Rediscovering Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger: A Story Of The London Fog

The Lodger: A Story Of The London Fog, Alfred Hitchcock’s self-professed first “proper” film screened in its newly restored iteration for the first time last weekend. Thanks to the power of modern technology the Gala premiere, being held at the Barbican, London ,was beamed around the world via satellite, opening up the BFI’s Summer-long Hitchcock celebration to those not based within the capital. We had the good fortune to be at one of the screenings, and while it was mildly besieged by technical problems (thanks to a signal droppage), in general the whole thing went rather well.

For those unfamiliar, The Lodger stars Ivor Novello as the eponymous houseguest, a mysterious figure whose arrival in the abode of the Bunting family ties in with a spate of murders haunting the London being presented. As the work progresses the lodger and the daughter of the family fall for one another, with their descent in to love coinciding with the spiral of suspicion that swirls around the man.

Creatively the film is a particularly confident work for what is merely the director’s third picture (at a time when 2 or 3 features per annum was the norm), and while this shouldn’t come as a surprise to some (considering that Hitch was very confident in his creative abilities), when one takes a look at some of the film’s that followed in the early portion of the directors career, marvel may be forgiven. Put simply, it impresses all the more when placed alongside several of the films that immediately followed, thanks to the manner in which most of them were produced during the crossover period between sound and silence.

From the opening titles, in which the articulate and beautifully constructed nature of which are a clear nod towards Hitchcock’s early days in design at Henley’s and, let’s not forget, in his early film career as an inter-title writer for Paramount. Note the recurring image of the neon sign bearing the “Golden Curls” slogan, and the manner in which it morphs from a slogan promising good-time, half-sleaze in the first act (where it can also be seen animated in inter-title form) in to a fully fledged nod to the camera as the image fades to black at the end of the picture. It’s a clever, witty employment of imagery, and the sort of thing that Hitchcock would refine and perfect over the five decades of filmmaking that followed. And it’s not just in this one instance where The Lodger can be seen as a prototype for the work that would follow. One very obvious element to highlight would be the manner in which the narrative of this film foreshadows the numerous “wrong man” features that would follow, while Hitchcock’s knack for shooting that most cinematic embraces has never really deviated from the manner in which it is employed here, to exploit and utilise the reputation of this particular films matinee idol. Echoes of this can be seen right through Hitchcock’s oeuvre, with the most notable example being the equivalent moment between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North By Northwest some almost years later. The placement of the female figure within a particular narrative role, as occupied by June Tripp’s Daisy Bunting here in The Lodger is a clear vision of what is to come with that most closely associated trademark of Hitch, the blonde.

Also apparent in the film is Hitchcock’s great wit. An opening exchange sees a smitten fellow compare himself to a sex criminal in an attempt to woo the object of his affections, while elsewhere one can bask in the contradictory nature of the gossip-loving family at the centre of the movie. Driven by scandal in a representation of a family based on Hitchcock’s own, the group partakes in one of the great pastimes of the day, idle gossip and speculation, only to feign outrage at the thought of their own paths crossing with that of the “Avenger”.

The aforementioned elements of the production are so undoubtedly rich that one can happily slight over what may otherwise be deemed a failing in a similar production. The limited resources are evident, with much of the action derived from just a single location, the townhouse where the lodger lodges, yet such awe-inspiring visual flourishes as the films most famous moment (the titular character’s pacing to and fro is visually represented from below thanks to an ingenious use of a sheet of see-through plastic) ensure that the work never feels limited in scope or imagination.

Unfortunately it’s Nitin Sawhney’s newly composed score for the film where the restored The Lodger falters most: it’s overtly romantic, nods towards Bernard Herrmann’s scores to later Hitchcock films far too often (an initially smart use of the strings from Psycho soon becomes old hat when utilised for the umpteenth time), and the less said about the songs (complete with lyrics) littered throughout the better. When a new composer approaches a familiar work it is said that they must resist from too heavily handedly applying their own interpretation on the work, and in this respect Sawhney ultimately fails. 

The newly restored The Lodger: A Story Of The London Fog will be on limited theatrical release at the end of August. A home video release follows in early September.

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