Lured is a strange movie for several reasons. I can’t figure out why it’s set in London, as location is irrelevant to the plot: L.A. or New York would do just as well. Lucille Ball, as the dancer Sandra, seems out of place in a noirish crime drama. She does a good job in scenes where she’s playing it straight; she’s believable as a police operative. But, for the most part, she’s wise-cracking her way along as though in a screwball comedy. “What is it tonight? Sweepstakes for zombies?” she quips at the unappealing dance-hall clients. That’s a good one, but there’s too much of that. At 36, she’s a bit old for the role; her character’s friend Lucy seems of a different generation. Cedric Hardwicke (the creepy Julian) and George Sanders (as Robert Fleming, Sandra’s suave love interest) are great in highly nuanced roles. Likewise George Zucco, as Sandra’s police protector Barrett; adds the correct dollop of droll humor which Sandra unfortunately tops off all over the place.
Partly because of the divergent tone, Lured bogs down after a well-paced beginning. Boris Karloff, and, to a lesser extent, James Calleia add a lot of interest. As others have noted, they’re clever distractors from the pivotal pair, Robert and Julian. The fascinating thing is that Moryani (Calleia) actually introduces another plot. This is wrapped up by the police rather quickly, leading to an unexpected false ending. Then the movie picks up steam, tossing the hot potato of guilt between Robert and Julian. The actual ending is a relief in the sense that we’ve been drawn into Sandra and Robert’s corner, so to speak, and more than ready to get rid of Julian. That the police resort to subterfuge to smoke out the truth makes us wonder until the denouement exactly what’s up.
The last part of Lured saves the movie from self-parody. Even with so many good performances, an interesting premise, a complex but intriguing plot, and noirish atmosphere, as well as some unexpectedly swanky sets, this is on a collision course with disbelief about halfway in. It might’ve been better to make the operative (the ‘lure’ for the killer) a different character from Sandra’s; a policewoman for example. Ball is almost too good in that role–she shows genuine sympathy for her murdered friend–but not to the point where she’s psychologically affected. I don’t mean hers should be a weak character, but a more obviously sensitive one.
Instead, it’s Julian who struggles psychologically. Robert, given props by the police inspector himself, comes off as squeaky clean, as well as being a cool guy. Why not give him some flaws too, so the Robert/Julian guilt-level comparison isn’t so one-sided? Essentially this is a melodrama. Julian’s character is revealed; which gets us to the bottom of the mystery, but no one changes.
Lured is definitely worth a look or too, for mystery fans especially. In fact, it’s worth it just for Karloff’s gothic nutjob performance. 7/10.