The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927) Director: Alfred Hitchcock
In the shadowy rain-filled streets of London, a killer a la Jack The Ripper stalks his prey. Alfred Hitchcock’s first great suspense film The Lodger presents a hazy, noir-esque murder mystery wherein morality is blurred between good and evil, and the audience is left guessing as to the killer’s true identity. It is rife with fetishistic imagery and psychopathic intrigue –some miggght call it a psychological or even sadistic story. In The Lodger, Hitchcock toys with his audience’s moral allegiances up until the very end. Gradually as the plot unfolds, we blame a suspect for the killings and demand that he be caught, only to suddenly have our expectations inverted when we learn he is actually innocent. The third of Hitchcock’s feature films, The Lodger bears many of his familiar trademarks and tropes: a blonde woman in danger, a morally depraved villain hiding in plain sight, an innocent man on the run, and an unpredictable twist ending. The film was released in London in 1927, and then later in June 1928 in New York City. At the time, British films were in a state of decline, and Hitchcock had returned to London after a brief spell working in Berlin where he observed the work of directors like Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau.
Based on a 1913 novel of the same name by Marie Bellox Lowndes (sister of the famous British writer and historian, Hillaire Belloc), The Lodger was later dubbed by Hitchcock “the first true Hitchcock movie.” Blonde women are being hunted on the streets of London at night by a notorious and anonymous serial killer called “The Avenger.” He uses the image of a triangle as his calling card (in fact triangles recur throughout the film). Many blonde women begin wearing brunette wigs around London out of fear of being the next victim. One night, a man bearing striking resemblance to the killer’s description appears at a hotel-house and he inquires about a room for rent. He is led upstairs. His room is covered in portraits of blonde women, so he promptly flips all the portraits around so they are not visible. He is called “the lodger” (played by leading matinee star Ivor Novello, who was a British Rudy Valentino of sorts). Shortly thereafter, a romantic attraction is struck up between the lodger and Daisy, the hotel owner’s daughter. However, people are suspicious. From downstairs, the lodger can be heard as he paces back and forth across his room (the camera pans up and he we see him pacing through the floor boards). Then, he leaves for the evening and the hotel owners discover that another blonde woman has been found dead around the corner. The lodge-owners try to convince Daisy to stop seeing the lodger but she sneaks away with him at night anyway and then breaks up with her current boyfriend, Joe. In a panic, Joe calls the police and they search the lodger’s room where they find a gun and a map to a recent murder by “The Avenger” killer. The Lodger runs away into the night but Daisy finds him alone and handcuffed as he explains that his sister was killed by “The Avenger” and that he promised his mother he would exact revenge. A mob then descends on the couple after they are spotted at a pub until a paperboy suddenly announces breaking news: the true “Avenger” killer has been caught. In the end, The Lodger and Daisy are shown to be a happy couple together. The Lodger was originally set to include an ambiguous ending wherein the question of the murderer’s identity is never truly revealed. As would be common among great directors and their respective studios, the studio for The Lodger intruded into the creative process and refused to allow for an ambiguous ending.
The Lodger contains Hitchcock’s first notable cameo – early in the film he appears at a desk with his back to the audience. This only happened when an actor who was intended to appear for this small part failed to show up on the day of shooting. The happy little accident developed into a now-famous practice in most of his subsequent films.
Upon completion, the notorious C. M. Woolf, chairman of British-German Gainsborough’s distribution arm, claimed this sadistic film was unwatchable. He continued to despise Hitchcock for the better part of the next decade, however after some re-shoots and updated title cards, The Lodger was screened to widespread critical acclaim. The 27-year old “Master of Suspense” had overcome his first great hurdle.