Sunday, October 7, 2012

Silent Sundays: The Lodger (1927)

“Tall he was - and his face all wrapped up”

            The Lodger was the first silent film I ever watched. I can remember like it was yesterday (This was about maybe four years ago now) when I bought a pack of Hitchcock’s early films. When I got home I went to my basement and watched The Lodger. I remember liking the story but I cannot remember how I felt about watching a silent film such as if I found it difficult to follow or the quality or the acting. I just remember I liked the story, the tension, and the ambiguity. Now watching The Lodger after having seen so many of Hitchcock’s films as well as a handful of other silent films I appreciate the film so much more. Maybe appreciate is not the right word, understand I feel is more fitting. I understand the film better along with Hitchcock’s style now.
            The story takes place in modern 1926 London. The opening shot is of a young girl being screaming as she is being attacked and murdered. Her body is hauled out of the Thames with several onlookers. The poor girl is the seventh victim of a killer known simply as The Avenger. He kills young girls with blonde hair and always on Tuesday nights. News spreads from the Thames Embankment where the girl was found to the wire services and finally to the newspapers. People all over are at once nervous, upset and intensely interested. Chorus girls in the show Golden Curls that can be seen flickering in a reflection on the Thames are scared to leave alone. Several of the blonde haired girls tuck their hair into hats or put on brunette wigs.
            The news hits a Mr. and Mrs. Bunting close to home. Their daughter Daisy is a young blonde girl who is a model at a store. Daisy arrives safely home to her mother, father, and her police officer boyfriend Joe. The Buntings run a boarding house and one night a mysterious man (Ivor Novello) comes to the door looking for a room. Right away he looks suspicious- his mouth is covered by a cloth, he wears a hat, and a heavy coat. The Lodger is skittish and nervous. When Mrs. Bunting, Daisy, and Joe go downstairs they can hear The Lodger pacing back and forth in his room.
            After some time The Lodger “has made himself agreeable.” He and Daisy sit by the fire playing a game of chess. He looks at her with a slightly sinister face as he picks up a poker. It looks as if he is going to kill her but he actually does move the logs around with the poker. Joe comes over to tell the family he has been put on The Avenger case. He says that once he puts a rope around The Avenger’s neck he will put a ring around Daisy’s finger.
            Mrs. Bunting is awoken in the middle of the night when she hears The Lodger walking down the stairs and out of the house. His mouth is covered just as it had been when he first arrived. That night another girl is murdered.
            Daisy becomes friendly with The Lodger. Her mother tells her father what she saw that when The Lodger left the house and the father is very much on his guard. Joe has become suspicious of the boarder. Mixed in with suspicion is jealousy over Daisy spending so much time with The Lodger. Joe sees that The Avenger has been moving in a certain pattern, the scene cuts to The Lodger with a map of the same patterns Joe has picked up on.
            Daisy and The Lodger go out on a date. Her mother panics because it is Tuesday and she is out with the strange man. Joe finds them and interrupts their date. Daisy completely ignores Joe and has The Lodger take her home. Upset over this brush off, Joe comes to the house with a warrant to search The Lodger’s room. The map is found along with a black bag the kind The Avenger is known to carry, a picture of a young blonde girl, and clippings of the murders. Joe takes the man but he eventually escapes.
            The Lodger finds Daisy after he has escaped. He explains that his sister was murder at her coming out party and he promised his mother on her deathbed that he would find her killer. Daisy brings The Lodger to a bar to get some liquor in him to warm up but his handcuffs are immediately spotted. Not too long after The Lodger is chased by angry throngs of townspeople.
            Is The Lodger really innocent or is he guilty of the multiple crimes?
            Hitchcock had to tie up the ending but I am not about to give it away. If you are truly dying to know the end then give the film a watch… or just go to IMDB and read their Trivia section. I say watch the film over cheating.
            Hitchcock told Francois Truffaut that this was his first true film. This is the film style and leading male character that he would carry through all his alter films. The story is the first true Hitchcock story where people are murdered and the leading male character is blamed. I believe because this is a silent film the drama, suspense, and tension is perfection. You rely just on the actor’s actions and expressions you cannot rely just on words.
            Before making this film Hitchcock had been to Germany where the Expressionist art movement was taking place. As soon as the film starts you can see the movement’s influence on his direction and style especially with the blinking “Tonight- Golden Curls” sign blinking and some of the title cards.
            My favorite part of the film is the beginning as the news of the girl’s murder is being spread through London and the scenes of the people are interspersed with scenes of the blinking sign. It is tension and anxiety perfectly wrapped together. The news of the murder is spreading like a disease with nobody really knowing what happened and becoming afraid that the girl was found so close by.
            The Lodger is, without a doubt, one of Hitchcock’s best films and one of the best silent films I have ever seen. I have seen some silent films that were supposed to be suspenseful but nothing can hold a flame to The Lodger and this was only the beginning of Hitchcock’s career as The Master of Suspense.