The first true Hitchcock film. The innocent man chased by cop and citizen. The famous see-through glass floor. The first Hitchcock serial killer film. The staircase. The first Hitchcock cameo. The blondes. The 'cuffs.
These are the words, labels, and motifs that define The Lodger, A Story of the London Fog, Hitchcock's third feature film as a director, released September, 1926. It all starts here, the obsessions, the consistent imagery, the losing battles with standards and practices, but overall, it's where begins the professionalism.
At one end of the scale Hitchcock was virtually unknown to the public; at the other end he had cultivated critical attention, knew how to exploit publicists and publicity, was known at a prominent film club that specialized in otherwise unviewable films from the continent, and had done titles for 12 films, and then art directed, scripted, and / or assistant directed a subsequent five films, while also producing another one, with two abortive or lost directorial efforts along the way.
Much has been made of The Lodger's production history. In summary The Lodger is the third film that Hitchcock directed but the first to be seen by the public due to studio politics. It was also his first film shot in England after two in Germany, under a special arrangement between Hitchcock's British company and a German studio. The Lodger at first dismayed Gainsborough's studio chief, C. M. Woolf, supposedly finding it too arty. Producer Michael Balcon summoned Ivor Montagu, a Cambridge educated film editor, to consult on the film. Though impressed overall with The Lodger, Montagu reduced the intertitles from 400 to 80, had Hitchcock reshoot segments of the climactic chase scene (no one seems to know which shots are new or what was deleted), and contracted an American artist living in London, one E. McKnight Kauffer, to design new title art, with text in the German Expressionism inspired Newland typeface.
Based on a bestselling novel by Mrs. Marie Belloc-Lowndes, which was itself based loosely on a apocryphal tale connected to the Jack the Ripper spree, the book was quickly adapted to the stage, in a play called Who Is He?, that theatromane Hitchcock indicates he attended. Like the film, the play also changes the novel so that the lodger clearly is not the killer. The script is by Hitchcock's then constant collaborator Eliot Stannard, who wrote Hitchcock's previous two scripts, and Hitchcock's wife, Alma Reville probably also contributed.
The Lodger is immediately different from its only viewable predecessor, The Pleasure Garden. The pace is swift, and there is a sense of city life and its varied street characters. It presents several strata of society interacting, police, reporters, vendors, the lower class, the rich, and the criminal, tightly packed into an urban milieu that is both hostile and fascinating. The opening city bustle is worthy of King Vidor or Billy Wilder. Indeed, it is almost Futurist in its admiration for technology and the modern, while simultaneously offering a moral critique of the confused state of a city person's mind, fearing yet relishing threat and murder at the same time. Maurice Yacowar insists that Hitchcock's technique relies mostly on closeups creating a more intimate portrait than the conventional Pleasure Garden, while William Rothman indicates that the camera looks at the action from afar. Both appear to be true. All these elements – vibrant city life, the blondes, the bondage instruments – seemed to come out of nowhere. One continuity between this film and The Pleasure Garden is the periodic reliance on music hall comedy. But clearly Hitchcock's skill and his ability to get the best out of his collaborators had increased.
The film, as Charles Barr has laid it out, takes place on five days over the course of three weeks, the narrative presented with an efficiency and clarity in a style pioneered by American movies, one of the three influences on Hitchcock, the other two being German Expressionism and Soviet montage. As The Lodger begins (with a memorable close up of a woman screaming, but silent, unlike future scream openings in The 39 Steps and To Catch a Thief), it is a Tuesday and The Avenger, a Ripper-style serial killer who specializes in blondes and always attacks on the third day of the week, has just struck his 7th victim. The film begins with a sense of societal process and mechanics, from a witness describing what she saw to a cop writing it down and a reporter eavesdropping before then calling it in, of the people of the street with their faces and comic mugging and spreading the news, to the presses rolling and newsboys shouting out the headlines. At the end of the film a pub becomes a vortex of suspicion; as Roger Ebert wrote in his review of The Werewolf, "at the obligatory local pub, the conversations of the locals center on a strange beast marauding in the district. In the 19th century, a pub served as the evening news." Like the telephone lines in Bells Are Ringing and Sunday Bloody Sunday, the printing press is shown in its laborious action, and the van carrying its papers away offers the film's other famous visual gag, the heads of the carriers seen though the back windows of the truck like irises. But this is more than a visually literal sight gag, it also plays into the film's consistent theme of looking, observing, watching, and even worse, misapprehending. This silent film begging for sound also features a montage of people listening to a radio broadcast, looking shocked, moronic, or aroused (one of the listeners is Alma Reville). Durgnat is very good on the transition from the crowd of frightened citizens in the opening to the microcosmic Bunting family that replicates fear and suspicion on a minor scale, before the lynch mob sequence at the end.
