Two Films By Douglas Sirk: A Scandal In Paris and Lured
Studio: Cohen Film Collection
Sep 28, 2016 Web Exclusive
By the 1930s, Detlef Sierck was working as one of Germany’s top filmmakers, but as the climate rapidly became hostile toward people of his political leanings (and his Jewish wife), he left his home country for the United States, where he changed his name to Douglas Sirk. Within a few years the talented director was able to secure a contract with Columbia Pictures, mostly turning out good-looking b-pictures. He's better remembered for his years with Universal in the 1950s, where he made several of the great masterpieces of melodrama: Magnificent Obsession (1954), All that Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), and Imitation of Life (1959). All were gorgeously-shot features, making keen use of Sirk’s creative eye for angles and unorthodox framing, and were extremely subversive for their time. By 1960 he was retired, but his legacy lived on in the works of those filmmakers he influenced, most notably Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Todd Haynes.
The Cohen Film Collection pairs two of Sirk’s lesser-known works into a single package. (Both films, coincidentally, star George Sanders in a roguish cad role.) Looking at them each separately:
A Scandal In Paris: Sanders plays 19th Century Frenchman Eugene Francois Vidocq in this 1946 feature by Sirk. Widely considered the father of modern crime investigation, Vidocq was a reformed criminal who became a noble police chief and eventually the founder of history’s first detective agency. Scandal is an almost entirely-fictionalized account of his criminal years (and the scheme that finally set him on the path of the straight and narrow), but it works as a frequently charming sort of fairy tale and semi-screwball romantic comedy. When Vidocq cooks up a plot to rob a wealthy, old aristocratic couple by posing as a passing nobleman, he has a change of heart after falling for their grown daughter, played by Heaven Can Wait’s Signe Hasso. This is certainly a lesser Sirk work, relying little on his signature nuance and subtext and instead playing it broad for the cheap seats with slapstick and gimmicks such as a trained monkey and a cringe-inducingly cute kid sister. Even frequent Orson Welles collaborator Akim Tamiroff – who plays Vidocq’s partner in crime – speaks in an accent so think you can barely understand him. Alas, the film’s also short on Sirk’s interesting framing work, shot on too many static sets with fairly flat decor. This is far from one of the better films in the director’s oeuvre, but thankfully it’s packaged alongside…
Lured: Lured may be an odd mishmash of genres that don’t really fit together right, but it has so much going for it that it’s hard not to enjoy through and through. A pre-Lucy Lucille Ball stars as Sandra Carpenter, an American dancer working in London whose best friend disappears and is presumed the victim of a serial killer. The killer lures young women through newspaper personal ads, mailing a lurid poem to taunt the detectives at Scotland Yard just before each young lady vanishes. When Sandra turns up at police headquarters to give a statement regarding her friend’s disappearance, the coppers hand her a gun and ask her to go undercover as a girl detective. (Read: serial killer bait.) With that premise, you’d think this would be a noir-ish thriller, but it’s not – Lured falls more in line as a comedic romance, as Sandra has a number of screwball run-ins with a local millionaire playboy (Sanders, again) eager to win her heart. This runs parallel, naturally, to her investigation into the murders – between the comedy, Sandra only narrowly avoids being murdered herself several times! The juxtaposition between Ball’s quick-quipping, the numerous cute-meets, and the grimmer elements such as forensic examinations and sessions of criminal profiling, feels super, super weird, but the film remains compelling for plenty of other reasons that can smooth out the jarring switches. Lucille Ball is fantastic as a sarcastic, gun-toting undercover agent, and Boris Karloff has a delightful cameo as a crazed fashion designer. This is certainly a more Sirk-y feeling film, too, with cool camera work and lots of really fantastic shots framed through doorways, windows, and even rungs of a spiral staircase. (In the opening, he obscures the killer’s identity around corners, under curtains, and even behind a man holding a sandwich board advertising a play called “Murder in Soho.” It’s all pretty clever.) The mystery itself is also pretty solid, despite the tone flying all over the place.
While A Scandal in Paris pales in comparison, Lured alone makes this two-disc set worth seeking out for Douglas Sirk or Lucille Ball fans. (Lured has a new restoration, and – with its many shadowy locales – is the better-looking movie.) Both films come with audio commentaries, which provide some great historic background and trivia for each production.
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