The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926) – By Mark Notarberardino

Because of the meddling of C.M. Woolf, Alfred Hitchcock’s "The Lodger" (1926) almost didn’t see the light of the silver screen. The chief executive at Gainsborough (the studio behind the film adaptation of Mrs. Belloc Lowndes novel) never was a Hitchcock fan. Woolf considered the young filmmaker to be partly responsible for the failure of "The White Shadow" (1924) a film with which both had been associated previously. Hitch was not a director at the time but his artistic input as writer and art director on this and several other films, made Woolf suspicious. Hitchcock was essentially an artist, and Woolf – like many money men in the industry – hated art. Whatever the merits of "The White Shadow", its flaws could easily be blamed on creative pretension, and since its director Graham Cutts certainly had none of that, his young collaborator was as easy to fault as anyone.

And then there is "The Lodger" – a film that "was supposed to be highbrow, the most scarlet epithet in the film trade vocabulary" according to Ivor Montagu – the young editor called in by producer Michael Balcon to fix the film when Woolf declared it unworthy. Why Montagu – a man just as inclined toward art as Hitchcock – was chosen for the job, is beyond me. But chosen he was, and his revisions were hardly responsible for turning a sow’s ear into a silk purse. After reading about the alterations, it is clear that "The Lodger" was a fine film to begin with, and Montagu’s contributions only tightened the picture. His first move was to delete some of the inter titles, which he felt were unnecessary and slowed the film down. Then he reedited the final chase scene, requesting that Hitchcock shoot some additional footage to intensify the experience. Though hardly transformed, Woolf now deemed the film acceptable, and "The Lodger" was on its way to theaters.

A killer known as "The Avenger" is stalking the streets of London, murdering blond women. The culprit leaves a paper triangle as a calling card, at the scene of each crime. Adding to the mystery, he only strikes on Tuesday nights. Amid the resulting hysteria, a mysterious young man – the lodger of the title (Ivor Novello) – materializes eerily out of the London fog and appears at the front door of the Bunting home. The family had advertised a room to let and he takes them up on their offer. The Buntings consist of a father (Arthur Chesney), a mother (Marie Ault) and a beautiful daughter named Daisy (June) who makes her living as a fashion model. She – by the way – is very blond. Daisy has a boyfriend named Joe (Malcolm Keen), a policeman. After the lodger makes a creepy Tuesday excursion into the night, his landlady becomes suspicious. She believes her suspicions are confirmed when another blond turns up dead the next morning. The family now fears for Daisy’s life. But the mystery is solved when it is revealed that the lodger is the brother of one of "The Avenger’s" first victims. The "innocent" man is on an elaborate mission of vengeance. But the police have it all wrong and attempt to arrest him, before he escapes into the darkness, followed by a vengeful mob. Joe gets a call from headquarters revealing the real killer has just been apprehended. He luckily arrives in time to save the lodger.

One of the central ideas expressed in the film is the media complacency in death and destruction. The newspapers and radio industry feed off the mayhem caused by "The Avenger." As he makes a mint from the story, a newspaper boy remarks "Always happens Tuesdays – that’s my lucky day!" As news vans carrying copies of the latest editions form a caravan along the streets of London, Hitchcock cuts to the back of one of the vehicles. We see the heads of the two occupants, each through one of two oval windows, as the van bounces along. The jerking of the men’s heads back and forth give the impression of eyes rolling in a demonic face. The Avenger’s symbol – the triangle – appears in the form of triangular lamps hanging from the ceiling of the newspaper office. Triangles will turn up throughout the film, hidden in floor and tablecloth patterns, to link characters symbolically to The Avenger. Hitchcock uses them to symbolize the major relationship of the film: the triangular love affair that develops between Daisy, Joe and the lodger (who is never named in the film but is mentioned in the American title – "The Case of Jonathan Drew"). The most impressive use of triangles is found in the denouement , as the lodger – after barely escaping a lynching – recovers in the hospital. Hanging above his bed is a doctor’s diploma, the four corners of which are neatly accentuated as black triangles. The wire holding the document as it hangs from a nail, forms a nifty triangle as well. Daisy’s new love interest, it seems, is as guilty as the real Avenger, since he intends to kill a man who, after all, is psychotic and not fully responsible for his actions. The lodger has no such excuse. In fact, "The Avenger" moniker is more appropriate for him than it is for the actual serial killer.

There are two other themes explored in the film, both of which the Catholic Hitchcock seized upon with relish. The first is religious iconography. On first examining the room he will be renting, the new lodger opens the curtains over a large window. The window frame throws a shadow in the form of a cross onto his face. This will be a Christ-like character, who is very nearly crucified for our sins. There is a little bit of vengeance in all of us, and the finale gives us one of the most powerful images in any Hitchcock film: The police removing the nearly dead lodger from an iron fence on which he had been hanging. Hitchcock stages this moment and those preceding it as if they were part of the actual crucifixion of Christ. Everything – the positioning of the two policemen, Daisy caressing his cheek – give the feel of classical art’s depiction of the crucifixion and its immediate aftermath.

Another theme tackled by Hitchcock and writer Eliot Stannard, is that of fetishism – particularly bondage mania and incest. The bondage kink is hinted at when Joe playfully slips handcuffs onto Daisy’s wrists after saying "When I put a rope around The Avenger’s neck – I’ll put a ring round Daisy’s finger." Violence and sex – an early intermingling. Handcuffs, of course, also represent loss of freedom – here strangely linked with marriage. Implications of incest are found in the plot points surrounding the lodger’s sister and Daisy. The tortured young man falls in love with Daisy, whom – it must be pointed out – has much in common with his sister. Both have similar builds, blond hair, fair skin and light colored eyes. This lodger is indeed a bundle of confused emotions.

"The Lodger" prefigures several classic Hitchcock plot points and sequences, some of which were forced on the master. Since Ivor Novello was a matinee idol, his lodger could not be revealed to be the actual "Avenger." The front office insisted his character be innocent of the murders, Just as Cary Grant’s "Johnny Aysgarth" could not be a wife murderer in "Suspicion" fifteen years later. The studio executives believed it could harm the actors reputation (and therefore box office receipts), especially with women audience members. The innocent man, of course, is a recurring Hitchcock motif. Another fascinating precursor to later, even greater, film moments, is found in a genuinely suspenseful bathtub scene. Daisy sits in a hot bath as the lodger lurks outside the bathroom door. He waits then tries the knob. It is locked. Will this stop him? Daisy, oblivious, kicks her feet in the water playfully, as the audience holds its collective breath. The steam rising up from the tub reminds us of The Avenger creeping around in the London fog. The beautiful young blond in a bathtub reminds post 1960 audiences of Janet Leigh and that "Psycho" shower. As if we needed reminding…As if we could ever forget.

If you would like to find out more about this film, you should check out www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/449308/THE-LODGER

There are several edits of this film on YouTube. None, that I could find, contain the entire film.