Hey everybody it’s Criterion Month! For those who don’t know, this an entire month we devote to watching and reviewing films in the Criterion Collection. The reasoning is it’s the time of year that Barnes & Noble (which I think still exists) has their 50% off sale on Criterions. It also means I get to watch 90-year-old silent movies in 90+ degree weather in an attempt to provide some kind of insight. Ha, yeah, we’ll see about that.
I don’t know why I pick a silent movie every year. I don’t like silent movies. I respect silent movies. It’s asking a lot of someone to sit through 90 minutes of no talking while looking at flickering images ravaged by time. I find the value in these silent movies to be more educational than entertaining. It’s these golden oldies that set the style and tempo for cinema. Of course few are as stylish as Alfred Hitchcock.
It’s wild to think Hitchcock directed movies for over fifty years. Even more surprising is how well defined his style was even in his earliest entries. The Lodger: The Story of the London Fog released in 1927 was Hitchcock’s third film. Yet it took me less than fifteen minutes to see the film is more a less a precursor to Hitch’s 1943 film Shadow of a Doubt. Both films are about charming individuals suspected to be murderers settling down for a long stay. This isn’t surprising when you consider Hitch loved to revisit the same ideas. He even remade one of his own films with The Man Who Knew Too Much. Yet he always found new ways to tackle the same ideas. He approached each project with a new kind of panache. Though you’d rarely confuse his films for anyone else’s.
The Lodger (based on a book that was inspired by Jack the Ripper) is about a series of murders in London. Word spreads quick in an inventive montage that includes closeups of individuals faces shrouded in black as they hear the announcements over the radio. The film has a very ensemble feel at first, jumping from person to person, learning of the murders, speaking of the murders. All we know is the killer leaves a calling card dubbing himself “The Avenger”. But he ain’t one of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. That’s for sure.
“The Lodger” in question is a mysterious young man (Ivor Novello) who plans to stay at a London lodge for an extended period of time for reasons that are also mysterious. He is immediately pinned as a suspect by a local officer named Joe (Malcolm Keen). To be fair, the Lodger is very suspicious. He turns around all the portraits in his room and puts up photos of blondes (creepy Hitch loved blondes). The Lodger is a weird dude, but the proprietor’s daughter, Daisy Bunting (June Tripp), is into it…. But is she dating a… GASP! Killer?!?
Nah, he’s hunting down the killer because the Avenger killed his sister. So he’s going to avenge his sister by seeking vengeance on the Avenger. It’s not a surprising twist but the road to get there is fun. There’s an element of puzzle solving and mystery in The Lodger that makes it an enjoyable whodunnit. Ivor Novello as well is a striking figure with his jet black hair and staring eyes. He looks like the Crow. Then again everyone in silent movies looks like the Crow. I love to see it!
The Lodger isn’t the best version of a Hitch murder mystery. The mystery is simple with the reveals spelled out. What does make the film stand out is it feels more experimental than Hitch’s later work. There’s a hint of German Expressionism in some of Hitch’s sparse closeups. There’s almost a gothic feel to the film. I think it helps that the film is set in London. Which surprisingly Hitch didn’t use as a setting as often as you would expect.
I wouldn’t rank The Lodger as one of Hitch’s must sees but it is interesting to see how his tricks and techniques developed from his early flicks like The Lodger to his more contemporary works. And I mean, if you like movies where everyone looks like the Crow, you’re gonna love this one.