The Lodger: A story of the London Fog
First, a word about prints. We got a 4-disc set with 20 of the earlier Hitchcock films on them. I wondered what the quality would be like, as these were certainly public domain prints, but they turned out to be perfectly watchable … except for this one. After five minutes I knew I couldn’t go any longer. So I hunted up a copy at the library, and struck gold. This one was mastered from the best available copy, at the National Film and Television Archive. It is clear as can be, and as a bonus it is tinted, as these films often were, with deep blue for outdoor night scenes and sepia for interiors. There are a few scenes at the end in a light pink color! I don’t know if the soundtrack is original, but it’s good, the music always being appropriate to the action, and even includes sound effects.
This is the first true “Hitchcockian” film. Though his name is on a few earlier pieces, they show nothing of his genius for suspense. Hitchcock had obviously been studying the German Impressionists, Murnau and Lang, with their trademark jagged angles and stark shadows. The look of the film is fabulous, the story and acting a bit less so. There are the usual wildly emotive scenes traditional with silent film acting. When “The Lodger,” (never named and played by Ivor Novello,) shows up on the doorstep he might as well have SERIAL KILLER tattooed on his forehead. He moves in slow motion, taking forever to remove the scarf that we already know is the trademark of the Avenger, who is Jack-the-Rippering around London killing young fair-haired women. I’d as soon have invited Count Dracula into my home, baring his fangs and laughing menacingly. And guess what! The lovely young daughter of the house is a blonde! First thing the Lodger does when he gets into his room is turn all the pictures to face the wall. They are all portraits of blondes! A cop is courting the girl, and a rivalry develops, but it takes a long, long time for this stupid peeler to make any connections.
SPOILER WARNING: Is he, or isn’t he? Little Daisy is very taken with him, and he seems to warm up to her, behaving in a more recognizably human manner. Hitchcock wanted to leave it ambiguous at the end, but the studio was just not going to let a big star like Ivor be a crazy murderer, so it’s all sorted out with at least a cursory explanation as to why he’s been behaving so buggy. Turns out the Avenger’s first victim was his beloved sister, and he promised their dear mother on her deathbed that he would never rest until the killer was brought to justice. Not a dry hankie in the house.
It’s a rather silly story, but the joy is all in the filming. Hitch loved telling stories silently, and getting information across in an interesting way. The Lodger upstairs is pacing back and forth, disturbing the people below. How to indicate that in a silent film? He has the chandelier sway gently, and then the ceiling dissolves and we see him from below, pacing on a sheet of glass. Lovely!