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The Lodger

The Lodger

Gainsborough / GB

Ivor Novello - The Lodger
June Tripp - Daisy Bunting
Marie Ault - Mrs. Bunting
Arthur Chesney - Mr. Bunting
Malcolm Keen - Joe Betts
Alfred Hitchcock - Director
Alma Reville - Assistant Dir.
Eliot Stannard - Scenario
Ivor Montagu - Editing / Titles
C. Wilfred Arnold - Art Director

Novello as The Lodger Alfred Hitchcock holds a high opinion of The Lodger (1926), subtitled A Story of the London Fog. He has said that he considers it "the first picture influenced by my period in Germany. In truth, you might almost say The Lodger was my first picture." The film has wit, confidence in the possibilities of the camera, an admirable understatement and an economy in the use of both acting and title cards. There is also evident a talent that takes theme and symbol with increasingly serious intention.

The film introduces a major plot device of the director: an innocent man is wrongly accused of a crime. What is especially noteworthy in this early film is the startling moral ambiguity which frames the story. A man is thought guilty specifically because of someone's neurosis. A detective, Joe Betts (Malcolm Keen), is jealous of the growing friendship between his fiancee, Daisy Bunting (June Tripp) and a lodger (Ivor Novello). Using the most fragile circumstantial evidence, Betts constructs--first in his own mind and then in the minds of others--a case for an innocent man's guilt. As his jealousv increases, he sees the lodger as the notorious self-styled "Avenger" who is terrorizing London by strangling women. Finally, when Daisy and the lodger are caught by Joe on a street bench late one night, he can endure it no longer. His imagination, triggered also by the lodger's footprint left in the mud, seizes upon the hideous "crimes" committed by his rival.

This theme will be treated again fifteen years later in Suspicion (1941), in which Johnny's (Cary Grant's) guilt is presumed without evidence by his fantasizing, neurotic wife, Lina (Joan Fontaine), who perceives the world through the eyeglasses of an amateur psychologist. In this regard, Hitchcock's own remarks on these two films are revealing. On several occasions--most clearly in an interview held with Truffaut--Hitchcock has expressed his dissatisfaction with the endings of The Lodger and Suspicion. He contends that, because of the popular images of Ivor Novello and Cary Grant, and because of pressures from the producers, it would have been impossible to cast them in the roles of villains. He would have liked to have bad the lodger simply disappear into the night, so that his guilt or innocence is never expressly established. Similarly, in Suspicion, he would have preferred Johnny to have actually murdered his wife with poisoned milk. But in fact these endings would have blurred the significance of their stories. In both cases, the major theme is not the discovery of a crime, but the criminal tendencies which exist in the apparently innocent characters.

The Staircase In The Lodger, the moral ambiguity of the situation derives only in part from the deplorable lengths to which the detective's uncontrollable jealousy leads him. The lodger himself is far from innocent since he has in fact planned to murder the real killer. His black bag contains a gun and a carefully marked map of the Avenger's recent crimes. He has set himself up as an Avenger, too, because his sister was one of the victims. He intends to kill the killer, and his crime--not of passion or of a deranged mind, as is that of the real murderer (whom Hitchcock, with cavalier disinterest, never shows us)--is a carefully premeditated act of hatred. This is hardly "innocence," and so our response to the traditional happy ending (Daisy and the lodger will, presumably, live happily ever after) is tempered. The very same theme operates, with relentless cynicism, in Frenzy (1972), in which the man who is innocent of the rape-murders actually seethes with bitterness and violence, and plans his revenge on the real killer.

Equally noteworthy is how this ambiguity is conveyed to the viewer. It is not communicated, as would be expected, by means of dialogue (which is used minimally) nor in terms of characterization, but by the motif of the staircase. The staircase is the quintessential device of German expressionist cinema, especially in the films of Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau (and, to some extent, Robert Wiene) and may thus reflect Hitchcock's admiration for these directors. The staircase in The Lodger is a classic Hitchcock staircase, constructed precisely like the staircase of the Bates' house in Psycho (1960) thirty-four years later. The relationsbip between the principal characters (here, between the girl's parents) is defined in terms of this staircase. Several times the worried mother (who is also suspicious of the lodger) emerges from the cellar underneath this staircase (an association also to be made with Mrs. Bates in Psycho). The mother walks around to the foot of the stairwell and stands terror-stricken, paralyzed, This conveys dramatically the inability of the parent to help the child.

The concern of The Lodger, then, is not primarily the solution of a mystery or the arrest of a killer. It is rather the possibility of a relationship--between Daisy and the lodger, and between Daisy and Joe--given the mysterious dark-and-light levels of a personality. Admittedly, the film lacks a certain economy in exposition, and some of the comic moments have a facile Chaplinesque tone. But the film is admirable for its sparing use of title cards. Virtually the entire tale is told by glance and gesture, light and shadow, and by a canny sense of the rhythm of cutting. This is very close to "pure cinema."

The Art of Alfred Hitchcock.

A selection of The Lodger related films.

Find The Lodger on

A selection of The Lodger in books.

History of Horror

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