The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog

Studio: Criterion

Jun 28, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

During the 1920s, Alfred Hitchcock worked as a title designer, assistant director, writer and co-director on dozens of features at the peak of the silent era. The assembly line style of the British studio system left little room for the sensibilities and quirks of individual directors and Hitchcock was no exception for most of his early efforts. But it’s no surprise that the man who would become one of the towering examples of the auteur theory would make a film so recognizably his own so early in his career.

Although it was his third film as a solo director, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog is widely considered to be the first “true” Hitchcock movie by scholars and historians. It’s a straightforward thriller about a mysterious new tenant at a London boarding house who is suspected of being a Jack the Ripper-style serial killer. It features many of the laundry list of plot points, character archetypes and shot constructions that would come to define Hitch’s style over the next five decades. There’s the man wrongly accused of a crime, a plotline to which Hitchcock would return to in over a dozen of his later films. There’s the first in a long line of charming, perpetually imperiled blondes. There’s the cops doggedly hounding the falsely accused protagonist, a construction which incidentally allows Hitchcock to present the authority figures he feared in real life as antagonists without making them evil. There’s the vertigo-inducing shot down the center of a twisting staircase. Anyone playing Hitchcock Bingo – or an auteurist drinking game – via The Lodger will find plenty of material to keep them busy.

Although it’s wholly a Hitchcock film, The Lodger presents some interesting contrasts with his more famous works, specifically in the realm of actors. Whereas many of Hitch’s Wrong Men are presented as innocent from the jump – if only by being played by stalwarts like Cary Grant and Jimmy Stewart – the titular lodger is treated more ambiguously by the film at first. Introduced as an off-putting, vampiric weirdo who fusses over décor and leers at the female lead, Jonathan Drew seems more like a creature from a German Expressionist horror film than one of the debonair men of the world that so often serve as Hitchcock protagonists. He’s quickly softened by Hitchcock’s trademark sense of dark humor and the expressive face of actor Ivor Novello. The audience comes fully onto his side via a beatific close-up that Hitchcock would use thirty years later to introduce Grace Kelly in Rear Window. Hitch reserved these gauzy, full-face frames almost exclusively for female characters – male close-ups in his films invariably indicate malice – and here it serves to obliterate any doubt in the audience that Drew could be the one killing young blondes on the foggy streets of London.

Just in time for the film’s ninetieth anniversary, Criterion’s new Blu-ray edition presents the The Lodger via a digital 2K restoration with a new score by composer Neil Brand that occasionally recalls Danny Elfman. The centerpiece of the special features is Downhill, Hitchcock’s fifth film, presented here in its entirety. Released only ten months after The Lodger, Downhill is the story of a prep school student who takes the blame for a friend’s indiscretion only to see his cushy life fall apart as a result. Less a thriller and more an impressionistic morality tale, the film is more a rare oddity than a lost classic. It also stars Ivor Novello, and makes for an interesting silent Hitchcock double feature.


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