Criterion’s 2K Bluray of Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Lodger popped on 6.27. This 1927 silent is regarded as the first Hitchcock film that showed stirrings of what would become his signature themes and obsessions (a wrongly accused main character, a serial killer hunt in the Frenzy mode, creepy erotic undercurrents under a tidy facade). I saw it two years ago in Prague, and feel obliged to warn anyone thinking of buying the Criterion version that The Lodger simply isn’t that good. Here’s what I wrote:
The Lodger is a vaguely kinky, London-based parlor drama about the terror caused by a Jack The Ripper-type killer, called “The Avenger,” who mysteriously murders attractive blondes on Tuesday evenings. (We’re not told if he’s a stabber or a strangler — maybe he just eyeballs his victims and they drop dead on the spot?) Suspicions quickly surface that a recent arrival at a London boarding house — a tall, good-looking but oddly behaving fellow (Ivor Novello) — may be the killer. Hitch encourages you to weigh this possibility for a good 75% of the film until revealing that Novello is just a queer duck who’s looking to find the man who killed his sister.
Novello’s innocence is first hinted at when Daisy (June Tripp), the daughter of the boarding-house owners as well as a model, begins to feel affection and attraction for him, which understandably infuriates her much-older detective boyfriend (played by Malcolm Keen, who was nudging 40 during filming but looked closer to 45 if not 50) and adds to…well, the uncertainty factor, I suppose.
The Lodger was the first Hitchcock film about an innocent man wrongly accused of a crime. It was also Hitch’s first commercial success (it pretty much launched his career) and was also the first film in which he performed a walk-on. (He’s seen from the rear during a scene in which the presses of a major newspaper are printing news of The Avenger’s latest killing.) But this is a rather stiff and primitive exercise — more “interesting” than good.
Portions are nicely framed and focused, and yes, Hitchcock manages to implant a notion that for certain wackos there’s a kind of erotic charge that accompanies the murder of pretty girls. But he was only 27 during filming with only two or three previous films under his belt, and he just didn’t have enough knowledge or polish at this stage in his life. Not enough, certainly, to satisfy a guy like me watching The Lodger 88 years hence.