Don't miss the chance to catch one of Hitchcock’s lesser-known silent works in its newly restored glory.
One of the most fascinating things about Alfred Hitchcock’s 1927 silent thriller, The Lodger, is how many of The Master’s fascinations, obsessions, themes and peculiar fetishes are already present.
Chronologically, this is the third of Hitch’s 58 features, but is generally accounted by many as his genuine first. This amazing ‘Story of the London Fog’ (as the film is subtitled) is now available, tinted and restored, as one of the first offerings in the BFI’s upcoming, three- month Hitchcock celebration, which boasts a full retrospective and includes a further eight silent restorations.
This print was viewed without composer Nitin Sawhney’s new score, but the energy and visual dynamism of this story of a Ripper-esque killer on the loose in an eerily Victorian-hued Old Smoke is such that it can be unreservedly recommended not only to hardened Hitch buffs, but also to cinemagoers who may ordinarily pause before choosing to dip a toe into the gorgeous, translucent pool of silent cinema.
Audiences unused to silent film conventions may raise an amused eyebrow as would-be lodger Ivor Novello raises his own. And perhaps the manic intensity of his staring eyes is a bit of a give-away as he arrives at the door of a family boarding house run by the parents of peroxide blonde heroine, Daisy, played with increasing sympathy/perversity by June Tripp.
Those familiar with Hitch’s career-long predilection for jeopardising young blonde women will already have tittered at the sight of a sexy troupe of them – the golden-curled Golden Girls – as they tumble off the stage early in the film. But Hitch needs no intertitles to explain the girls’ sudden, touchingly presented anxiety, which stems from their realisation that the Ripper (here called ‘The Avenger’, as named in Marie Belloc Lowndes’ original novel and stage play) has a similar, if more deadly, preference for fair-haired victims.
What’s most impressive about The Lodger is the inventiveness and audacity with which Hitchcock solves problems. He creates moods that effortlessly modulate from gaiety to dread, dark humour to suspense, suspicion to fear, right through to concern, sympathy, a sense of identification and release.
It’s no spoiler to say that for Hitch, the casting of matinee idol Novello made things complicated – as matters of innocence and guilt often are. The questions that he sets himself – and we, the audience, must ponder – are: who can doubt that this creepy lodger is the killer? And yet matinee idol Novello can’t be the villain, can he?
It’s some sport watching the young director attempting to keep these two wild horses running side by side. In doing so, he rolls out every trick he’d recently picked up, adding a new angle he’d learned from Fritz Lang here, while cutting conventional narrative flotsam there. Even more exciting are his on-the- spot inventions, from the various symbolic insertions to the literal glass ceilings that enable him to get right under the psychological feet of his characters.
A chance to catch one of Hitchcock’s lesser-known early works. Newly restored, of course.
An invigorating and intense thriller from a master-in-the-making.
One for Hitch fans, one for thriller fans, one for cinema fans. Do not miss.