Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Ivor Novello
A man who calls himself “The Avenger” has been going around killing blond women. The landlady and her husband wonder… could their mysterious new tenant, who seems to have an unhealthy preoccupation with their golden haired daughter, be the killer? In a film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, the answer is of course not simple and The Lodger keeps you guessing and second-guessing for most of its duration.
The film opens with the words, “To-Night Golden Curls,” blinking on and off the screen, the full meaning of which is explained at the end of the film as a kind of framing device. The film then moves on to a killing and a fresh wave of panic sweeping through the residents of London. The Avenger strikes again! This time, however, there was a witness, who describes the man as having his face half covered by a scarf. Cut to the home of The Landlady (Marie Ault) and Her Husband (Arthur Chesney), who have just welcomed a new tenant into their home, one who arrived at their door with a scarf covering half his face. If the scarf was all the evidence against him, there wouldn’t be much suspense with regards to the intentions of The Lodger (Ivor Novello, who would reprise the role in the 1932 remake), but his subsequent behavior certainly makes you wonder (as do his marvelously crazy eyes). He’s captivated by his landlords’ daughter, Daisy (June), who has the golden curls so coveted by the killer and he’s intensely private, particularly about the mysterious bag he keeps locked up in a cupboard. And then there are those nights when he sneaks out of the house…
When Daisy falls in love with the Lodger, the film begins to turn somewhat, casting him in a less suspicious and more ambiguous and sympathetic light. Maybe he’s being set up? He isn’t the only man who wants Daisy, as Joe (Malcolm Kenn), the police detective investigating the murders can attest. Early in the film Joe has a throwaway line in which he remarks on the similarities between himself and The Avenger, and what better way to get away with murder than to be the one investigating it? He states at one point his intention to “put a rope around The Avenger’s neck and a ring on Daisy’s finger,” and if the Lodger is the killer, well that’s two birds with one stone, isn’t it? But, then again, the contents of that bag, once opened, offer some damning evidence.
Although the film drags in places, it is for the most part very well-plotted and paced. There is enough ambiguity about the characters and their actions to keep you guessing long into the film and though the ending is considerably more sentimental than you’ll find in later Hitchcock films, it’s still a fairly strong effort. The Lodger is Hitchcock’s third feature length film and though it includes some of the recurrent features of his later work (the obsession with blonds, the theme of the wrong man), it is rudimentary Hitchcock and his style isn’t as pronounced or keenly developed here as it is in later films. If you went into this film not knowing that it was directed by Hitchcock, you might not guess that he was behind it.
As far as the acting goes, Novello renders a performance that just skirts the line, almost going over the top but somehow always pulling back in time. The Lodger is a strange character, sometimes sinister, other times incredibly vulnerable, and the ease with which Novello goes back and forth between the two helps the film in terms of maintaining suspense. He also has good chemistry with June, whose character isn’t particularly well-developed but who nevertheless gives the film a spark of playfulness.
In the end, while The Lodger isn’t great Hitchcock, even lesser Hitchcock is better than a lot of films and it’s interesting to see the roots of a cinematic genius.