Skip to main content

I’m keen on golden hair myself, same as the Avenger is.

The Lodger
aka The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog
(1927)

(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s third feature, and the one you’ll hear about as being vital to informing his future style and sensibility. Unsurprisingly, then, it involves suspense and grisly murder. The Lodger finds a Ripper-type killer on the loose – whom we never see – and takes as its main thrust the “Is he or isn’t he?” of the mysterious new tenant in the Bunting house. Since he’s played by Ivor Novello, obviously, he isn’t (at least, that was Hitch’s audience-savvy reasoning), but the scenario allows the director some playfulness along the way to the character’s eventual exoneration.

While there’s a tendency for the silent Hitchcocks to rather “amble” along in narrative, in part due to their predominately melodramatic content, The Lodger has some guts to it. Meaning that, in its own embryonic way, it’s the director’s first suspense picture. Hitch himself referred to it as “the first true ‘Hitchcock movie’”. Based on a novel of the same title by Marie Belloc Lowndes, itself based on the Jack the Ripper murders, Lowndes establishes that Novello’s character (Jonathan Drew) is the killer. In the film version, however, he’s just shady and temperamental and has a thing for blondes (like Avenger himself, the actual killer, who leaves a calling card with that name at the scene of the crime; the first Avenger, if you will).

Hitch didn’t outright say that he wanted the film to follow suit, but he liked the idea of the ambiguity. As it is, it’s easier to look at The Lodger as a precursor of Psycho and Frenzy, but one that, like Suspicion, chickens out when it comes to the crunch.

Hitchcock and Truffaut discussed the stylistic influences on The Lodger at some length (Hitch was particularly influenced by German expressionist cinema at this point). In particular, the signature sequence of the pacing Novello achieved with a glass ceiling and a swaying chandelier. I was more taken by the lodger’s arrival at the door, freaking out Mrs Bunting (Marie Ault), and the later scene in which Ivor is playing chess with their daughter Daisy (June Tripp), a blonde fashion model, and he reaches for the poker. Is he about to clobber her? No, just stoke the fire.

Hitch also has fun with the propensity of the public and press to exaggerate and spin the dangers posed, such as a japester doing an impression while a witness is giving her account of the man’s features (“Tall he was – and his face all wrapped up”). Later, in her dressing room, another girl performs a fake frenzied knife attack. Thick policeman Joe (Malcolm Keen, quite amusing), who is besotted with Daisy and most affronted by Drew’s interest, tells her “I’m keen on golden hair myself” and boasts how he will catch the murderer with “a brand-new pair of handcuffs”).

Everyone has it in for poor Ivor, who is actually on the trail of the killer in revenge for his murdered sister (it was his mother’s dying wish; no, really), thus making this the first of the director’s pursued innocents who must clear their name and solve the crime. Although, in this case, the crime is solved for him, and it’s only left for Joe, a decent sort after all, to save him from the angry mob.

The Lodger features the first cameo by the director (“Extra in Newspaper Office”). The notes accompanying the Network release suggest an incestuous subtext between Drew and his sister, but there isn’t really anything to substantiate this other than wishfully connecting it to Shadow of a Doubt (where the incestuous subtext is also fairly wishful).

That restoration is very nice, with appropriate tinting, and an effective Nitin Sawney score (less effective are several sung pieces). Legend tells how The Lodger became a big success in spite of attempts to quash it by Gainsborough’s jealous star director, but Michael Balcon arranged for it to be shown to the press; it took off, as did Hitch’s career (curiously, Wikipedia has a different account to Neil Sinyard’s, whereby it is Balcon who tried to shelve the picture).



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything about you.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s two-decades-later remake of his British original. It’s undoubtedly the better-known version, but as I noted in my review of the 1934 film, it is very far from the “ far superior ” production Truffaut tried to sell the director on during their interviews. Hitchcock would only be drawn – in typically quotable style – that “ the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional ”. For which, read a young, creatively fired director versus one clinically going through the motions, occasionally inspired by a shot or sequence but mostly lacking the will or drive that made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much such a pleasure from beginning to end.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).