• SilentCinemaSchool

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

Well folks, the general consensus is in. The gruesome, blood-curdling scenes of Halloween movies are behind us, and we are now entering Spooky Mystery Season. We’re still keeping a bit of spook, but we’re dialing it down from the over-the-top madness that October always brings. So curl up under your warm blanket, grab a mug of hot coffee (or cocoa, if you prefer) and let’s delve into a slightly chilling, riveting mystery movie that was all the rage in the Merry Old England of 1927.


But first! Just an FYI:

This blog post is part of the Classic Movie Blog Association’s “Movies Are Murder” Blogathon! For more about this unique organization, tap the banner below. Be sure to check out some of the other entries while you’re at it!





“The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog” is the third movie of legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. Yes, he actually made silent movies, long before he made “Psycho”! However, young, 27-year-old Alfred Hitchcock was still Hitchcock at heart, and even in his early days, he preferred dark, chilling themes. “The Lodger” was based on a 1913 novel of the same name, inspired by the real-life killings of Jack the Ripper. The novel was turned into a comedic stage play in 1915, which Alfred had seen. Because, ya know, what better subject to have a laugh at than a brutal serial murderer?? I ask you.


SPOILER ALERT – if you want to be surprised at the ending, skip to the bottom of this post, watch the film, and then continue reading. You were warned!



The story is simple enough. A string of murders are taking place, all of the victims blond women. No one knows who the killer is, only that he calls himself the Avenger. And in the midst of the panic, a mysterious young man shows up to rent a vacant room in the family home of the heroine, a lovely blonde!


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At first, the film was supposed to be open-ended regarding the lodger’s innocence, but when superstar Ivor Novello was cast as the lead, Gainsborough Studios demanded that the ending be changed to ensure that his character was, in fact, innocent. Ivor had quite a public image as being a heroic good-guy, and they were not willing to have this image tarnished! As Alfred later recalled:

They wouldn't let Novello even be considered as a villain. The publicity angle carried the day, and we had to change the script to show that without a doubt he was innocent.

Alfred complied with their orders, but also did not show the actual villain – leaving audiences to wonder who it was, what he was avenging and why he was so into murdering blond women! He often co-wrote his scripts to ensure they fit his vision, but rarely took a writing credit – and considering his obsession with blondes in his films AND his personal life, well....we’ll let you jump to your own conclusions there.



Principal photography lasted 6 weeks. Alfred, having just returned from Germany, had lots of ideas from the uber-popular German Expressionism genre that presented a shadowy, eerie, dramatic style. Each scene was no longer than 3 minutes, but sometimes his commitment to detail was so extreme that shooting these scenes took an unusually long time! Starring actress June Tripp said:

"Fresh from Berlin, Hitch was so imbued with the value of unusual camera angles and lighting effects with which to create and sustain dramatic suspense that often a scene which would not run for more than three minutes on the screen would take a morning to shoot."

An interesting (and ingenious) special effect is that of a toughened glass “ceiling”, on which the lodger is shown pacing back and forth, causing the light fixture to move above the heads of his downstairs neighbors:



Well, once the film was finished, the producer (Michael Balcon) was inclined towards shelving it altogether. Apparently a bigwig from distribution (C.M. Woolf) claimed he couldn’t understand the film! Well, Michael ultimately ended up hiring a member of the Film Society (Ivor Montagu) to edit and recommend changes. Naturally, this ruffled Alfred’s feathers, as it was his project and he didn’t like being told it was less than great! Thankfully, Mr. Montagu recognized just how talented Alfred was, and only made a few minor changes – although it’s worth noting that later on, Mr. Montagu claimed that the original version had roughly 500 title cards! Sheesh, Alfred.


When “The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog” premiered, it was a box office success. A British trade journal called it “the finest British production ever made”, making it not just a commercial success, but a critical one as well! Many Hitchcock fans today consider it his finest silent film (we agree completely), and Alfred himself referred to “The Lodger” as the first true Hitchcock film, the first film in which he exercised his style.



FUN FACT: Alfred makes a cameo appearance in “The Lodger” (see above)! At about 5:33 into the movie, he is shown in the newsroom with his back to the camera, using a telephone. He later said that the actor who was supposed to have the part did not show up for work that day, so Alfred had to jump in at the last minute. Who wouldn’t show up to work on a Hitchcock film, I mean...


References:

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog - Wikipedia

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog: The First True Hitchcock Movie | Current | The Criterion Collection







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