May 30, 2020

Alfred Hitchcock’s silent masterpiece: The Lodger

The Lodger is a Hitchcock film from 1926 starring Ivor Novello, based on a novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes. This book by the sister of the poet Hilaire Belloc was based on the Jack the Ripper murders. Though the killer in the film signs his work ‘The Avenger’ the character is clearly based on the serial killer who had terrorised London in 1888. It is an early work from Hitchcock but already has the themes that he will explore throughout his career. Blonde girls killed. A man pursued. Is he innocent? This is a new restoration from the bfi with music by Nitin Sawhney which is mostly instrumental but occasionally leaps unexpectedly into song.

One of the first British thrillers, this film still retains its power, although there are moments which now provoke laughter rather than suspense. An angry mob provides an early Hitchcock chase scene, but its attempt to grab Novello is oddly ineffectual. There are signs of a director at work with real interest in the medium of film – double exposures, shooting through glass to show Novello pacing around in the room upstairs. The Lodger is an expressionist dream of swirling mist, dark shadows and acute angles, though it also has sections of sepia and coloured tinting. The titles are delightfully simplistic but work well, giving glimpses of ‘The Avenger,’ the serial killer who is on the loose in London. Of course Hitchcock has little interest in the actual identity of the killer. It is the effect of accusation and suspicion that intrigues him.

This is the first of Hitchcock’s films where he makes a cameo appearance – in the news room at the start of the film. It is said that he didn’t have enough extras for the scene and so appeared himself – setting a precedent that he followed in most of his later films. The novel ends more ambiguously than the film – the producers being too worried to allow a star such as Novello to have even the suspicion of murder connected to his character by the end of the film.

Atmospherically depicting fog-bound London this is a glimpse of life in the Twenties behind the facade of flappers and Gatsby-esque parties.  The Lodger shows the silent film era at its best. The story is clearly told through clever cutting, closeups and angles and doesn’t rely on too many inter-titles. After viewing The Lodger it seems especially strange that only The Artist has attempted anything similar in decades.

Restoring this film was a great success. Congratulations to the bfi.

Get The Lodger with new 2012 Soundtrack here

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