#19 in my Ranking of Alfred Hitchcock’s films.
The opening few minutes of this film are such a marked contrast to Hitchcock’s first film and bear incredibly obvious German influences. The Pleasure Garden showed some skill from a young director, but The Lodger announced a real talent of strong skill. The rest of the movie doesn’t bear this influence as strongly, but it’s still a handsomely filmed and intelligently built thriller.
There are a string of killings going on in London. They all target young blond women, and the blonds of the city are finding ways to hide their hair color, even going as far as deciding to not peroxide their hair anymore. This is all conveyed in a wildly dynamic montage of flashing lights, faces, and interpretive cuts. It’s a really exciting way to start a movie.
After this expressive start, the movie settles its stylistic tropes into a more recognizable form with the introduction of our main characters. There’s a landlady, her husband, and her daughter, Daisy, a blonde who wears dresses in a display room for work. There’s also the girl’s beau, Joe, a policeman, whom Daisy treats playfully shabbily, but there’s affection that goes both way for sure. Into this mix comes the titular lodger. He shows up on the house’s doorstep wearing the same clothes and distinctive half-covered face that the only witness of the murders has described. Suspicion falls on him immediately, but his inability to even look at pictures of blonde women that line his rented room allays some fears.
However, the audience knows the truth. There’s no way that this guy could be introduced with such blatant visual ties to the killer and no other possible suspect in sight unless he is the killer. Unless…the whole movie is a red herring, which is impossible, right?
Anyway, what makes the movie work is the balance of knowledge that the audience is sure it knows, what Joe the police man thinks he knows and the conclusions he comes to, and the people’s fears of facing the lodger. It’s a balance of information that Hitchcock well mastered in service of tension for decades, and this is his first example of having serious understanding and control of the concept. Several times through the film, I reversed my thinking on the lodger’s guilt, and even in the end, with the final reveal about the lodger’s sister, I’m not sure how much I believe his innocence. We get visual representation of the events he describes, which lends credence to the telling with audiences, but it’s still just his word. He could be out looking for the real killer only to have the police catch the killer before the lodger could find him, or he could have used the catching of an innocent man in an environment ripe for quick conclusions, to get himself an escape.
Well acted, inventively filmed, and with very good art direction including a wonderful set for the house and great use of London in general, The Lodger represents an early success and an overall entertaining little movie from a future master of suspense.
Netflix Rating: 4/5
Quality Rating: 3/4