A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (Alfred Hitchcock, 1927)

Marie Ault and Ivor Novello in The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog
The Lodger: Ivor Novello
Daisy: June Tripp
Mrs. Bunting: Marie Ault
Mr. Bunting: Arthur Chesney
Joe: Malcolm Keen

Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Eliot Stannard
Based on a novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes
Title writing: Ivor Montagu
Cinematography: Gaetano di Ventimiglia, Hal Young
Art direction: C. Wilfred Arnold, Bertram Evans
Title design: E. McKnight Kauffer
Film editing: Ivor Montagu

As Alfred Hitchcock's first major film, The Lodger has been strip-mined for anticipations of the themes and techniques that would recur throughout his career, from the fixation on blondes to the fear of cops, from Russian-inspired montage to German expressionistic lighting and camera angles. They're all there, of course, as is the "wrong man" motif that Hitchcock frequently exploited. It's often told that the film was almost shelved by the studio until producer Michael Balcon called in Ivor Montagu, film critic for the Observer, to critique it. The extent of Montagu's contributions will never really be known, although he has been credited with sharply reducing the number of title cards, and for suggesting that designer E. McKnight Kauffer be hired to give the ones that remained a distinct style. In any case, The Lodger is a film that really feels "Hitchcockian," especially when you compare it to Downhill, the melodrama Hitchcock made the same year, which also starred Ivor Novello. The difference is not just that The Lodger is a suspense movie and Downhill isn't, but that The Lodger has a rhythm to it that Downhill, with its rather sprawling account of the fortunes of its protagonist, lacks. You can sense Hitchcock developing a narrative pace here, especially in the central section in which the landlady begins to suspect that the lodger might actually be the serial killer and snoops in his room while he's out -- at the same time that the blonde-murdering Avenger claims another victim. Hitchcock would refine the rhythm over the years until it reaches its brilliant peak in the similar scene in Rear Window (1954) in which Lisa decides to snoop in Lars Thorwald's apartment. We probably don't have as much problem as contemporary audiences did with the idea that matinee-idol Novello could actually turn out to be the villain, although we can understand it if we remember that Hitchcock faced the same problem in 1941 with Cary Grant's casting as a potential murderer in Suspicion. In The Lodger, Hitchcock gave in and abandoned his original plan to leave the conclusion ambiguous, though he lays it on a bit too thick in the opposite direction by posing Novello cradled in June Tripp's arms like Christ in a Pietà. The Lodger has been beautifully restored, so that it remains a wonderful film to look at, with its elegantly designed title cards and its atmospherically tinted frames.

Watched on Filmstruck Criterion Channel

No comments: