Saturday, April 24, 2010

Film Review: The Lodger

"The Lodger" *** 1\2 (out of ****)

I've written once before about Alfred Hitchcock, I reviewed "Rear Window" (1954), my favorite of his films, but, I'm sorry to say I have largely neglected his work on this blog.

It's not that I don't like Hitchcock, I do very much, but, I just haven't written about him since this blog began. On I wrote about a few of his films, but, I've just been preoccupied with other filmmakers. An admitted mistake on my part.

Recently I purchased a 20 movie DVD set of Hitchcock's early British movies. As readers should know, before Hitchcock came to America he was making films in his homeland. His work dates back to the silent era. Some movie buffs like to debate in which country Hitchcock made his best films. For me, there's no comparison. His American films are far superior. Better plots, large budgets, better actors and more suspense.

Still there have been some good movies to come out of his British period. I would say his best talking British pictures were "The 39 Steps" (1935) and "The Lady Vanishes" (1938). And I would add "The Lodger" (1927) is his best silent film.

"The Lodger" is generally considered to be Hitchcock's first true picture. A remark Hitchcock himself would make when interviewed by Hitchcock devotee, Francois Truffaut. His films prior to this are considered lost; "Number 13" (1922) which was never even completed and "The Moutain Eagle" (1926) among them. Though there have been bootlegged copies of "The Pleasure Garden" (1925) which have circulated.

In this movie we learn a serial killer, known as "The Avenger", has been going after blond hair women (blonds would remain a staple of Hitchcock's work). A detective (Malcolm Keen) is on the case and vows to capture him. The killer is sticking to one neighborhood. Police feel they are closing in on him.

A Landlady (Marie Ault) and her husband (Arthur Chesney) have a room for rent and take in a lodger (Ivor Novello). A Strange but seemingly harmless man, who has developed a crush on the landlady's daughter, Daisy (June) a blond. Is the lodger really the serial killer?

The film was inspired by tales of Jack the Ripper. And proved to be a box-office success for Hitchcock. Three other adaptations have been made. One of which starred Novello reprising his role. It was made in 1932. Other remakes were made in 1944 and the most recent made in 2009.

The film has touches of Hitchcock's later work. It has brief elements of one of Hitchcock's favorite themes; the innocent man wrongly accused.

There are some good visual moments as well. Pay attention to the opening sequences. I like how Hitchcock shows us the murders making headlines in the newspapers and on radio. The very first image we see is an extreme close-up of a woman's face, screaming, while a neon light flashes on-screen.

The version of the film I saw was released by Mills Creek Entertainment. I'm not sure how many other versions are out there. So I want to make it clear, my comments are in regards to this particular copy. The film does not have a clear and crisp image. Everything looks pale white, as if too lightly filmmed. This may have been the actual way it was photographed however.

I mention this because I would have loved to see Hitchcock come back to this material when movies started to talk. Hitchcock was approached to direct the 1932 remake but declined. And maybe because of that remake and the 1944 remake Hitchcock never went back to this material when he came to America. That would be too bad.

If remade I'm pretty sure Hitchcock could have really turned this into a masterpiece. One of his great films. Surprisingly the film lacks an artistic aesthetic. Hitchcock should have turned to the German expressionist like Paul Leni, F.W. Murnau or even Fritz Lang. I didn't think the film created enough suspense by way of lighting and camera angles. Also missing is a good musical score. I wonder if an original score was ever written specially for the film. The film actually does a poor job creating an eerie mood. Again though, this may have been because of the quality of the copy I saw. Maybe Hitchcock was playing around with lighting. But better camera angles could have been used. Something more inventive to suggest more internal feelings.

But overall I like the movie. I find the storyline interesting, I do like some of the visuals and I think the performances are mostly successful. And the film has a certain historical importance to it which should make film lovers seek it out. Worth seeing if you can find it.