Category Archives: Douglas Sirk

Lured (1947)

 “I was on guard against everyone except myself.”

In the Douglas Sirk film Lured a series of young girls disappear after responding to personal ads. The killer taunts Scotland Yard by sending poems describing the girl and announcing the upcoming murder. The police are left with a handful of clues–the personal ads, the flaws of the typewriter used for the poems, and the fact that the killer has a penchant for Baudelaire.

luredSandra Carpenter (Lucille Ball) plays an unflappable dance-hall girl whose friend is the latest victim of the killer. Inspector Temple (Charles Coburn) recruits Sandra to operate undercover through the personal ads. Sandra meets a lot of peculiar men through the ads, and soon she’s juggling dates with bizarre dress designer Charles van Druten (Boris Karloff) and smooth playboy Robert Fleming (George Sanders).

This is an interesting role for Lucille Ball. Here she’s worldly-wise and savvy to every pick-up line in the book. Inspector Temple sagaciously assesses Sandra’s character and realizing she can handle men effectively, he adds her talent to his investigation. Lucille Ball fans will be pleasantly surprised by her role in Lured, and Douglas Sirk fans should enjoy the film too. The characters are well defined, and the plot kept my attention throughout. It’s in glorious black and white, and that complements the story and the setting.

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La Habanera (1937)

 “Your father was a tasteless man with his elk hunting and bear-rounding, but you’re even more of a dilettante. “

The old saying: “marry in haste, repent at leisure” comes to the fore in La Habanera a film directed by Douglas Sirk.

habaneraSwedish Astree Sternhjelm (played by German songstress Zarah Leander) travels to Puerto Rico with her aunt. There, Astree falls in love with the steamy climate and culture of this Latin American country, and when her aunt returns home to Stockholm, Astree remains behind and marries local landowner Don Pedro de Avila (Ferdinand Marian). The film jumps ahead 10 years when fate brings Astree’s old flame, Dr. Sven Nagel (Karl Martell) to Puerto Rico to investigate the dreaded Puerto Rico Fever. Sven finds that Astree is terribly unhappy. Locked in a loveless marriage with a domineering, unreasonable husband, she longs to return to her homeland. Unfortunately Astree now has a child, and she is turn between duty and longing.

La Habanera really is a peculiar film. It was made in 1937 by UFA studios, part of the Goebbels propaganda machine, and so film content was essentially controlled by Goebbels and his Ministry of Propaganda. The end result is a film that’s a curiosity. On one hand, there’s the simple story of a homesick Swedish woman who lives to regret her rash marriage, and on another level, there’s the propaganda message. Finally there’s the end result–a film that’s a rather bizarre blending of Nazi ideals with psuedo Puerto-Rican culture.

In the beginning of the film, Astree is captivated by Puerto Rica’s climate and culture. She lives to regret this decision, and the message is that it’s foolish to leave one’s own culture. There are some subtle racial messages entwined in the plot; for example, Astree’s son, although half-Puerto Rican is pale with blonde hair. Sven even notes at one point that the boy is “German.” When you tie that comment and this aspect of the film in with all the racial profiling the Nazis conducted to ascertain “German-ness,” well the film moves away from just being a curiosity to something else…. Dr Sven Nagel’s Brazilian companion sports a Hitler-esque mustache and it’s nothing less than bizarre to hear these Puerto Rican natives say things like “Ja Wohl.” Yes, the Puerto Ricans all speak in German.

For me, and I love Sirk films, La Habanera is an oddity. The film does not reach the heights of his masterpieces Tarnished Angels, Written on The Wind, Imitation of Life, Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, All I Desire (well, I could go on, but you get the point). Still if you love Sirk films, you won’t be able to resist watching La Habanera–if only to rejoice that he made it to Hollywood and left us some spectacular films. Sirk (Hans Detlef Sierck), who was married to a Jew, immigrated to America after making this film, and La Habanera is the last film he made for UFA. In German with subtitles.

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Written on the Wind (1956)

 “I’m filthy. Period.”

writtenTawdry, tacky, and packed with high soap melodrama, Written on the Wind is one of director Douglas Sirk’s greatest films. The story concerns the stinking rich and utterly rotten Texas Hadley oil family, and the rot is manifested in the two Hadley offspring, alcoholic playboy, Kyle (Robert Stack) and his insatiable, nubile blonde sister Marylee (Dorothy Malone). Their father Jasper (Robert Keith) is a decent hardworking–but frazzled man who can’t quite grasp how bad his children really are, and he still manages to nurse the hope that one day, they’ll reform.

