Lodger, The (1927): Making Hitchcock’s Greatest Silent Thriller

While Hitchcock had made two previous films, in later years the director would refer to The Lodger as his first “true Hitchcockian film.”

Beginning with The Lodger, Hitchcock helped shape the modern-day genre of the suspense thriller film.

Some critics consider The Lodger to be Hitchcock’s greatest silent film.

Cameo

Hitchcock’s cameo occurs when he is sitting at a desk in the newsroom with his back to the camera, operating a telephone (5:33 minutes into the film).

This is Hitchcock’s first recognizable film cameo, and it became a standard practice for the remainder of his career. Hitchcock said his cameo came about because the actor who was supposed to play the part failed to appear, so he filled in for him. Hitchcock’s cameo is shot in similar manner to that of the titular lodger.

The Lodger is based on a novel of the same name by Marie Belloc Lowndes about the Jack the Ripper murders, as well as the play Who Is He, a stage adaptation of the novel by Horace Annesley Vachell that Hitchcock saw in 1915.

Stardom and Its Constraints:

Originally, the film was to end with ambiguity about the lodger’s innocence. However, when Novello was cast, the studio demanded alterations to the script.

Hitchcock recalled: “They wouldn’t let Novello be even 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.” Nonetheless, while following these instructions, he avoided revealing the identity of the true villain.

Principal photography began on February 25, 1926 and was completed in 6 weeks.

Scenes would not run for much longer than 3 minutes each. Actress June Tripp recalled: “Fresh from Berlin, Hitchcock 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 3 minutes on the screen would take a morning to shoot.”

A memorable scene occurs when the Buntings look up at their kitchen ceiling, listening to the lodger pacing above. The ceiling then becomes transparent, and the lodger is seen walking on it (a thick sheet of toughened glass was used).

This scene was composed of 65 shots lasting over 6 minutes, with no title cards. Unsettling camera angles include one straight down the staircase, when the lodger’s disembodied hand slides down the banister.

Ivor Novello

Early on in the film, the lodger’s room is filled with paintings by Edward Burne-Jones of nude blonde women who resemble the Avenger’s victims.’ Among them is a painting of Saint George freeing a woman from being sacrificed–Hitchcock’s foreshadowing suggests that the lodger is not the killer.

Upon viewing the finished film, producer Michael Balcon was furious and nearly shelved it. After considerable arguments, a compromise was reached. Film critic Ivoe Montagu was hired to salvage the film. Hitchcock was initially resentful of the intrusion, but Montagu recognized the director’s technical skill and artistry and made only minor suggestions–the title cards and the reshooting of a few minor scenes.

American poster artist Edward McKnight Kauffer was asked to design the animated triangular title cards.

A successful trade screening of the reedited film overcame Woolf’s prior objections and its theatrical success allowed for the British release of Hitchcock’s prior film, The Mountain Eagle.

Upon release, the film was a critical and commercial success. The British trade journal Bioscope called it “the finest British production ever made.”

In this picture, more than with the others, Hitchcock practiced methods that reflected the inspiration of German Expressionism, which was then in vogue.

In framing the shots, Hitchcock was also influenced by the reality of the post-war horror, social unrest, and the fear of abnormality and madness.

The Lodger continued to explore themes seen in Hitchcock’s previous films, which would become more apparent in his future works

Among them, the notion of an innocent man on the run for crime he did not commit, the obsession with blondes, the fear of authority, the ambivalence towards homosexuality, and the fascination with techniques that were uniquely cinematic.

Hitchcock had studied contemporary films by major directors, such as Murnau and Fritz Kang, who would also emigrate to Hollywood. Their influence is seen in the ominous camera angles and claustrophobic lighting.

Radio Adaptation:

Hitchcock was involved in the radio adaptation of the film, featuring Herbert Marshall, Edmund Gwenn and Lurene Tuttle.

Reviewing the adaptation, Variety wrote: “Hitchcock is a director with an exceptionally acute ear. He achieves his results by a Ravel-like rhythmic pummeling of the nervous system. Music, sound effects, the various equivalents of squeaking shoes, deep breathing, disembodied voices are mingled in the telling of the tale with a mounting accumulation of small descriptive touches that pyramid the tension.”

The adaptation preserves the original novel’s ending rather than that of the film, and it does not resolve the question of the lodger’s identity as the killer.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Hitchcock’s birth, an orchestral soundtrack was composed by Ashley Irwin.

The recording with the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg was broadcast over the ARTE TV network in Europe on August 13, 1999.

Its first 5 performance occurred on September 29, 2000 in the Nikolaisaal in Potsdam by the Deutsches Filmorchester Babelsberg under the Scott Lawton’s direction.

A newly tinted digital version was completed in 2012 as part of the BFI £2 million “Save the Hitchcock 9” project to restore Hitchcock’s surviving silent films.