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THE LODGER (1926)

"My God, he is innocent!"

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Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Ivor Novello, June Tripp, Marie Ault, Arthur Chesney, Malcolm Keen

Screenplay: Eliot Stannard, based upon the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes

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Synopsis: London is terrorised by a killer who calls himself "The Avenger", who has murdered several golden-haired girls on consecutive Tuesdays. The Bunting family receives into their house a lodger (Ivor Novello). His behaviour is strange - he is upset by the decorative pictures of blonde women that hang in his room - but he is willing to pay his rent a month in advance. The Buntings’ daughter, Daisy (June Tripp), a pretty blonde who works as a model, is engaged to Joe (Malcolm Keen), a policeman who longs to work on the "Avenger" case. Daisy finds herself attracted to the lodger; the two spend time together, much to Joe’s annoyance. Mrs Bunting (Marie Ault) discovers that the lodger keeps strange hours, leaving the house in the middle of the night. The morning after one of these nocturnal outings, the papers announce another murder. Mrs Bunting is frightened, and confides in her husband (Arthur Chesney). The two are uncertain of what to do, but agree that Daisy must be kept away from the lodger. But Daisy has fallen in love with him. Joe, just appointed to the "Avenger" case, is furious. His suspicions and his jealousy working together, Joe obtains a warrant for the lodger’s arrest. But has he got the right man?

The Lodger was only Hitchcock’s third film, and the first to actually be released, and it is astonishing both for its technical virtuosity and for the explicit depiction of themes that in various forms would underly the director’s work for the rest of his career. Strange as it may now seem, some of this actually came about against Hitchcock’s will. Though pleased when matinee idol Novello agreed to be in his film, Hitchcock then had to deal with his star’s refusal to allow his character to be guilty. Thus, the defining Hitchcock storyline of the innocent man hunted for a crime he did not commit was introduced almost inadvertantly. (Interestingly, the events surrounding The Lodger almost exactly prefigure those which would disrupt Suspicion fifteen years later.)

As a result, the film is less of a case study, and more of a depiction of a city in panic, with mob violence the almost inevitable outcome. It is here that the technical brilliance of the film is most evident. The expressionistic title cards (Hitchcock’s first two films were made in Germany, where he was strongly, and very obviously, influenced by the work of Murnau) and some clever montage set the scene for us with admirable conciseness, depicting a contagious terror spreading throughout London via the power of the media.

The recurring Hitchcock motif of a man in handcuffs makes its first appearance in this film, although unaccompanied by the black humour that would mark its later use. The image of Novello dangling by his handcuffs from a spiked metal fence is one not easily forgotten. Also making his debut here in the character of Joe, Daisy’s jilted boyfriend, is the first of a seemingly endless parade of incompetent Hitchcock cops. (Occasionally, he varied the diet with one who was competent but corrupt, but the only honest, competent Hitchcock cop appears in Frenzy, his second-last film. He must have mellowed in his old age.)

Joe is a hopeless case, as pathetic as a lover as he is as a policeman ("I’m keen on golden curls myself, just like The Avenger," is one of his more tasteful remarks). He wants to work on the "Avenger" case, but spends more time in the Buntings’ kitchen than at work. When he obtains a warrant for the lodger’s arrest, it is jealousy, not evidence, that motivates him, and it is only good luck that an innocent man does not lose his life as a consequence.

Actually, the lodger isn’t entirely innocent - he is there to commit a murder himself, that of the man who killed his sister - and typically of the Hitchcock world, it is for this intent that he is punished. Modern audiences are likely to find Ivor Novello’s performance as the lodger unbearably camp, but he was a big star in his day, and Hitchcock exploited this by giving him a series of lingering profile shots that John Barrymore would have killed for. But besides being a star, Novello was also the Rock Hudson of his generation, i.e., his friends knew but his fans didn’t. Hitchcock has some fun with this by providing some immensely funny title cards. "I’m glad he’s not keen on the girls." announces Joe in a moment of rare insight. "He may be a little queer, but he’s certainly a gentleman," observes Mrs Bunting a little later. Truer words were never spoken. 

Check out all the details of this movie on the IMDB