Don Juan, Jack the Ripper and film noir figure in the exceedingly erudite preamble, during which Douglas Sirk evokes Baudelaire even before the killer sends the cops mordant notes laced with poetry ("a beauty that only death can embrace"). "Murder in Soho" is advertised as the unseen murderer claims his first comely victim -- the foggy streets could be fin de siècle London, but wisecracking Yank Lucille Ball, a transplanted slang-shooter putting up with sailors in the "cement mixer" dance hall, easily situates the mystery in postwar territory. Alarmed by a fellow dancer's sudden disappearance, she turns undercover bait for Scotland Yard, answering lonelyhearts ads and experiencing the full spectrum of male control cannily indicted by the filmmaker. The dreamlike centerpiece has Ball lavishly gowned in a Gainsborough number for Boris Karloff, the sinister fashion designer who addresses the audience through a mirror and ushers in the spectacle, a faded past recreated in an atelier empty but for bulldogs, mannequins, and saber-rattling hysteria. An extreme view of the violent objectification of women, yet how removed is it, Sirk asks, from the benign lechery with which smooth playboy George Sanders surveys the shapely hoofers auditioning for his nightclub? Karloff offers a feast in five minutes, the rest of the cast scintillates along: Chief inspector Charles Coburn savors cat-and-mouse games with his suspects, George Zucco is a guardian angel with crossword puzzles, Joseph Calleia and Alan Mowbray are sveltely creepy, Cedric Hardwicke paints with officious smarminess and resembles the director, rather. The basis is Sidomak's Pièges, the visit to the concert hall for a moment of Schubert is from Liebelei with a bit of Lubitsch tossed in, the whole thing finally waltzes towards Rebecca and Suspicion for a lustrous essay on the alluring trapdoors of the romantic image. With Alan Napier, and Tanis Chandler. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce