Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Lodger (1927)

Not too long ago I reviewed Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope wherein I stated that the Master of Suspense is indeed my favorite filmmaker. There’s really no reason to repeat my reasoning’s for that again here but just keep that bit of information in your back pocket for a moment. Allow me, if you will to opine on silent cinema, as this is the first silent film I’ve tackled. There’s always been something about the look of silent films that got to me. That primitive film style was attractive to me at a young age and it still is. Also,  maybe it was the fact that certain resources were very limited back then so filmmakers had to try extra hard to make their films as convincing as possible, which is why so many silent flicks still hold up marvelously well to this day. Having the kind of taste I have, the first silent films I saw were of course, the horror films. Nosferatu, Phantom of the Opera, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, you know, the essentials. Going back to still holding up, the make up in those films is still some of the most effective looking. Tell me with a straight face that Count Orlok or the many faces of Lon Chaney Sr. aren’t still some of the most striking on screen images. But back to Hitchcock. When I was first getting into his films I obviously started with the most well known, and had very limited, if any knowledge of his early British period. Imagine my giddiness when I discovered that one of his early works, The Lodger, was a silent film loosely inspired by the case of Jack the Ripper. Take a wild guess as to whether or not it lived up to my expectations.

A serial killer known as “The Avenger” is stalking the streets of London, targeting young, pretty blonde women, always leaving his simple calling card, his nickname written in the center of a triangle at the scene of every crime. In the midst of all the killings, a mysterious man (Ivor Novello) arrives at the lodging house of one Mrs. Bunting, looking for a room to rent. Although she is perplexed by her new tenants odd behavior, Mrs. Bunting believes him to be harmless, just a bit eccentric and anti-social. However she quickly becomes increasingly suspicious of his constant goings in and out late at night and she eventually comes to suspect her new lodger is the Avenger. Making matters worse, her daughter Daisy has become more and more friendly with the lodger and spending more time with him, and she is exactly The Avenger’s type. This enrages her jealous boyfriend Joe, who happens to be a police officer, and has just been placed on the Avenger case, and is determined to bring down the lodger, but is he really the Avenger?  

The Lodger (full title The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog) was Hitchcock’s third film, but he would later state that he considered it to be his first true film, and it’s understandable why he would feel that way. It’s with this film that Hitchcock introduced audiences to themes and motifs that would eventually become his calling cards and he would go on to perfect in subsequent films. It might start off a bit slow, but of course once the titular lodger arrives the film really gets going. This lodger is indeed a strange fellow, but is he a murderer? The film would lead you to share his landlady’s suspicions as his actions when he first arrives do come across as quite weird, and as the film progresses there really doesn’t seem to be any doubt that he is indeed the Avenger, yet you also know it’s just as possible that he’s innocent, and everyone else is just paranoid. You want to know the truth. You have to know, especially after the nerve wracking scene when the police interrogate him while going through his belongings, which leads to a classic Hitchcock chase scene. Having Daisy spark up a relationship with the lodger was smart as it’s a great catalyst for building up intensity in the story. Daisy is a very whimsical, likable character and we really don’t want to see any harm done to her, which is why there is always a sense of danger and unease whenever she and the lodger share screen time, that not knowing if he is indeed the murderer. Hitchcock uses this uncertainty to perfection, masterfully toying with the audience, sometimes even in a humorous manner whenever the two are the only ones on screen. Is the picking up of a fire poker used for just the fire, or to bash someone over the head with? Does Daisy scream because she’s in fear for or life, or did she just see a mouse? Hitch loves screwing with us with things like that throughout the film.

Even at this early stage in his career Hitchcock was at the point where he could wipe the floor with directors who were on their 5th or 6th film. Hitch was very inspired by directors part of the German expressionist movement, notably Murnau and Lang, and those influences are on display in The Lodger, most famously during a scene where instead of just filming the lodger pacing back and forth in his room, Hitchcock focuses on a chandelier hanging from the ceiling and the ceiling then becomes transparent, giving the effect of the lodger walking on air. The now iconic scene where we’re first introduced to the lodger is brilliantly staged, the shot of the lodger standing in the doorway surrounded by the fog than the close up of Novello’s scarf covered face makes and immediate and lasting impression. A classic Hitchcock moment. There are very little title cards used in this movie, Hitchcock preferring to let the majority of the story rely on the mood created by the setting, lighting and the body language of the actors (this is a silent film, so yeah, there’s instances of overacting). Lead Ivor Novello has an undeniable presence about him. He has the look of a total movie star, true, but there is an air of mystery about him that radiates whenever Hitch focuses the camera on him. Right from the instant we first meet his character it’s obvious there’s something off about him, and his mannerisms throughout the film, often very creepy, only make him more compelling, especially during the aforementioned scenes with Daisy. By far one of Hitch’s best leading men. The Lodger is also notable for the introduction of another device Hitchcock would make prominent, future use of, staircases, and any Hitchcock fanatic will tell you all about the ominous connotations associated with them in his films. In fact, compare the constant shots of the staircase leading up the lodgers room to those of the staircase in Norman Bates’ house, and the shots that lead down to the infamous fruit cellar in Psycho and you’ll see striking similarities.

The Lodger, like a good number of Hitchcock’s early British films is in the public domain and there are a few different DVD’s of it floating around out there, on it’s own and included in a lot of those multi-film sets of early Hitchcock films you may or may not have seen around. All with varying print qualities of course. I can’t say which one has the best transfer, but I’m going to assume it’s the one pictured above as part of the “Premier  Collection” MGM put out a few years back, but alas it’s yet another case of an out of print DVD going for idiotic prices. I just used the cover because I liked it better than some of the others I saw (I‘m pretty anal when it comes to stuff like that). My copy came from one of the sets and it looks just fine. The film is also available to watch in full on YouTube.  But anyway, no matter how you go about watching it, the important thing is that you do watch it. If you watch The Lodger after seeing a good majority of Hitchcock’s later films, it might come off as rather standard, thematically speaking, but this is where it all began, and it’s a testament to the mans incredible talent and the level of filmmaking he reached so early in his career, and a sign of the many great things that would come from the man. If you fancy yourself a Hitchcock fan and have yet to see The Lodger, you might want to get on that sooner than later. It stands not only as one of the mans best and earliest masterpieces, but one of the best (and best looking) films to come out of the silent era.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, just ran into your blog and wanted to leave a comment - I thought this was a pretty good film when a saw it about a year back. Especially since I've already seen another movie with virtually the same plot, Man in the Attic (1953), which, if you've not seen, I'd recommend checking out. It's a shame that many of the horror fans I know don't care for the 1920's classics - there are some real treasures buried in that decade, such as The Last Warning (1929) and Maciste all’inferno (1925). Hope this finds you well.