Another continuity with Pleasure Garden is the next sequence, which takes place backstage at a variety show where chorus girls are getting off stage and preparing to leave for the night and where they have conversations about the Avenger case (this is a particularly well shot sequence). One of them, a blonde, is particularly worried, but her fear is defused by a joke; later (if I read the film correctly), this chorine is a victim of the Avenger.
Finally the film transitions to the Bunting household, through the agency of Mr. Bunting (Arthur Chesney), a waiter, whose house in Bloomsbury also has rooms to let, supervised by his wife (Marie Ault). As Bunting enters his kitchen with the latest edition of the newspaper, we also meet Joe (Malcolm Keen, who had appeared The Mountain Eagle), a hapless cop who is courting the Buntings' daughter, Daisy (June Howard Tripp). Bunting's newspaper charges that the police are incompetent, possibly evident from Joe's hanging around the kitchen waiting for Daisy. When Daisy, who is a model in a dress shop, arrives, and with Mrs. Bunting looking on benevolently, the young couple do some play with a pair of dough hearts that indicate Daisy's standoffishness from Joe.
There is some music hall comedy about the metered lights dimming and some slapstick and at this juncture, the viewer is finally introduced to the title character (the other title character, the fog, was introduced in the first scene). In a manner introduced here and copied decades later in many slasher films, he is shown basically from his POV approaching the front door, number creepily enough No. 13, warning of bad luck, but also perhaps an in-joke referring to Hitchcock's unfinished debut directorial effort. Yacowar gives the lodger's name as Jonathan Drew, but it is not listed as so in the film itself or in most filmographies, though curious lip readers can see in one scene him identifying himself as "Jonathan."
Much of the lodger's first appearance has been made by scholars, cultists, and other filmmakers (Lindsay Anderson paid homage to it in his film If …). He is lit strikingly, with illuminated fog behind him, and a darkened room in front of him. His lower face is covered by a scarf, as reports in the press have described the Avenger, but his hands are long and epicene, in the manner of Murnau's Nosferatu. Unfortunately, soon Novello's acting is revealed as clearly is out of sorts with the rest of the cast, who are natural. Novello harks back to early silent acting, his expressions overdone and his posing gestures self-indulgent, his performance the biggest blemish on the film. Part of his slow unveiling is to tease the female audience who would presumably turn out in numbers to see the screen heartthrob. But his acting is so ostentatious and self-regarding that the movie is more worthy of an episode of Fractured Flickers. Later, the sexually threatened Joe makes a self-defensive joke about the new lodger, that he "isn't keen on the girls," hinting perhaps at Novello's real life homosexuality.
Worse, the movie pretends that we are in suspense about the lodger's identity. We are supposed to wonder, Is he the killer or not?, but in truth there is little doubt that he isn't due to Novello's matinee idol success, so that scenes such as his seeming to threaten Daisy with a fireplace poker, or his lurking outside the bathroom when Daisy is bathing (a truly weird and inextricable scene), or threatening her with a knife while evincing an insane grin are pointless and distracting. Eventually, we learn that the lodger has pinpointed this house because he has discerned a pattern to the Avenger killings that has eluded the police, and of course the map he keeps is later used against him (blending two Hitchcock themes at once, false accusations and maps).
