Blog Directory CineVerse: The redhead meets the red herrings

The redhead meets the red herrings

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Filmmaker Douglas Sirk made his bones helming sometimes soapy melodramas geared to female audiences. But before he settled into that mode he worked as a journeyman director helming dramas and noirs like Lured, an underestimated entertainment that flaunts a remarkable cast and a solid script. Our CineVerse mission last week was to perform a film-forensic examination of this pulse-quickener and determine its merits (to listen to a recording of our group discussion, click here). Here’s a recap of our conversation.

What is memorable, different, and unexpected about Lured?

  • It’s a mashup of several different genres and subgenres: it’s partially a noir, a touch of mystery/thriller, a sprinkle of police procedural, and a fraction romantic comedy. This amalgamation has caused it to be criticized unless appreciated by many critics and movie watchers, who perhaps expect a film more tonally consistent in the noir or Hitchcockian mode.
    • Blogger Kevin Jones wrote: “Though its plot, characters, and pacing, are all very much in line with the genre, Lured is a studio noir. It is Sirkian noir, if ever such a thing were to be defined. These murderers do not hide in shadows and lurk in the cover of night (with the exception of the beginning of the film). Instead, they lurk in places of extravagances. From mansions to symphonies to butler chambers of a wealthy and influential man. Murder happens while flush in the light of every available lamp in the room. Detectives do not lurk in the shadows of a private detective office. Instead, they work at Scotland Yard with the full budget of the British police force at their disposal.”
  • Lucille Ball is intriguing as a dramatic actress. While she is overwhelmingly remembered as a sitcom comedienne, she made her bones as a Hollywood thespian in many B-films, including romance, comedy, and drama films. In fact, Lured marked her 73rd appearance in the movies. Ball commands our attention as Sandra Carpenter thanks to her pluck, sarcastic wit, and attractive presence.
  • The film is refreshingly feminist for a 1940s potboiler in which you would expect the alluring female lead to the objectified subject of the “male gaze” of the audience and to possess less agency. Although Sandra needs to be rescued on more than one occasion, she holds her own against one male predator after another in most scenes.
    • Jones continued: “Thematically, Lured feels as though it is a film that is quite ahead of its time. Akin to The Silence of the Lambs, which used the male gaze in a way that was almost feminine in how it removed the rose-colored glasses of males and showed just how disgusting gawking and scopophilia can be from the perspective of a woman. In line with the rest of its anti-noir yet noir elements, Lured’s usage of the anti-male gaze feels like practically the antithesis to films such as Gilda in which Rita Hayworth is bathed in white light and fawned over the characters and the camera like. Here, however, we see the looks of men at Lucille Ball from her perspective, stripping back any disconnection men feel when gawking at a woman and instead forcing us to see just how demeaning and objectifying it can feel.”
  • This is a praiseworthy troupe for a B-movie, boasting George Sanders portraying a likable leading man, Boris Karloff playing off his horror heavy status and practically stealing the movie, Charles Coburn as the intrepid chief inspector, Alan Napier long before serving as Batman’s butler, and two Universal horror contract players: Cedric Hardwick as the serial killer and George Zucco as Sandra’s bodyguard.
  • The movie delights in dishing out as many red herrings and misdirections as it possibly can, forcing you to suspect virtually every male character in this film who doesn’t wear a badge. And like Hitchcock would do, it reveals the real killer long before the conclusion; by giving the audience more information than the protagonist investigators, the suspense increases.

Major theme

  • Don’t underestimate the savvy and intelligence of females, who can prove to be more resourceful and clever than men. Consider, for example, how Sandra can sniff out clues like her missing friend’s photograph and bracelet and how she inspires her guardian angel Barrett to solve crossword puzzles

Similar works

  • Films that fall within the working girl investigator subgenre of noir, including The 7th Victim, Woman on the Run, Notorious, Stranger on the Third Floor, Deadline at Dawn, The Big Steal, and Two O’Clock Courage.

Other films by Douglas Sirk

  • Magnificent Obsession
  • All That Heaven Allows
  • Written on the Wind
  • Imitation of Life

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