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Before her career as a television sit-com comedienne took root, Lucille Ball appeared in dozens of movies. All of her roles in the early '30s were bit roles, frequently in musicals, but by 1940, important parts started coming her way, such as a dramatic role in Dorothy Arzner's Dance, Girl, Dance (1940). As the '40s wore on, she appeared in several more dramatic roles, as in Henry Hathaway's The Dark Corner (one of her finest performances). But meanwhile, Hollywood slowly began to understand her considerable talent for comedy. Her subsequent roles were almost always comedies. One of her final dramatic roles was in Douglas Sirk's romantic thriller Lured (1947).

Now available on DVD from Kino International, Lured is an excellent example of Lucille Ball's ability as a dramatic actress. In contrast to her comedic persona, Ball could be somewhat distant and icy when appearing in dramas. But this is arguably her warmest dramatic performance. She's in virtually every scene in the movie, so much of the movie's success or failure rests on her shoulders. However, she's also surrounded by several fine actors, including George Sanders as an international playboy, Boris Karloff as an eccentric (and quite mad) clothes designer, Charles Coburn as chief inspector at Scotland Yard, and George Zucco (in a wonderfully hammy performance) as an undercover detective assigned to protect Ball.

Lucille Ball plays a dime-a-dance girl in a seedy London dance hall. Her best friend has been murdered by a serial killer. A Scotland Yard chief inspector (Coburn) asks Sandra (Ball) to help the investigation by becoming bait for the killer. She agrees and soon finds herself in a variety of dangerous situations. For example, when she answers a suspicious newspaper advertisement, she finds herself trapped in the studio of a clothes designer, where she's forced to perform in a fashion show -- for an audience that consists of a bulldog and a mannequin. Sandra's most difficult test comes in the form of an ultra-smooth ladies' man (Sanders) who becomes beguiled with Sandra upon first hearing her voice. He pursues her relentlessly. After he saves her from the clutches of a white slavery ring, she agrees to be his bride. But soon afterwards she discovers evidence suggesting that Sanders may in fact be the "Poet Killer."

DVD cover artwork for Douglas Sirks' Lured.
[click photo for larger version]

Lured ventures into the same territory mined by film noir. But director Douglas Sirk keeps the mood relatively light and brisk. As a result, Lured avoids the cynicism and determinism so common in noir thrillers. Lured contains some of the same visual motifs of film noir -- shadowy alleys, glistening streets, heavy stone buildings -- but Sirk instead aligns the drama with historical period pieces. Ball must walk down darkened streets, but the movie never conveys a great sense of menace. Avoiding low-key lighting (one of the hallmarks of film noir), Sirk opts instead for a romanticized view of London, as if the clock had been turned back to the turn of the century and Charles Dickens had been enlisted as a screenwriter. Viewed as a crime thriller, Lured is relatively light stuff. For example, once Ball enters Karloff's studio, the scene is brightly lit. Instead of hyping the scene with dramatic lighting, Sirk places the emphasis upon Karloff's eccentricities -- with comedy as a result. And when Sanders makes love talk to Ball at his ornate night club, the set resembles a Busby Berkeley creation.

Not surprisingly, Sirk would continue in a romantic vein for the remainder of his career, turning out such seminal women's pictures as Magnificent Obsession (1954) and All That Heaven Allows (1955). Sirk dabbled in the crime thriller genre again with Sleep My Love (1948) and Shockproof (1949). However, Lured is arguably his most fondly remembered movie from this early phase of his American career. It's a somewhat schizophrenic movie. It starts as a crime investigation yarn, turns into a noirish thriller, slips into glossy romanticism, and edges into Hitchcockian suspense. While plotwise Lured feels cobbled together, the parts come together in surprising ways. For example, the story plays out as a whodunit mystery, but the emphasis isn't upon surprising us with the identity of the killer. Instead, Sirk's camera subtly uncovers the killer as he reacts to a police search. Nervously peering from a window, the killer unwittingly allows his concern to belie his guilt. Uncovering the killer with half an hour of running time to go, Sirk then emphasizes the growing unease and instability caused by the proximity of the killer to Sandra (Ball).

While Lured isn't one of Sirk's best movies, it's a wonderfully entertaining (if somewhat slight) venture. Presented in a pristine DVD transfer by Kino International, Lured is a superb example of Sirk's developing Hollywood style and a fond reminder of Lucille Ball's ability as a dramatic actress.

Lured is now available on DVD from Kino International. (It was released on VHS by Kino in 1999.) Suggested retail price: $29.95. For more information, check out the Kino Web site.


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