Mitch Wayne (Rock Hudson) is Kyle’s boyhood friend. He works for Hadley Oil, and his relationship with the Hadleys is troubled. From childhood, Mitch has extricated Kyle from scrapes, and this is a habit that continues in adulthood. Similarly, Mitch often has to babysit Marylee–she has a habit of picking up the local males and running off to seedy motels for the afternoon. Mitch’s task is complicated by the fact that Marylee insists she’s in love with Mitch–a feeling that is not reciprocated.

Complications for Mitch and the Hadleys occur when Kyle romances and marries Lucy Moore (Lauren Bacall)–an elegant secretary employed by Hadley Oil. In spite of the fact that Mitch saw her first, Kyle–always the dominant male in their relationship since childhood–sweeps Lucy off her feet with a lavish, ostentatious courtship. Lucy marries Kyle, and Mitch meekly steps aside–even though he knows that Lucy’s marriage to Kyle isn’t going to be easy.

Written on the Wind is described as a film in “lurid” Technicolour, and while that’s an unusual way to describe it, the term fits and also matches the film’s content. There’s nothing subtle or implied here, and the bold plot cashes in on the twists and turns of completely overdone drama at every turn of events. Over time, Written on the Wind has developed a delicious camp factor, and some of the best scenes occur when Marylee throws herself at Mitch (literally), and he coyly and prudishly denies her the thing she wants the most. At one point, he even asks if she really thinks he would be ‘enough’ for her insatiable appetites. Dorothy Malone steals the film while burning fast and brightly as Marylee–the girl who just can’t help herself when she’s around men. Written on the Wind is splendid fun, and those who love “lurid” drama from the 50s should enjoy this film immensely. The Criterion DVD looks gorgeous–extras include: Douglas Sirk Trailers, and the Melodrama Archives.

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Tarnished Angels (1958)

 “The party’s next door. And that’s the way it’s always been. Next door.”

tarnishedA film directed by Douglas Sirk, based on a book by William Faulkner, and starring the luscious Dorothy Malone … what more could you ask for? Tarnished Angels is a wonderful film, certain to please Sirk fans, and if you’re new to Sirk, then you’re in for a treat. The 1950s was such an interesting period for cinema, and Tarnished Angels has to be one of the decade’s memorable films. Set in the 1930s, it’s a tale of desperate people, edgy with bitterness and disillusion risking their lives to eek out a meager living.

New Orleans reporter Burke Devlin (Rock Hudson) meets a team of barnstormers at the local fair during Mardi Gras. Initially rescuing a child, Jack Schumann, from bullies, Devlin becomes fascinated with the Schumann team comprised of WWI flying ace turned stunt pilot Captain Roger Schumann (Robert Stack), his neglected wife, parachutist LaVerne (Dorothy Malone) and loyal mechanic, Jiggs (Jack Carson). Feeling sorry for the Schumann team, and with his curiosity aroused, Devlin offers them the use of his small apartment while they are in New Orleans. These are desperate times, and cash is hard to come by. The Schumanns lead a hand-to-mouth existence as they compete for prize money in their small plane, traveling across the country for various events.

Although it may appear that Devlin allows the Schumanns into his life, the reverse is true. Devlin witnesses the Schumann’s troubled marriage, and the obvious fact that Jiggs is in love with LaVerne. Roger Schumann is a cold, emotionally withdrawn man who manages to exact tremendous love and loyalty from both Jiggs and LaVerne, while they receive crumbs in return. When bitter LaVerne unburdens her troubles into Devlin’s sympathetic ears, sparks fly….

The plot, with its tragic dimensions, is strengthened by the drama of the daring and dangerous races performed by Roger Schumann. Burke Devlin plays an almost Jamesian observer role as he paws over the dregs of a cold, bitter marriage, but he also has a pivotal part in the unraveling of events as the characters tread a path to inevitable tragedy. Since this is a Sirk film (and considered his best by some fans), look for perfect shots with his subtly positioned characters.

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