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The Lodger

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Jun 27, 2017
The Lodger

Alfred Hitchcock's 1927 silent film "The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog" was the great director's third feature, but Hitchcock came to regard it as the debut of his own distinctive style -- and modern film scholars agree.

With the Criterion Collection's Blu-ray release of the title -- which comes complete with a host of extras, including another 1927 silent from Hitchcock, "Downhill" -- those of us without ready access to special archives now have a chance to judge for ourselves. The commentators in interviews and a video essay prepared for this release make a compelling case.

Take this excerpt from the liner notes essay by Hitchcock scholar Philip Kemp:

"Not only is it a suspense thriller, but it foreshadows, in a good many o fit plot details, themes and preoccupations that are now recognized as key elements of Hitchcock's cinematic world."

In this assessment, Kemp is joined by film scholar William Rothman -- who provides an interview on just this subject in the extras -- and art historian Steven Jacobs, who hosts a video essay that takes on the same idea from a different angle. The camera techniques, use of space, narrative elements, and visual motifs Hitchcock explores here become ingredients for his signature style.

The film is based on Marie Belloc Lowndes' 1913 novel "The Lodger," which takes its inspiration from the murderous rampage Jack the Ripper carried out in London in 1888, a string of killings targeting women that may have gone on as long as 1891.

The story follows a young fashion model named Daisy (June Tripp). She's beautiful and blonde in a time when women of her particular look are in danger, thanks to the depredations of a serial killer known as The Avenger. The killer strikes every Tuesday; on the eve of his latest murder Daisy's parents (Marie Ault and Arthur Chesney) take on a new lodger (Ivor Novello), who shows up at the door looking exactly like a description of the fiend as provided by a witness.

Daisy is all but affianced to a police detective, Joe (Malcolm Keen), but she's lukewarm at best about the prospect of marrying him; in a scene that's both charming and revealing, Joe flirts with Daisy by offering her a heart-shaped bit of cookie dough. When she tosses the dough back at him, he responds by tearing the heart in two. His jealousy is stoked when Daisy and the lodger seem to hit it off at their very first meeting, and as their infatuation grows so does Joe's fury. But the lodger's skulking manner and suspicious activities provoke suspicions shared by everyone except the enamored Daisy: Could the lodger indeed be the killer? What secret is he hiding in his back valise, which he keeps locked away? If he is the killer, his fascination with Daisy is most likely not down to love or affection; she could be in real danger!

It's a pulpy story, but then so are many of Hitchcock's finest works. The magic happens with his flair for suspense, a talent for twists -- exceptionally handy in this case, given that the studio didn't want the film to follow the course of the book -- and an eye for subliminally effective detail. Another distinctive touch: Hitchcock uses every minute of this 90-minute feature to good effect; already one senses the directorial strength of vision that made him such a precise, economical filmmaker.

The equally long "Downhill" (originally titled "When Boys Leave Home") is provided here as a contrast, one supposes, since it's not s suspense thriller but rather a drama, and a heavy-handed morality play at that. Novello stars once more, this time as Roddy Berwick, the young scion of a wealthy family who seems to have the world at his fingertips until his best friend, who hails from a much less wealthy family, impregnates a shop girl -- and the girl, her eye fixed on money, wrongly identifies Roddy as the father. Expelled from school and estranged from his enraged father, Roddy strikes out on his own. With the help of a £30,000 inheritance, he seems to be making a go of a new life, until he becomes the victim of another gold digger. Finally reduced to a life in France as a rent boy for high-class women (including one who seems to be a man in a gown; ah, yes, that cheeky Hitchcock!), Roddy endures desperate poverty and illness rather than tell the true story and rat out his friend. Who knows what to make of all this? Women are treacherous, but male bonding also has its hazards. If nothing else -- as is pointed out in the extras -- "Downhill" follows (or perhaps establishes) the great director's fondness for "wrong man" stories in which the virtuous pay the price for others' misdeeds.

Presented in lovely 2K restorations that show off period tinting and inventive techniques (even the title cards in "The Lodger" are striking), both films are scored with new music by Neil Brand. "The Lodger" gets deluxe treatment, with its orchestral score (performed by Orchestra of Saint Paul's, no less), Brand provides a piano score for "Downhill." Brand appears in his own featurette, to talk about the musical motifs he adapted when scoring the movies.

Other interviews are also included -- or, at least, sections taken from longer interviews that took place between Hitchcock and François Truffaut (in 1962) and Hitchcock and Peter Bogdanovich (two excerpts here, one from 1963 and one from 1972). These chats are audio-only and have a raw, "unplugged" quality, though listening to the translator render the conversation from English to French and back again gets tedious.

Another audio-only extra is the Hitchcock-directed radio play version of The Lodger," a dialogue-driven adaptation of the original novel that was originally presented on the CBS Radio series "Suspense!" in 1940.

This sort of comprehensive, scholarly treatment is Criterion's stock in trade, and Hitchcock fanatics -- for whom this release is essential -- will devour it.


"The Lodger"
Blu-ray
$31.96
https://www.criterion.com/films/28001-the-lodger-a-story-of-the-london-fog

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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