A serial killer in London lures beautiful young women by placing ads in the personal column of a daily newspaper. He also announces each killing by sending a cryptic poem to vex Police Inspector Harley Temple (Charles Coburn) of Scotland Yard. After a friend becomes the next victim, plucky American showgirl Sandra Carpenter (Lucille Ball) agrees to pose as bait to help the police catch the killer. Which unfortunately involves a lot of seedy encounters with suspicious men. One such suspect is Robert Fleming (George Sanders), a suave theatrical producer and smooth-talking womanizer of some notoriety. Against her better judgement, Sandra ends up falling for Robert even though all evidence suggests he has something sinister to hide.
In light of their subsequent career paths a collaboration between future sitcom queen Lucille Ball and Douglas Sirk, later master of the florid Technicolor melodrama, sounds unlikely. But back in 1947 both were in a different stage of their careers. Prior to achieving TV immortality with I Love Lucy, Ball was bounced from one studio and genre after another. Alongside an output of comedies and musicals she delivered credible turns in Henry Hathaway's film noir The Dark Corner (1946) and Jules Dassin's romantic thriller Two Smart People (1946). Meanwhile Sirk, who fled Nazi Germany only a few years prior, was several years away from the run of lush melodramas at Universal-International (e.g. Magnificent Obsession (1954), All That Heaven Allows (1955), Imitation of Life (1959)) that forged his reputation - even though critics seem to change their minds every ten years as to whether he was an artist or a hack.
Adapted from Pieges (1939), a French thriller by Robert Siodmak: another director soon to relocate to Hollywood, Lured was a box-office failure. Sirk later put this down to audience confusion as result of the Production Code Administration re-titling the film 'Personal Column' midway through its original release. They feared Lured sounded too much like 'lurid.' In its favour Lured has a nice sense of style (e.g. the intro where a flashlight illuminates each production credit scrawled along a dark street) along with an engaging and committed turn from Lucille Ball as the shrewd and sassy heroine. The film paints an interesting, albeit Hollywood-ized portrait of post-war London, halfway between the corny pseudo-Victorian trappings of a Basil Rathbone-Sherlock Holmes movie and a grittier, sleazier milieu wherein seemingly every third resident is a middle aged lech out to paw a pretty girl. The first third of the plot centres on Sandra responding to an array of ads placed in the personal column. These range from a charming vignette with a little boy to a special guest star turn from none other than Boris Karloff as a fashion designer fallen on hard times. His big scene alone makes Lured worth watching as it shifts uncomfortably from funny to poignant to genuinely creepy.
Unfortunately the film is hobbled by a lack of focus. Sirk's fluid camera-work and creative use of light and shadow lend Lured a touch of class. However as the plot progresses it becomes obvious the director is more invested in the romantic angle than the murder mystery which gradually runs out of steam. Despite sporadic moments of charm the leisurely-paced story delivers little in the way of thrills while Sirk's talky, heavy-handed attempts at suspense fall flat. Once Sandra and Robert start making goo-goo eyes at each other the film sinks into contrived mush mode and all but grinds to a halt. Naturally George Sanders is perfectly cast as an incorrigible cad. However his abrupt about-face from committed misogynist to smitten romantic proves unconvincing. Robert remains unsympathetic throughout even while protesting his innocence (in oddly flippant fashion) in police custody. By comparison George Zucco exhibits a disarming, hitherto unheralded flair for light comedy as the undercover cop whose hard-boiled exterior rapidly melts while partnered with our gutsy heroine. Who knew the erstwhile Professor Moriarty could be funny?