In 1920s London, a string of murders has just received its latest addition. Every tuesday night a golden-haired young woman is slain within a small area of town, and as yet the police have no leads to go on, other than the killer goes by the name of The Avenger, and is a tall man with a face wrapped up in a scarf. Meanwhile, a tall, creepy, scarf-adorned man (Ivor Novello) arrives at a lodging house and requests a room. The landlady Mrs. Bunting (Marie Ault) accepts and he is shown the room, were he immediately requests that all the portraits of blonde women be removed, as they unnerve him. Mrs. Bunting runs the lodging house with her husband (Arthur Chesney) and daughter Daisy (June Tripp), who also works as a fashion model. The house is regularly visited by bumbling policeman Joe (Malcolm Keen) who is attempting to woo Daisy and, once he is put onto the Avenger case, he vows that as soon as he catches the killer he’ll put a ring on Daisy’s finger. Over time, Daisy grows closer to the house’s new, mysterious lodger, much to the concern of her parents, who begin to suspect this strange man may be involved in the murders.
Silent movies aren’t really an area I’m all that well versed in, and to be honest I don’t have much interest in them. They’re important in terms of the history of film, but I’d much rather watch something with audible dialogue and an integrated score/soundtrack than something without. That being said, I’ve experienced a few gems recently (including the likes of Metropolis, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and some of Buster Keaton’s movies) so I’m always ready to have my mind changes and my hopes raised. Plus, Hitchcock’s own The Farmer’s Wife has been one of the biggest surprises of his filmography for me, so I haven’t written off any of his early work just yet.
The Lodger is one of his earliest works, in fact I think it’s only his second completed feature film that is still available today (I should be getting to 1925’s The Pleasure Garden soon too), yet there are still some of Hitchcock’s tell-tale themes running through it, though revealing necessarily which ones could be construed as a spoiler. This is a film that relies upon it’s closing act, so I’ll dance around the plot as much as I can. As I mentioned in the opening synopsis, it’s pretty clear that the film is telling us that the new lodger at the Bunting’s house is the Avenger killer. He arrives at their house matching the killer’s description, sneaks out in the middle of the night one Tuesday (the factor that causes Mrs. Bunting to be suspicious) and is pretty damn creepy. Novello looks like he’s auditioning for Nosferatu, with his deathly pale face yet oddly dark features, and he even wears a cape for heaven’s sake! Yet there’s almost too much evidence pointing towards him as the culprit without actually showing him completing the kills, which led to my suspicions as to him being a red herring. I wont reveal whether I was correct or not, but I was very satisfied with the ending, which wrapped everything up as neatly as I’d hoped. There are some leaps in the plot’s logic – it’s frustrating when some characters are so far behind where we are in anticipating the plot, as it takes far too long before anyone even contemplates the lodger is the killer – so perhaps a few more script drafts would have ironed out these issues, but not to worry.
Exposition is initially delivered well via a shrieking woman’s eyewitness account of the latest killing, followed by typewriters and newspaper headlines filling us in on everything that’s happened before, and later a simple longing glance towards a swaying ceiling light is enough to reveal one character’s innermost feelings towards another. This also featured the first Hitchcock cameo – in fact there’s two of them, one at the end and one at the beginning – but here it was for financial reasons, to cut down on paying more extras, but it would later lead to an infamous traditional. What very nearly ruined the entire film for me, however, was the disc I was watching it on, which insisted on displaying a Screen Gems logo in the top right-hand corner of the screen throughout the entire picture.
Choose Film 6/10
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