Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: Marie Belloc Lowndes
Cast: Ivor Novello, Marie Ault, Arthur Chesney
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s earliest films. A silent picture, this suspenseful thriller is set in the early 20th century and takes its inspiration from Jack the Ripper. The film begins with the murder of a pretty blonde who is killed by a serial killer nicknamed The Avenger. Attractive, young blondes are his signature kill and the city is in such a state of panic that cabaret girls have taken to wearing wigs to avoid being a possible victim.
Daisy Bunting is a blonde showgirl but she is optimistic and laughs off the potential danger posed by the Avenger. After all, Daisy’s life has plenty of reason for optimism. She is romantically linked to a local police officer named Joe and her parents are well to do landlords who run a bed and breakfast.
Things begin to get complicated when they take in a mysterious lodger who keeps his face hidden with a scarf. The Lodger tries to remain a recluse but he draws unwanted attention to himself when he takes down all the pictures of pretty women in his room and turns them around so they face the wall. He also has the unfortunate timing of leaving his room on the one night when another murder takes place. Oblivious to all this, Daisy becomes fascinated by The Lodger and becomes romantically linked to him. Joe, the well intentioned copper, is devastated when Daisy breaks things off with him but he has a hunch that The Lodger may well be The Avenger. If only he could find some evidence…
The Lodger is an entertaining thriller and I think it effectively showcases the potential of the silent film format. Most silent films that are remembered today tend to be the Charlie Chaplin comedies or big productions like Metropolis and Battleship Potemkin. The Lodger on the other hand, is a bona fide small scale mystery film that has room for subtlety and nuance. The film effectively manages to heighten the audience’s suspense as Daisy gradually falls in love with mysterious protagonist just as we are fed more and more information that seems to confirm The Lodger’s guilt.
It is to the film’s credit that I was left guessing throughout the feature as to whether he was the killer or not. I won’t spoil it for anyone who intends to watch The Lodger.
As a Hitchcock film, it shows that even twenty years before he made his most famous films, he had a knack for understanding the fundamentals of making a great film and how to play on the audience’s emotions and expectations. The Lodger is an interesting piece of work that showcases a young director before the peak of his powers, learning his craft. There are some familiar Hitchcock tropes that are already present – an obsession with murder, a protagonist on the run from the law – but whats equally interesting is what isn’t in this film. The women in Hitchcock’s films would become particularly memorable over the years but in The Lodger, Daisy Bunting is actually a pretty unremarkable, cookie cutter damsel in distress. Hitchcock’s more compelling female roles would come in later films.
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog is a tense, exciting thriller and worth tracking down.