In the course of the lodger's introduction into the household, we see for the first time the abode's central feature a huge staircase that rises through the center of the building. It is not the first Hitchcock but it is the most elaborate so far. Hitchcock and his collaborators use it carefully and cleverly throughout the narrative both for visual effect (the famous hand of the lodger descending the staircase floor by floor as seen from above), but as the location for most of the film's most dramatic transitions. But there is another staircase in the film, the one in the lodger's London estate, shown in the last scene. The contrast between the two staircases is a shorthand for the socioeconomic station of the two households, the Buntings' thick and functional, the lodger's curving and ornate and overdone for its purpose, a symbol of the ostentation and implied uselessness of the life and world that Daisy is about to enter at the end, her parents shunted aside as servile embarrassments.
The lodger's introduction into the household is a long sequence, the highlights of which are his discomfort at the paintings of blonde women on the walls, and the famous glass floor shot. Both are absurd. Why are there pictures of blonde women all across the walls in the first place, aside from scripting convenience? Is the lodger, like Scotty in Vertigo, haunted by a dead flame? Yes and no, in that his dead sister, whom he is avenging, was blonde (Mr. Barr is intriguing on the semi-incestuous implications of this film and what we know about The Mountain Eagle). The presence of the pictures is a clumsy and cumbersome narrative communication trick probably based on the fact that the film is silent and it conveys the similar motivations of some of the characters, one seen, the other not. The shot from below the lodger's apartment, wherein the floor turns to glass and we see him pacing, is justly famous as a visual analog to communicate an audio effect, but is also cumbersome. The shaking chandelier that the people in the room look at is enough, but the see through floor is overkill. Nevertheless, it accomplished what Hitchcock need, which was to attract the attention of critics and analysts, and the shot still does that, but its ostentation is so far above what Hitchcock later achieved with subtle camera movements and delicate dialogue.
The portraits allude of course to the Avenger's fixation on blonde victims, and to the lodger's memory of his slain sister. In the course of the narrative, however, the lodger's fixation on hair is presented more like a sexual fetish, one driving him to irrational acts. Curiously though, given Hitchcock's reputation for the icy blonde (largely inaccurate, as Michael Walker has shown), Daisy Bunting is an unusual object of this fixation. She is nice, obviously well brought up, not at all the femme fatale, though as the sorry progresses and she finds herself attracted to the lodger, she is clearly confused and torn. From the autobiographical standpoint, Hitchcock's sister had been a model (or "mannequin"), and she may have influenced the creation of Daisy, among other models. She is insouciant; note the way she swingingly walks up the stairs and down the hall. She seems to be less likely to inspire lust than good fellowship. Despite his evident love, Joe treats her like a kid sister, playfully knocking her head or shoving her, like Redgrave to Margaret Lockwood at the end of The Lady Vanishes, and playfully locking her up in his new handcuffs.
Joe's locking her up is another strange scene, perhaps understandable to contemporary audiences and thus more valuable now because we bring an awareness of sexual undercurrents that were probably less widespread in awareness at the time. The sequence began with Joe announcing, "When I put a rope around the Avenger's neck, I'll put a ring round Daisy's finger." Critics view it as an ominous and subversive association of marriage and death, even though the Buntings seem perfectly happy. But is really a linkage of crime and love? It is a multileveled scene, staged appropriately on the multiple platforms of the staircase. Why exactly does she freak out? Is it fear of the bondage, or is her dread based on an underlying fear of marriage? And is the fear of Joe's attentions based on her-developing feelings for the lodger? Joe is awkward, yet the actor indicates that Joe knows what's going on at least on some level. Meanwhile the lodger, summoned by her cries, looks down on them harshly and perceives Joe as attacking Daisy. The handcuffs seem more important as a visual design motif, the circles (noose, handcuff links) contrasted with the triangles of the Avenger's taunting notes, left on the corpses.
The lodger's angry concern is a first hint that he is interested in Daisy in a supervisory or protective way. Later he follows her to work and buys her one of the dresses she modeled, in a sense dressing her the Scotty does in Vertigo. Women are constantly being reshaped and refashioned for duty or action in Hitchcock's films, especially in Notorious and Marnie, but also even in minor works such as Torn Curtain (but the women shape men, too, for which see Spellbound). The dress scene leads to the even more odd bathtub scene, with a conveniently steamy tub that hides Daisy's body, a scene clearly meant to be suspenseful or puzzling but which now is simply absurd. Would a man of the time, especially an aristocrat as we are to learn the lodger is, really try to enter a ladies' bathroom in that manner, on such a flimsy pretext, in search of a small piece of information that could easily wait for a more propitious time?
