Lodger, The (1927)

The Lodger (1927), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.

"A Story of the London Fog". It was his third film, but according to the director, the first true "Hitchcock" picture.

A Ripper-like killer has murdered seven blond women and the city is tense. A family with a room to rent gets a new lodger who is creepy and suspicious in every word, look, and gesture. Ivor Novello, a superstar of that era, is goth-like in his vampyric lassitude and yearning. The daughter of the house, a blond fashion model, thinks him very interesting. Her parents and boyfriend, a dopey police detective, begin to think this is an exceptionally bad idea.

It's the sort of thriller targeted toward women who want to be bitten by the darkly dreamy vampire. The lodger is both dangerous and seductive. Compare him with the detective who really likes using handcuffs. The lodger doesn't need paraphernalia, he manages with innate sexual magnetism. It's a bit of a let down when we find he's innocent, but then he needs mothering so that's ok.

We already have the director's double chase theme: the police pursue an innocent man who is chasing the real murderer. Big romantic finish! In a plot switch it turns out the killer is a red herring (or "mcguffin", we might say) and the climax is about trying to save the lodger from a crazed mob. In later decades the innocent man would have to find the real killer, but here we never even see him.

Some of the camera work is nicely dynamic: riding in a car, scanning the crowds, showing a city in fear. The home life and courting scenes are more static, but the emotions of dread and sexual desire are remarkably well presented. The emotions become more intense when the lodger tells his story just before being arrested. We also have some less pleasant aspects of human nature on display: the eagerness of crowds to see the bodies, the blood lust of the mob.

The acting of this period is stylized, but I note the different characters do it to a different degree. Novello is so exaggerated that he seems to be miming, but the landlady is almost natural by modern standards. They also wear different amounts of heavy face paint, with the young leads being particularly stark. Again, it is the style of the period, but can be distracting.

I read about half of the novel once. It's pretty slow going. Novello made a sound version of the story a few years later, and director John Brahm did his own version with The Lodger (1944).

Available on Blu-ray from Criterion. Does this have more footage than I've seen before? I don't like the new score: it's too busy, too light.

Several good extras, including a whole second Hitchcock silent film: Downhill (1927), which I've never seen. It was not included in my old economy-pack DVD collections.

(This is an earlier review revised for the Criterion Blu-ray, issued 90 years after the film).