The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

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*. Hitichcock sometimes referred to this as his “first picture” and “the first real Hitchcock film.”
*. Why? Because it was his first foray into the genre of the suspense thriller that he would later do so much to define. And because so many of what would become staple Hitchcock themes were present: the innocent man on the run, the tease of sexuality (the “mannequins” in their underwear backstage, Joe handcuffing Daisy in a way Htich eagerly admitted was fetishistic), the police presented as useless and just stupid enough to be dangerous and threatening, and underneath it all the sense that we can’t trust a smooth exterior.
*. There are also reasons for not considering it his first picture. He referred to The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) in these same terms, and I think what he might have had in mind is the fact that The Lodger didn’t really launch his career as the “Master of Suspense.” After this film he would spin his wheels for years, churning out a lot of sub-grade filler for different British studios. Despite being a critical and commercial success, The Lodger was a temporary dead end.
*. Hitchcock doesn’t always get the credit he deserves for being a lifelong experimenter and innovator. This early film shows him throwing all kinds of stuff at the wall to see what sticks, right from the odd titles and the opening media montage introducing us to the Avenger.
*. And who is the Avenger? We never find out, or what it is he’s avenging. But at this same time Hitchcock was explaining to anyone who would listen that a film director had to market his personal brand to sell his movies to the public. Isn’t this what the Avenger is all about, with his triangle trademark and made-for-the-media moniker? And aren’t they both in the same business of scaring people? The Master and the MacGuffin.
*. Of course Hithcock’s experiments don’t always work. Here I think he sometimes gets more credit than is due. The business of the glass ceiling whereby the people below “see” the Lodger pacing his room above must, I think, have baffled contemporary audiences. Even nearly a hundred years later I find it disorienting. It seems a silly stunt to me, but it’s part of the same “try anything” approach to filmmaking.
*. Another example is the incredibly complex opening shot of the woman screaming, her head backlit in bright light. Again, does this work? I don’t think the extra halo effect adds very much relative to the effort expended in creating it, though I like it as a way of jolting the audience right off the mark.

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*. In my notes on Fulci’s City of the Living Dead I wondered what the first film was to do this (that is, open with a woman screaming). I’m not sure if this was first, but it must be getting close.
*. I like the story structure, starting off by setting up the environment — London, fog, murder, headlines — before settling us into the domestic setting by way of that terrific zoom following the Lodger’s shadow as it approaches the door of Number 13.
*. How many angles does Hitchcock shoot the stairway from? Directly overhead, above, through the railings, from a low angle off to one side, straight on from the ground floor, in close up . . . he makes it seem such an active set.
*. The novel by Lowndes would be remade many times, feeding off its “is he or isn’t he?” ambiguity. I think Hitchcock would have preferred to maintain some of that ambiguity, but Ivor Novello was a big star and the studio wasn’t having any of it. He would run into the same problem when adapting Before the Fact into Suspicion.
*. This is another subtle reason why we might not think of this as the first true Hitchcock film. The opportunity is there, but it never digs into the way surface respectability and decorum can conceal all kinds of evil.
*. Novello would have been perfect for such a role. Patrick McGilligan: “With his boyish grin and brilliantined hair, it is tempting to see Novello as Hitchcock’s initial foray into ‘countercasting,’ or casting against type — the director’s first golden opportunity to exploit a familiar persona to play off audience expectations. Novello might become the first dashing Hitchcock killer.” But it was not to be.
*. Ivor Novello was also gay, something else he had in common with a number of Hitch’s leading men. In the 1944 remake of The Lodger the role would be played by Laird Cregar, also gay, though this time a note of ambiguous sexuality was permitted, perhaps because Cregar wasn’t as big a star, or perhaps because his character really was the killer.
*. Which may just be a way of saying that while Hitchcock was Hitchcock already, he couldn’t yet be Hitchcock. That role would be a while in developing.

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