The Lodger May 21, 2020
1 Hr., 30 Mins.
lfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger, a silent movie from 1927, is feature-length foreshadowing — a hint at masterpieces to come. It’s a minor product from the then-28-year-old filmmaker, to be sure. But it's novel, and finally an essential viewing, because it offers ideas and themes to later be more deeply explored at their most fetal. Today, the thriller is often billed the movie through which Hitchcock came into his
own. One can see why: at times it feels like something of a blueprint.
The Lodger distorts the now quasi-folkloric spree of Jack the Ripper, the long-unidentified London serial killer who brutally murdered sex workers between 1888 and 1891. It similarly concerns itself with an anonymous London villain's forays, but the movie is ultimately meant to be a “based on” sort of thing rather than an ostensible reproduction of real events. There are other divergences. The film is set in the late 1920s; victims are not sex workers but rather comely blondes in their 20s, typically models. The killer calls himself “The Avenger"; he only strikes on Tuesdays. Avenging what, and why Tuesdays? We never find out, just as we never find out the identity of the killer based on a killer who was also never identified.
The Lodger immerses us in the world of Daisy (June Tripp), a blonde model — dangerous characteristics to possess in a movie like this, in no doubt. She is casually dating a policeman, Joe (Malcolm Keen); her parents, whom she still lives with, Mr. and Mrs. Bunting (Arthur Chesney and Marie Ault), own a townhouse downtown. One of its rooms is available to rent.
Daisy is worried that she might become another victim, given her looks. Her concern amps when her parents decide to rent to an unnamed young man (Ivor Novello) who matches most of the characteristics the murderer is said to have in the newspapers. If it isn’t enough that the lodger tends to cover his mouth with a scarf, adding to his sinister aura, portraits featuring blonde women in his new bedroom are immediately turned around to face the wall. They bother him too much. The fun of The Lodger is rooted in the irrepressible suspicion that the new serial killer in town is living upstairs — something especially suggested when the tenant conspicuously goes out one night and the next day’s papers declare that another blonde's been slain. That suspicion, of course, is undermined by another suspicion: since most Hitchcock features don’t offer that same sort of seamless conclusion, why would we get one here?
The final twist is predictably pretty good; one gets so used to the idea that maybe the lodger really is the bad guy after all that the minimal creativity of it catches us off guard. And there are some savvy visual tricks to remember: the way the floor becomes transparent to viewers as the lodger in one scene loudly and nervously paces around his room upstairs (we get the point of view of people sitting in the living room); the recurring, yellow-light-in-The Great Gatsby-esque visual motif of a blinking ad for a show that reads, “To-Night Golden Curls.”
Some of the more quickly recognizable, Hitchcockian things seen in The Lodger — the murderer at large, the eventual appearance of a “wrong man” stock type, the presence of blondes as victims doubling as art objects for the director, a blonde fetishist — would of course be more unforgettably recapitulated in movies like Shadow of a Doubt (1943), The Wrong Man (1956), and Psycho
(1960). (Those are just a few examples.) What’s thrilling, then, about The Lodger arguably has less to do with what it literally gives us and more so the way it provides us with a taste of what Hitchcock would do later on in the scope of a medium — in this case the silent movie — that depicts the director’s favored tricks at their most minimalist. The Lodger also makes us glad for the advent of sound. B