Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lured (1947) ~ Film Noir's Taxi Dancer

Normally associated with light, fluffy comedies (Annabel series, MGM musicals, and—of course—I Love Lucy), Lucille Ball seems an unlikely candidate to traverse the dark streets of the underworld. This is exactly where she found herself, though, when her agent arranged a loan out to Twentieth Century Fox for The Dark Corner in 1946 and United Artists for Lured in 1947. In her autobiography, Love, Lucy, Ball explained that she was less than thrilled with her agent’s arrangement:

All my affairs were being handled by this agent*, and I wanted to have a serious discussion with him about what I was doing, what was going to further my career, what kinds of roles were good or bad for me. But he couldn’t be bothered, and next thing I knew, I had been loaned out to a totally strange studio without my consent or even my knowledge. (143)
*Notice how she does not mention the agent’s name—what a lady!

Ever the trouper, she made the best of the situation and put on fine performances in both thrillers. (Critics concur—see what New York Times writers Bosley Crowther and E.J.B. penned here and here about the films.)


Lucille Ball, Taxi Dancer

In 1947’s Lured, Ball plays Sandra Carpenter, taxi dancer turned bait and detective-of-sorts. Similar to Barbara Stanwyck’s character in Ten Cents a Dance (1931), Ball’s taxi dancer has a worldly edge. Not much surprises her: she has heard every pick up line and is a step ahead of every move. A favorite line comes early in the movie when an older customer appears ready to proposition her. Before he can speak:
You can't take me home. I don't finish 'til two a.m. We can't go somewhere for a little drink. And I loathe etching.
She has heard this all before...
When selected to lure out a serial murderer, Sandra has the opportunity to use her knowledge of the opposite sex to her advantage. She allows the men to think they are seducing her while she gathers information she needs. She has turned the tables, taken back the power, and it is marvelous to behold—especially when performed with Lucille Ball’s prowess. 
 Notice how Ball's expression changes as she hears Inspector Temple (Charles Coburn) narrate the latest column pick up line...
...and here as she listens to Robert Fleming's (George Sanders) line. She was a master at acting without saying a word.  


Then the rest of the movie happens...

New York Times critic E.J.B. said it best: “the film is about a half an hour too long and the number of extraneous and rather absurd sequences could have been omitted.” Yep. 

The rest of the movie chips away Sandra’s power. As she moves further from taxi dancer and closer to acceptable society lady, she becomes more dependent on men to come to her rescue. As the pre-code taxi dancer movies before it, there is danger—albeit unspoken this time—in a woman privy to men’s worldly ways and capable of using that knowledge against them (beyond manipulation into matrimony, that is). As such, Sandra’s taxi gal know-how only goes as far as necessary to the plot. Unfortunately, this means Lured falls short of being a true film noir where the femme fatale unabashedly goes against society norms.

These society gals narrate Fleming's every move, but would never dream of using it against him. They play along. Therefore, they are not dangerous.


Taxi Dancer Style

The film establishes early on that Sandra never wanted to be a taxi dancer. (She resorted to taxi dancing when her New York show went under.) In addition to presumptuous patrons, a hideous wardrobe marks the dance hostess. Sandra's clothes become increasingly more stylish as she leaves the world of taxi dancing behind. 

Cheap, tacky dresses seem to be the taxi dancer's forte.  

Sandra ups the glamor factor when she leaves the taxi dance floor behind.
 

Possible Homosexuality

Yep, you read that correctly. I strongly suspect that there is a little more going on between the lines of the Lured's script than director Douglas Sirk could show. Fleming lives with his business partner, Julian Wilde (Sir Cedric Hardwicke), whose admiration borders adoration. Fleming knows and seems to enjoy it. All in all, the story would make more sense--and be stronger for it--if everything was out in the open.

Julian and Fleming at the opera

The boys in their office and home

 Trust me on this one. I can't give anything else away without there being serious spoilers. 

With that said, you have an opportunity to see the film for yourself when it airs on TCM on Monday, November 23rd at 3 pm EST or Thursday, December 3rd at 8 pm EST.


Ciao until next time!

Sources

Ball, Lucille. Love, Lucy. New York: Berkley Boulevard, 1996. Print. (published posthumously)
E.J.B. “Lured (1947) At the Victoria.” The New York Times. 29 Aug 1947: Movie Review. Web. 22 Nov 2015.

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