirk (1946s The Strange Woman and 1947s Lured) in those years before his tenure at Universal-International and his string of Americana-lite flicks (Take Me to Town) and acclaimed melodramas (All That Heaven Allows). The screenplay for Lured is by Leo Rosten (Captain Newman, MD novel) and based on a story by Jacques Companeez and Simon Gantillon which was the basis of 1939s Pieges starring Maurice Chevalier. Lured is a tasty goulash of contemporary mystery/gothic thriller/ripper/romance.
Young women are falling victim to the "Poet Killer" who mails cryptic clues to the police about the crimes. Inspector Harley Temple played by Oscar winner Charles Coburn (The More the Merrier) and his officers Alan Napier (The Uninvited) and Robert Coote (A Matter of Life and Death) diligently cover all the evidence, but it only leads them in a circle. What they need is Sherlock Holmes. What they get is taxi dancer Sandra Carpenter played by a ravishing Lucille Ball in a series of knockout day and evening dresses from Eloise Jensson. An American stranded in London after the close of a theatrical production, Sandra was friends with the latest victim of the killer and she signs on to act as bait in the case. It has been determined that the poet killer contacts his victims through the personal columns and Sandra follows up on this lead. In the course of her work she has encounters with a delusional fashion designer played by Boris Karloff (Targets), Alan Mowbray (My Darling Clementine) as a seedy butler with a criminal sideline and Joseph Calleia (Five Came Back) as a dangerous gangster.
George Zucco, Lucille Ball
George Zucco (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) plays Inspector H.R. Barrett of the Yard and is Sandra's protector. Born in Manchester in 1886, Zucco was an actor in Canada and on the Vaudeville stage, appearing with his wife Frances aka Stella Francis. The Zuccos returned to England during WWI where George enlisted in the army and wounded his right arm in France. His acting career continued following the war in the British film industry and on Broadway in Helen Haye's production of Victoria Regina as Disraeli in 1935. Mr. Zucco's Hollywood career saw him play in many prestigious productions such as Madame Bovary, A Woman's Face, The Secret Garden, Suez plus a number of horror and cult favourites such as The Mummy's Tomb, Dead Men Walk, The Mad Ghoul, The House of Frankenstein. George Zucco's reputation was that of a reliable actor and solid family man with an engaging sense of humour. He once referred to himself as the saddest actor in Hollywood for having to play so many nasty fellows. A stroke in the early 50s required long-term care and Mr. Zucco passed form pneumonia in 1960. Nobody rocks the caftan like George Zucco in Tarzan and the Mermaids. Zucco and Ms. Ball have a very nice chemistry in Lured and it would have been a treat seeing them team up for another adventure.
Speaking of chemistry, I did mention romance, didn't I? The romantic aspect of the picture is provided by the devilishly charming George Sanders (Call Me Madam) as Robert Fleming. Along with Cedric Hardwicke (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court) as his business partner and friend Julian Wilde, Fleming builds and run a series of successful high-end nightclubs stocked with pretty young women. Aha, you may be thinking what the Yard is thinking and you would be correct. It is inevitable that Robert and Sandra become close.
Sandra Carpenter - bait
The mystery portion of our movie should not come as any great mystery to fans, but the puzzle is not the only thing that draws us to this type of film. We look for atmosphere of which Lured has plenty. The cinematographer is the great William Daniels (Winchester '73). He gives us a set-bound London where the action is played out mainly at night in foggy alleyways with looming shadows and the eery glow from streetlights. There is a marvelous game of cat and mouse as the Yard personified by Inspector Temple closes in on our suspect. A major delight is also the comforting familiarity of the character actors cast to play out the story. Lured is just plain fun. It is as if a group of our favourite Hollywood folks got together, rolled up their sleeves, rubbed their hands with glee and said "let's give everybody a good time".
TCM is screening Lured on Saturday, August 24th at 2:00 AM (!!!) as part of Charles Coburn Day for Summer Under the Stars. Maybe next year we'll get a George Zucco Day.