Later they kiss, and the movie moves in closer to observe them. It is an awkward sequence but is a harbinger of future Hitchcock kissing scenes, and Hitchcock seems to have an intuitive sense of how to put the viewers consciousness inside that of his created characters. An earlier sequence, in which the lodger is looking at the pictures of the blondes on the wall, is another indication of that. The sequence cross cuts between the lodger looking and what he sees, which is replicated in many a subsequent Hitchcock film, especially in moments where the camera leads the character, and then changes places (Vera Miles advancing on the house in Psycho). The Lodger kissing scene attempts to be intimate, like the kissing scene in Notorious, but fails, due to Novello's sharp-faced mugging. As happens often in Hitchcock, the kissing is soon followed by confession, and a few moments later, and then a sequence later, the lodger is confessing to Daisy, and also the viewer, the background of his story (in flashbacks): that he is engaged in a private investigation, pledged to his dying mother, to tracking down the Avenger whose first victim, two months earlier, was his beloved sister.
The lodger is, of course, not the killer, and Hitchcock goes into detail to Truffaut in their interview about the compromises that the star system imposes on organic storytelling. Charles Barr, however, points out how the film's conclusion doesn't necessarily violate any master plan, especially given that the play ends similarly. It is the film's remakes that take a more "Hitchcockian" line (see below).
The Lodger offers Hitchcock, above all else, an opportunity to play with light. Hitchcock's films are rarely as visually striking as, say, those of Orson Welles, but are never as neutral as those of Billy Wilder. His cinematographers are artistic without being distractingly arty. Lighting effects throughout the film are striking, from the fog bound street around the snack stand at the beginning, to the lighting effects of street traffic in the lodger's rooms, giving a sense of how close he is to hectic street life, as opposed to his mansion, where he is greatly distanced from the mysterious "Golden Curls" flashing billboard (what exactly is it advertising? Hair products? The show featuring the chorines from the start?). That sign flashes over the location of the first slaying shown in the film, the seventh victim. Later, through the window of the lodger's mansion, the viewer can see the sign as he and Daisy embrace; thus he lives overlooking the site of that seventh murder. One can read too much into this – that perhaps the lodger really was the killer – but strategically it is probably more a reminder of what the lodger's struggle was all about. Or perhaps a message that tonight, he will finally have his "golden curls." Curiously, the last shot is of Daisy, suggesting that it was her story all along, and may have been included to appeal to the female audiences who were presumably to look at Novello.
What did contemporary audiences get out of The Lodger? What rewarding elements can modern audiences find? The core plot concerns or is suppose to concern the landlady's suspicions, at least that is the premise of the source novel. The movie shifts the concern to the lodger, Daisy, and Joe, each serially exposed to new sensations, hopes, or fears. But at the beginning, in the kitchen scene, and then at the end, at the lodger's mansion, the theme is a parent's concern for her child, optimistic in the kitchen, and happy and subservient, ready to step aside, in the final scene. Mrs. Bunting is concerned not just because the Avenger might be in her house, but also soon because the Avenger has taken an interest in her daughter. In its subtle and undeveloped way it is an examination of the parental figures allowing their daughter to find her own identity.
