(director: John Brahm; screenwriters: from a book by Marie Belloc Lowndes/Barré Lyndon; cinematographer: Lucien Ballard; editor: J. Watson Webb, Jr.; cast: Merle Oberon (Kitty Langley), George Sanders (John Warwick), Laird Cregar (The Lodger, Slade), Cedric Hardwicke (Robert Burton), Sara Allgood (Ellen), Aubrey Mather (Supt. Sutherland), Queenie Leonard (Daisey), Doris Lloyd (Jennie), Anita Bolster (Wiggy), Helena Pickard (Anne Rowley); Runtime: 84; 20th Century Fox; 1944)
“Laird Cregar’s performance was brilliantly disturbing.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An evocative, atmospheric mood piece that is brilliantly photographed by Lucien Ballard, set in the fogbound and shadowy London streets of Whitechapel during the 1880s. It is the fictional story of Jack the Ripper, the third film version adapted from the book by Marie Belloc-Lowndes (a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1925 film of the same name). This strange tale is noted for its riveting performance by Laird Cregar as the strangler.
The film opens to the eerie screams at night of a drunken showgirl getting her throat slashed by Jack the Ripper (Cregar). He then appears walking the night streets, as newspaper boys hawk their papers by shouting out that the Ripper strikes again. Cregar rents a room on Montague Square from Ellen Burton (Allgood), who seems glad to take his advanced monthly payment and fails to notice how strange he is. He tells her his name is Slade and that he works as a pathologist at University Hospital and that this place is like a refuge. He requests that she regards him as a lodger not as a guest. He also tells her he’ll use the attic to conduct science experiments and that he keeps irregular hours. When he sees pictures of actresses in his room, he turns the pictures backwards saying they seem to be staring at him.
It hardly seems possible that he wasn’t suspected of being the Ripper right from his introduction. The landlady’s husband Robert (Hardwicke) is reluctant to have a lodger, but because of his failed business he needs the dough. Also living there are the maid Daisy (Queenie Leonard) and their beautiful niece Kitty Langley (Oberon). She’s acclaimed by the newspapers to be a new stage star and is set to be in a musical soon opening at the Whitechapel theater.
When the lodger meets the stunning Kitty, he tells her he enjoys walking the streets at night when they are empty. That he goes to the Thames because the deep water is dark and restful and full of peace. He also shows her a photo of his brother who was an artistic genius, but died at a young age because a beautiful actress ruined his life.
At the theater, Annie Rowley (Pickard), an actress who never made it to stardom but once opened at the same theater Kitty is appearing at, comes by to wish her luck and tells her to never whistle in the dressing room because it will bring her bad luck. Later on that evening, Annie will become another of the Ripper’s victims. When Inspector John Warwick (Sanders) comes to the theater to interview Kitty about Annie’s earlier visit, he’s struck by Kitty’s beauty and falls in love with her. He tells her uncle that the Ripper has killed only showgirls and seems to be knowledgeable about medical procedures, and he was seen carrying a black bag.
At home Ellen discovers her lodger burning his black bag, but when she tells Robert he says: that’s logical because he doesn’t want to become a suspect. Soon another murder takes place, as an elderly show girl Jennie (Doris Lloyd) lends her accordion to a pickpocket (Bolster) who can’t earn money on the streets of Whitechapel these days because of the presence of too many police and hopes to play hymns on the street to collect some donations. The Ripper does his slashing thing on Jennie and then goes to the Thames to wash his bloody hands. Sneaking back to his lodgings late at night, he is spotted by Kitty who sees him burning his coat. He tells her it got contaminated in an experiment and he doesn’t want to infect the household. At last Kitty’s suspicions are aroused and her suitor, Inspector Warwick, comes to get any fingerprints the lodger might have left in the room.
The finale is tense, as the action takes place in the theater with Slade going after Kitty in her dressing room. Slade tells her he’s killing the evil in the showgirls and letting the good live in them. He believes that he is right to rid the world of stage women because one of them ruined his brother. He further tells her that the Solomon from the Bible warns against women with painted faces.
The film had a strange fascination. Laird Cregar’s performance was brilliantly disturbing.
REVIEWED ON 5/9/2001 GRADE: A- https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/