Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Screenplay: Eliot Stannard & Alfred Hitchcock (uncredited)
Based on the Novel by: Marie Belloc Lowndes
Starring: June, Ivor Novello, Marie Ault, Malcolm Keen
Producers: Michael Balcon, Carlyle Blackwell
Running Time: 88 min
BBFC Certificate: PG
Although regarded as one of the greatest of all film directors, Alfred Hitchcock’s early British work is often pushed aside in favour of his later films, produced after he made the move over to Hollywood. There are a number of reasons for this – with the big studios behind him, his later films were always going to get better distribution. Also I guess silent and early black and white films are never going to be quite as popular with modern audiences. Overall though, the general consensus is that the films he made between the mid 40′s and early 60′s are far superior. I guess that consensus bled into my viewing choices too as even though I’m a great fan of the director, I hadn’t seen anything prior to 1934′s The Man Who Knew Too Much – Hitchcock’s 18th feature film. Well, with the BFI running an epic celebration of his work throughout the year, including the restoration of his early silent films and after Vertigo knocked Citizen Kane off the top spot of Sight and Sound’s highly regarded top 10 films of all time list, what better time to look back through the full extent of his career, starting with what Hitchcock calls his first true film, The Lodger (he’d directed two prior to this, but I guess he either wasn’t happy with the results or the studios hadn’t given him the control he wanted).
The Lodger opens in true Hitchcock style with the scream of a murdered woman and subsequent discovery of her body. This is one of a series of grisly murders that has been plaguing London. Every Tuesday another body is found with the calling card of ‘The Avenger’. All of the victims are fair-haired and the young and beautiful Daisy (June) fears for her safety, being a blonde herself. Her boyfriend Joe (Malcolm Keen) is a dashing police detective though who is assigned the case, putting her mind at ease. During this time, a mysterious lodger (Ivor Novello) takes up residence in Daisy’s parents’ house. As the links between the killer and this lodger grow, Daisy’s mother (Marie Ault) suspects the worse and when Daisy and the unusual yet dashing stranger fall in love, all around her worry about his true intentions.
The Lodger is an excellent case for reappraising Hitchcock’s early work. Even from this, his third film (or first if you asked him), there are multiple examples of his signature techniques and obsessions, and they work as effectively here as in his more popular 50′s work. As well as the usual cameo (which I missed to be honest – probably note-taking at the time) you have the blonde woman fixation, plenty of suspenseful and tense scenes, a case of mistaken identity and most noticeably, a rich vein of dark humour throughout. Right from the beginning we have people making light of the murders, with a mischievous man teasing a terrified onlooker at the scene of the first crime. It’s this humour and light handling of very dark subject matter that helps The Lodger remain a highly enjoyable experience 85 years later. Paced very well, without a wasted minute, the film breezes by. People praise Hitchcock’s handling of suspense and clever filmmaking techniques, but one of his key strengths is in making films that are a lot of fun to watch. I’ve certainly never seen a boring film from the director.
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