This fascinating, well-paced and superbly-acted film has somehow managed to slip away unnoticed in the annals of classic film. It stars a young and cheeky Lucille Ball as an American chorus girl/hoofer in 1940s London. Her best friend disappears after answering an ad in the personal section. While questioning the spunky Sandra, Scotland Yard enlists her help to find the poetic killer who lures young girls with his unusual writing. She answers the ads, under the watchful eye of the detectives, and tries to ferret out the murderer. Her adventures lead her to meetings both frightful and funny.
Along the way, she bumps into the ever-charming George Sanders, man-about-town. They find romance but as the net closes in around the culprit, she begins to suspect her fiance may be out to get her.
Ball is gorgeous, stunning and is wielding her own brand of sass in this film. It is a brilliant example of what she could do, without the pratfalls and slapstick of 1950s television. Sanders is as devastatingly suave as ever. He gleefully combines the sophistication of his role in Dorian Gray, the stoic mind of his doctor in Village of the Damned and his slightly sleazy charm from Rebecca to create his most well-rounded character to date. Charles Coburn is delightful as the reliable chief inspector at Scotland Yard. There is a lovely, funny and slightly off-balance small role for Boris Karloff, as a mad fashion designer. He seems to be thoroughly enjoying the chance to be completely off-the-wall. Also enjoyable is the slow character arc displayed by Cedric Hardwicke as Sander’s secretary. This cast is perhaps so vibrant due to the even-handed direction by Douglas Sirk.
Fans of Sirk may feel a bit uneasy about seeing a film of his in black and white, and a suspenseful noir to boot. But only his touch could have made this what it is.
It is beautifully shot, taking full advantage of light and shadow, black and white, and all the greys inbetween. The dark, sinister London nights are crooked and winding, to be sure, but we are led there by a shining, innocent (but hardly naive) red-head. There we meet interesting characters and almost forget we are on the trail of a killer.
Luckily, this film was recently released on DVD by Kino Video – no excuse in waiting until it comes on TCM again to check it out.