Home Video Hovel: The Lodger, by David Bax
The Lodger, a 1927 silent thriller available now from the Criterion Collection, is only Alfred Hitchcock’s third feature film, yet so much of what we associate with him is already there. A sequence in which a character rifles through the potential killer’s quarters, crosscut with the suspect getting closer and closer to arriving home, is imbued with such tension (especially given that we’ve seen this scene in every movie like this in the 90 years since it was made) that it’s clear the director’s “master of suspense” moniker was come by early and honestly. But there are also early traces of something I’ve never felt Hitchcock gets quite enough credit for, his wry gallows humor. A series of close-up reaction shots of citizens learning about the serial murderer’s newest victim are increasingly comical.
London is plagued by grisly slayings. Each Tuesday night, a blonde woman is murdered in the street, always left with a scrap of paper bearing the fiend’s adopted alias, The Avenger. Meanwhile, a couple whose own daughter fits the description of the victims takes in a new boarder, a shifty and solitary sort. Perhaps luckily for them, their daughter’s suitor is the lead detective on the ongoing case.
Hitchcock never really stopped wanting to try new things and that spirit is on display even here. In this case, it presents itself in the form of the visual inventiveness that marks so much of the late silent era. On at least two occasions, Hitchcock shoots using an invisible glass floor, once to get a murder victim’s platinum hair to splay just so and later to allow two characters to picture the third one who is pacing back and forth on the floor above them. The director has the most fun, though, with the title cards, rendering them in blocky, graphic animation or using them to suggest a night club’s blinking neon sign reflected in the rain puddles below.
Touches like those mixed with the dark comedy mentioned above add up to the twisted sense of fun that would characterize so much of Hitchcock’s work to come. It’s almost ludicrous how suspiciously Ivor Novello plays the lodger and possible killer; he’s like a Crispin Glover character. Yet, in shadows of Norman Bates to come, we find something sympathetic about this oddball. The Lodger eventually has us rooting for a guy while, at the same time, implying that he’s a remorseless monster. It’s kind of a blast.
Criterion’s transfer is a 2K scan with the original tints and tones digitally recreated. Near-perfect contrast is maintained, especially impressive in effects moments like that glass floor/ceiling bit, which fades in and out almost seamlessly. The new score is by Neil Brand and makes use of the full audio range, from bassy cellos to tinkly bells.
Special features include a complete other Hitchcock film, Downhill; a new interview with film scholar William Rothman; a new video essay by art historian Steven Jacobs; audio excerpts of interviews with Hitchcock conducted by Francois Truffaut and Peter Bogdanovich; a radio adaptation of the film also directed by Hitchcock; and a new interview with Brand.