Monday, September 26, 2016

On Blu-ray -- two small, polished gems from Douglas Sirk: A SCANDAL IN PARIS and LURED

TrustMovies didn't pay much attention to directors when he was in high school, but Written on the Wind, along with Vertigo, were two of his favorite films during those late adolescent years. Only after did he connect the name of the former's director, Douglas Sirk (1897-1987), with some other films he treasured (Imitation of Life and Sleep, My Love, for instance). Nowadays the name of Sirk (thanks in large part to the homage work of another fine filmmaker, Todd Haynes), is greatly prized -- though the prizing arrived mostly post-mortem for this talented German-born director, shown below.

All of which brings us to the first-time-on-Blu-ray release this week, via Cohen Film Collection of two of Mr. Sirk's early Hollywood movies -- A SCANDAL IN PARIS and LURED -- both of which should burnish the man's reputation to an even brighter sheen. Though Sirk worked in various genres -- from westerns to mysteries to rom-coms to mostly melodramas (I'm not sure he ever made a film that would qualify as actual drama) -- I would call him most gifted in melodrama. Have there been many better examples of this genre than Written on the Wind, Imitation of Life and All That Heaven Allows?

What Sirk brought to so many of his films, in addition to those heightened emotions, was elegance, atmosphere and just plain graceful movie-making. He also had a way of slyly bringing to our attention, within that melodrama, how somehow "off-track" were so many of our standard ideas of morality and economic class. It's always a pleasure to sink back in your seat, and take in what this director offers. A Scandal in Paris brings all of this and more to the fore. Based on the memoirs of real-life Parisian thief-turned-Chief-of-Police, the film stars that perfectly-cast, super-debonair and rakish George Sanders (above, left, with a delightful Akim Tamiroff, and below), who brings his considerable "all" to the role.

In one marvelous little scene early on, Sanders is used by an artist to model for Saint George (above), the irony being of course that few actors ever looked (or acted) less saintly than Sanders. Saint George proves a pivotal plot point in the movie (along with several others), as our anti-hero moves from rakish thief to something much more in line with that Saint (and with Hollywood morals of the day).

In the superlative cast of fine character actors and some very oddball faces, are the likes of Gene Lockhart (below) and a rarely-used-to her-fullest-ability Carole Landis (at left), a performer who becomes one of Sanders' early-then-problematic conquests. (Her song here is a silly, "fiery" charmer.) The screenplay is elegant and witty, making use of everything from stolen jewels to a pet monkey, while providing a number of smart, succulent lines (of which Sanders makes hay).

As the girl who proves to be our "hero's" true love, Signe Hasso (below, right) delivers both the necessary beauty along with subtlety and class.

Surprisingly, for a movie that's now 70 years old, there are almost no longueurs to be seen or felt, so incident-prone is the film that it scoots right along its 99-minute route.

Though this was but Sirk's third Hollywood film, his gift for melodrama, as well as for turning bourgeois morality on its ear, can already be seen surfacing in the Lockhart's final scene -- which against all odds begins to move you rather mightily so that you want to shout "unfair." All in all this little gem is such a surprising delight that Sirk fans should not miss it, while newcomers, after watching, may find themselves in the fold. (Cohen's Blu-ray transfer of both these films is top-notch, too.)


Lured is one of several good mysteries Mr. Sirk offered up over his 45-year directorial career. Again, as in Scandal, there is plenty of elegance, atmosphere and charm here, as well as another wittier and more-interesting-than-we'd-expect screenplay that tells the tale of a serial killer targeting young woman via personal ads in the newspaper.

London-set but Hollywood-made, the movie stars a more-young-and-luscious than we may remember Lucille Ball (above and below) playing an American actress stranded in London when her show abruptly closes who must now do nightly taxi-dancing to pay the bills. When her friend becomes the murderer's next victim, she goes to the police and... we're off to the races.

In the male lead is Mr. Sanders again, in yet another of his signature roles -- the roué who's not so caddish, after all -- and he's perfectly fine, as usual. In the excellent supporting cast are the likes of Charles Coburn as Scotland Yard's top man, Cedric Hardwick as Sanders' friend and business partner, and Alan Mowbray as a naughty butler. All three are standouts. Socio- and psychologically, the film also shows us a character of veiled homosexuality whose lack of opportunity to engage or find an outlet for his caring and love leads to feelings and events that are very unhealthy indeed.

If you'll be able to spot the murderer fairly early on, the film offers plenty more reasons to see it, especially to witness what Ms Ball -- sassy and smart as anything -- could do before she became that much-loved Lucy. Oh, yes -- and there's one more famous actor who's a treat to watch here, too: a certain Boris Karloff (below, right) playing a sad and maddened artist who is one of the suspects in the case. His scene, I suppose, could be cut out without doing the film much damage, but what a pleasure it is to see him in all his glory once again.

Lured runs a slightly lengthy 103 minutes (it doesn't quite bounce along like Scandal) but it is definitely worth a watch for Sirk, Ball and mystery aficionados alike.

Both films, together in a single package, each on a separate disc with audio commentary included, hit the street this coming Tuesday, September 27 from Cohen Film Collection -- for purchase and (one hopes) rental.

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