Film review of the silent Alfred Hitchcock film starring Ivor Novello.
Director: Alfred Hitchcock. Gainsborough/Carlyle Blackwell.
Cast & credits
Producers: Michael Balcon, Carlyle Blackwell.
Writers: Alfred Hitchcock, Eliot Stannard.
Camera: Gaetano di di Ventimiglia, Hal Young.
Music: Ashley Irwin (1999 reissue).
Sets: C. Wilfred Arnold, C. Bertram Evans.
Ivor Novello, June, Marie Ault, Arthur Chesney, Malcolm Keen.
There has been a series of brutal murders, in which the victims are all blonde women. Young Daisy’s (June) parent’s take in a mysterious and creepy, but handsome, young lodger (Novello). He has a habit of being absent from the house during the time that each new victim is slain. But pretty, golden haired Daisy is drawn to him and spends more time in his rooms, even as her mother (Ault) and her ex-boyfriend, a policeman (Keen) start to gather circumstantial evidence against him.
Jack the Ripper has long held a grip on British criminology and the public fascination with crime ever since he committed his atrocities against women in the 1890’s.
Within less than a year, this still unknown assailant had killed five prostitutes in the east end of London. Despite a committed police effort and local uprising at their perceived inefficiencies, he was never caught. To this day, he hasn’t been conclusively identified, so his presence looms over us still somewhat.
In this film, based very loosely on the case, a young director who would cast his own, rather portly, shadow across international cinema, lets us see the flip side of the coin in the Ripper saga.
Known to most audiences by the first part of it’s title (for a ‘story of the London fog’, there is precious little of that in any part of the film), this early offering from Hitchcock offers an intriguing taster of what he would deliver to film audiences over the next half century.
On reflection, and seen as a whole piece, The Lodger is not as arresting as Hitch’s other silent films (Blackmail being an obvious example). This film can perhaps be seen as Hitchcock groping his way toward the full narrative and stylistic mise en scene that would later be so easily recognisable as ‘Hitchcockian’.
This furtive fumbling in the cinematic darkness might explain The Lodger‘s plodding pace that is a major detraction. For less than an hour and a half, the time seems to drag. The relative lack of the key ingredients that make Hitch’s films uniquely his compounds this feeling further.
Never the less, there are some intimate, sexually charged shots as Hitch and his cameraman catch Novello and June in glistening soft-focus close-ups as they kiss for the first time. His taste for expressionistic visual flourishes abounds (Daisy’s mother in her starkly designed room; the silhouette of the window frames that projects a cross on Novello’s face when he first moves in).
Daisy’s nosey and perceptive mother (Ault), who cottons on to Novello’s weirdness before the coppers, elaborates on Hitch’s obvious mistrust of the police and capture, that would be most noticeable in later products, such as The Wrong Man and North by Northwest.
Novello may have been the darling of London stage and society at this time but his histrionic, fey turn is as suspect as his character (for a man attempting to go undercover, he blows his cover with creepy Nosferatu body language stares before he’s even stepped foot inside the front door).