Alfred Hitchcock is certainly the man of the moment. Not only is the BFI celebrating the prolific British director’s silent work with an enormous retrospective, but he also made number one in the Sight & Sound poll with his acclaimed thriller Vertigo (1958). Now, there’s also another chance to see where it all began with the rerelease of one of the Hitchcock Nine, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), starring Ivor Novello in the title role.
The foggy streets of London are being stalked by a mysterious killer, known only as the Avenger, who preys upon blonde bombshells at night. During the spate of grizzly murders a mysterious stranger, only ever identified as ‘the Lodger’ (Novello), arrives at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Bunting (Arthur Chesney and Marie Ault) looking for a room to rent. The Bunting’s flaxen-haired daughter Daisy (June Tripp) works as a model and finds herself irrevocably drawn to this most mysterious of strangers.
The Lodger was made shortly after Hitchcock returned from Germany, and there are notable influences of the German Expressionists such as Lang and Murnau in the atmosphere of claustrophobia throughout. Aiding the texture of the film are the beautifully hand-tinted blues and sepia laid over the original black and white negative, which have been brought back to life in the BFI’s careful restoration. London looks and feels straight out of a halfpenny crime novel, unsurprising when you consider the screenplay is based on Marie Belloc Lownde’s novel of the same name.
The structure and characters show the tell-tell signs of Hitch’s unique style, with early hints of themes that would come to dominate the director’s later work including the ‘wrong man’ device of misplaced guilt. The counter-casting of Novello as the man suspected of the crimes is yet another of Hitch’s recurring tropes, repeated in North By Northwest (1959) with the utilisation of Cary Grant. Unfortunately though, the much-vaunted new score from Nitin Sawhney feels too much like a misplaced attempt at modernisation, which all-too-often detracts from the overall drama and tension.
The Lodger has rarely been seen as Hitchcock’s crowning glory, but it can be appreciated as a piece of film history marking the genesis of the great director he would become. Ultimately, this new BFI restoration may look exquisite, but is let down slightly by a tagged-on soundtrack that feels more than a little sacrilegious.