Alfred Hitchcock's THE LODGER is a gripping silent film about a mysterious boarder who may or may not be Jack the Ripper. Although it was Hitchcock's third film, he considered it to be the "first true Hitchcock" movie (it was also the first of his films in which he appeared), as it
contains many of the visual and thematic elements that would reappear in his work for the next 50 years.
A string of murders is occurring in London in which women with blonde hair are killed every Tuesday and the murderer leaves a note signed "The Avenger." The Scotland Yard investigator on the case is Joe Betts (Malcolm Keene), whose blonde girlfriend Daisy Bunting (June) lives with her parents, who
have recently taken in a mysterious lodger named Jonathan Drew (Ivor Novello). Daisy's mother (Marie Ault) becomes suspicious of Jonathan when he sneaks out late one night and another murder occurs in their neighborhood. Jonathan begins to fall for Daisy and buys her an expensive dress, but her
father (Arthur Chesney) returns it, and Joe warns Jonathan to stay away from Daisy. Nevertheless, Daisy likes Jonathan and goes out with him after having a fight with Joe.
The next day, Joe comes to Jonathan's room with a search warrant and finds a hidden black bag containing a map that shows where all the murders have occurred. Jonathan tries to explain that his sister was one of the Avenger's victims and that he has been secretly tracking him down, but Joe doesn't
believe it and arrests him. Jonathan escapes and is chased by an angry lynch mob, but Joe gets a call telling him that the real Avenger has just been caught red-handed, and Joe rescues Jonathan from the mob.
Despite its age, THE LODGER is still surprisingly suspenseful and entertaining, thanks to Hitchcock's burgeoning mastery of film grammar and audience manipulation. It was the first film where he presented ideas in purely visual terms, keeping dialogue to a minimum (even the intertitles are
stylishly designed, using variations of the triangle that the Avenger draws on his notes.) The opening sequence is quintessential Hitchcock in the economical way it presents narrative information in a visual way. The first shot is a striking close-up of a girl screaming, which was photographed by
placing the girl's head on a sheet of glass, spreading her blonde hair around until it filled the frame, and lighting it from behind to show her hair color. Then there's a cut to an electric sign advertising a musical play, To-Night, Golden Curls, with the words reflected in the water; then
another cut to a shot of the drowned girl being pulled out of the water, and the police finding the note from the Avenger. This is followed by a marvelous montage as the news of the murder spreads via newspaper, radio, teletype, and an electronic billboard news-ticker.
Every scene is filled with stylish visuals and imaginative touches: the arrival of the lodger, shrouded in fog as he stands in the doorway; a chandelier swaying back and forth to indicate that the lodger is pacing in his room (followed by a through-the-ceiling glass shot of his feet walking); two
men riding in a van whose heads are seen through the rear oval windows, making the impression of a face with two eyeballs moving; and the camera moving into extreme close-ups of Daisy and the lodger kissing until their milky white faces fill the entire frame. The improbable ending, in which the
lodger turns out to be innocent after being meticulously set up as the prime suspect, was forced on Hitchcock due to Ivor Novello's matinee-idol star-status (a la Cary Grant in SUSPICION), but it's still effective, and the climax is the first of many instances in which a Hitchcock character would
be handcuffed, which the director later admitted to Francois Truffaut was "somewhere in the area of fetishism." (Violence.)
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- Review: Alfred Hitchcock's THE LODGER is a gripping silent film about a mysterious boarder who may or may not be Jack the Ripper. Although it was Hitchcock's third film, he considered it to be the "first true Hitchcock" movie (it was also the first of his films in… (more)