Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, The

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/18/13 23:02:41

"Hitchcock loved blondes and serial killers from the very start."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Alfred Hitchcock had an astonishingly long career, stretching from the silents to the seventies, and his penchant for crime and suspense certainly developed early: :The Lodger" first hit British screens in 1927, and already he was having blondes and serial killers cross paths. Practice would later make perfect, but this at least shows that he had natural talent.

The killer stalking London is keeping a regular schedule, murdering a new golden-haired girl every Tuesday, which at least lets young women like Daisy Bunting (June) know when they should be extra careful when walking home from a job modeling clothing at a fashion boutique. And while she flirts shamelessly with Joe Chandler (Malcolm Keen), the cop who lives in the next house, her family has just taken in a handsome lodger (Ivor Novello) - who immediately starts taking the paintings of fair-haired girls hanging in his room down, as he can't bear to look at them.

Daisy's parents (Marie Ault & Arthur Chesney) don't catch on quite as fast as the audience, but this is not the only way that the new resident is acting quite ridiculously suspicious. It's not quite the sort of pitch-black comedy that Hitchcock would later become known for, but there's certainly a theatricality to it, with Novello gesticulating and contorting his face with mad emotion throughout, while the filmmakers do everything but hang a neon sign over him saying "Suspect Me!" from his very first appearance. Novello gives exactly the performance he's asked for, piling on the sexy charm and obvious danger in large, equal helpings.

Fortunately, he's not the only appealing part of the cast. Malcolm Keen is Novello's exact opposite as Joe - kind of funny-looking, and likely to be described as a terrible flirt not so much because he's incorrigible but because he's really awful at it, giving a mistakenly satisfied grin after something cringe-worthy shows up on the intertitles. Keen doesn't just work as a comic relief doofus, though; he's able to give Joe a nice spurned-nerd edge as he grows a little more sinister in his obsession as the film goes along. Both he and Novello are lucky to have June to play off; she makes Daisy playful but not childish or stupid; she never feels passive even when it's the men who are driving the movie. She's good enough that I'm kind of surprised to see that she appeared in less than a handful of movies per IMDB; she's good enough to have done more (of course, she may have had a lucrative theater/music hall career, or been in projects that were subsequently lost, or credited with a last name that nobody has thought to connect to this actress).

Hitchcock puts the cast through their paces quite nicely, working from a "scenario" by Eliot Stannard and a novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes that would eventually have other adaptations. It's not a particularly great script - the surprises toward the end are all well and good, but the playing them out goes on a bit long, kind of leaving certain elements afterthoughts. The style is fairly impressive, though: Hitchcock was not long returned from Germany, and certain recurring elements like a recurrent neon sign that seems both threatening and accusing show that as an influence. His morbid sense of humor is already in evidence with the blonde dance-hall girl who makes sure she has dark hair extensions peeking out from under her cap.

So while "The Lodger" is early Hitchcock, it certainly shows a man who was already on the track to becoming the celebrated Master of Suspense. Even better, the new prints produced as part of the BFI's "Hitchcock Nine" project (restoring the nine still-existing silent films Hitchcock directed) looks great. Hopefully a Blu-ray box set is on the horizon; in the meantime, this one is definitely worth checking out if the series shows up in one's neck of the woods.

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