Though she is carefree, Daisy is bound up in the expectations and identities of others, of Joe's expectations, which she resists, and of her workplace, where her identity is masked behind the clothes that she is meant to take second place behind. Only the lodger can "see" beyond the clothes. [It's possible that Daisy is a reflection of what Hitchcock and many people of the time observed in his family as his sister emerged from the cocoon of a sheltering home; or that he identified with Daisy herself, himself emerging from class roots to rise in a professional and artistic world with high expectations.] Daisy has to make a decision, one that will change her life, a decision between her own class and, though she doesn't articulate it to her self, to a higher class, engaging in a form of hypergamy. The lodger's identity gaps merge with Daisy's evolving identity, as a marriageable young lady about to escape the chrysalis of her home. The lodger's identity was disrupted by the death of his sister and the decree of his mother, not that, it is suggested in the final scene, that his own identity strayed far from the social class in which he dwelled. Daisy's crucial identity-promoting decision is to be attracted to, but more important, to trust the lodger, because it separates her from her parents. Joe's identity is bound up with Daisy's, but she resists. The lodger's decision is somewhat more passive, to accede to his mother's deathbed request to avenger his sister's murder. His identity, such as it is, merges with the Bunting family not only when he unites with Daisy, but when the parents return his toothbrush, the object being the benign analog of whatever tool the Avenger used to slay his victims, erasing whatever tools Mrs. Bunting thought might be in the lodger's carrying case. The conventions of cinematic narrative insist that the characters' growth toward firmer identities is concluded, that once a decision is made, identity crises are resolved, but of course in reality identities continue to evolve as we are confronted with more choices and more decisions.
The remakes were often more authentically Hitchcock than his own film. There have been four remakes or variations on the film or the book so far. The Phantom Fiend from 1932 was directed by Maurice Elvey with Ivor Novello reprising his role, his character now called Michel Angeloff. Novello also contributed to the script, along with another Hitchcock nemesis Miles Mander, and perhaps the film can be seen as the actor attempting to improve on Hitchcock's conception. The film also marked the debut of George Sanders who would be memorable in a few later Hitchcock films. John Brahm's The Lodger, from 1944, is a strict adaptation of the Lowndes novel, with Laird Cregar as a Mr. Slade, in this instance the actual Avenger, and the film also featured George Sanders, again, this time as Inspector John Warwick. Merle Oberon plays Kitty Langley, the niece of the landlords, and Cedric Hardwicke and Sara Allgood as the (now) Bontings. This film is more in the spirit of the source book, and in fact is more in the spirit of Hitchcock, who often conceived films in which someone suspects a crime nearby, as seen in The Lady Vanishes, Suspicion, and Rear Window, a premise also mimicked in many a film from The Window to Manhattan Murder Mystery. Man in the Attic, directed by Hugo Fregonese for release in 1953, stars Jack Palance as Slade, a film that is in reality a remake of the '44 film, even down to its watery death in the Thames for the killer after a lengthy chase. Finally, there is the recent The Lodger from 2009, directed by literary scion David Ondaatje and produced by Michael Mailer, with a cast that includes Alfred Molina as (suspected) killer Chandler Manning, with Hope Davis and Donal Logue as the Bunting landlords, as well as Philip Baker Hall as Captain Smith, Rebecca Pidgeon as Dr. Jessica Westmin, and Simon Baker as Malcolm. Each of these films bears the signatures of their time, with Brahm's being noirish, Fregonese's conventional screen-filler, and the Ondaatje capturing the depressed Saw-like tone of contemporary serial killer movies, with an emphasis on the stalking of helpless, futile, doomed women, and a grubby debased world viewed from a cold distance.
Another version of The Lodger is the radio condensation presented as the pilot episode for the then prospective series Suspense, which aired on CBS on July 22, 1940. Herbert Marshall appears as the lodger, here called Sleuth, with Edmund Gwenn (whose brother was in Hitchcock's silent version) as Mr. Bunting, and with dramatic and eerie music by Wilbur Hatch. It is unclear if Hitchcock directed this episode. Thomas Leitch asserts in his Hitchcock encyclopedia that Hitchcock never directed any radio shows, though he was an occasional guest and promoter, but the show is publicized on DVDs and elsewhere as a Hitchcock directorial effort. Mr. Leitch also notes a few anomalous things about this episode, such as that Hitchcock is not present even though he seems to appear at the end of the show, where his voice is provided by the actor Joseph Kearns, and also that the story is left without an ending, which is more in line with Hitchcock's supposed original intentions, and the ending is discussed speculatively at the conclusion of the program by cast and "director." As written, the narrative emphasizes a jocular teasing and closeness between the Buntings, and the suspense is more clearly directed toward the danger to Daisy. The Buntings' house is also relocated to Whitechapel.