*. They made Lowndes’s book into a movie five times. This was the third. Hitch’s was the first, and he always wanted to take another crack at it.
*. Brahm had done a good job with bad material in The Undying Monster so he was given this as a sort of reward. And he didn’t disappoint. Indeed, it was so successful they decided they had to do it again, which led to Hangover Square a year later.
*. This is a movie that still doesn’t receive a lot of love. You won’t even find much information on it online. And yet it’s nicely shot, well paced, well acted, and well directed.
*, Laird Cregar. He was huge. 6’3″ and over 300 pounds. He looks like a double-breasted zeppelin, especially with all those low angle shots (I don’t think he’s ever shot from above). And I guess it was his weight that led to his tragic demise at the age of 31 (following stomach surgery just after he completed his next movie, which was Hangover Square).
*. Even his voice fits the film’ s atmosphere: deep and foggy like a soft air horn of warning.
*. Usually I’m not keen on the camera tricks of this era, but I like what Brahm does here. The frequent high- and low-angle shots work nicely even if they are finally overdone. There are also a lot of really nice bits of composition. I love the scene near the beginning where the silhouettes of the policemen are placed in front of the dance on the corner, and the one where Cregar (as if he wasn’t imposing enough!) is multiplied in the mirrors surrounding Merle Oberon, and the light coming up from the slats of the catwalk painting Cregar’s face in animal stripes.
*. Brahm uses bars of shadows as a recurring motif. Note the one odd scene near the end where he even has them placed at the top of the stairs. What could be throwing such shadows? I have a feeling Brahm just wanted them there.
*. A movie ahead of its time in the presentation of a psychosexual serial killer. How many were there before this. M?
*. I don’t agree with Silver and Ursini (who do the DVD commentary) saying that we know from Cregar’s first appearance that he’s the Ripper, that he’s “completely and totally guilty.” I’ll grant the fact that he takes an assumed name is suspicious, but it seems to me that Cregar projects ambiguity and vulnerability, and that the audience feels some sympathy toward him. I do remember thinking that, as with Hithcock’s earlier version, there was a chance he might be innocent. He had some reason for wanting to get rid of his black bag, as Cedrick Hardwicke points out. But you can’t see a movie again for the first time.
*. While Slade may be a killer, he does have a crush on Merle Oberon’s Kitty Langley. And that always seems to count for something. As with all the classic movie monsters, we have to love a lover.
*. Slade is a complex, sympathetic figure: tortured, and then finally hounded to his death. He has a depth you don’t often find in today’s psycho slashers. Imagined today, the Ripper would only be an inhuman force of evil, a comic book villain without conscience or indeed anything that could be called a personal psychology. The big difference between then and now may be less the advent of gore than the erasure of any sense of individual moral character. Now there’s a cultural shift worth reflecting on.
*. George Sanders is just one of those people you can’t stop watching. Even when, as here, he has very little to say or do.
*. The ending strikes me as ahead of its time in the isolation of Slade’s heavy breathing on the soundtrack.
*. There’s a weird homoerotic subtext. Is Slade gay? Was he in love with his brother (whose somewhat androgynous picture he finds “more beautiful than any woman”)? Is there an incest angle as well? How messed up can a person get?