(director: Alfred Hitchcock; screenwriters: from the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes/Eliot Stannard; cinematographer: Baron Ventimiglia/Hal Young; editor: IvorMontagu; music: Ashley Irwin; cast: Ivor Novello (The Lodger, Jonathan Drew), Marie Ault (Mrs. Bunting, The Landlady), Arthur Chesney (Mr. Bunting, Landlady’s Husband), June Tripp (Daisy Bunting, Landlady’s Daughter), Malcolm Keen (Joe Chandler, Detective); Runtime: 91; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Michael Balcon/Carlyle Blackwell; MGM Home Entertainment; 1927-UK-silent)
“Brilliant visual touches.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

An early silent film from Alfred Hitchcock (“Blackmail”/”The Ring”/”Suspicion”), his third film, that many, including Hitchcock himself, consider his first great suspense film.It brings to the table Hitch’s brilliant visual touches (like the clear glass floor through which we see the nervous lodger pacing back and forth in his room, causing the chandelier to sway on the ceiling below), his eye for detail, his ability to keep things tense, and his creation of a dark atmosphere as filmed in the artistic style of German Expressionism.It’s based on a 1913 novel of a fictionalized Jack the Ripper by Mrs Marie Belloc Lowndes, whose brother was the famed Catholic writer/poet Hillaire Belloc, and was presented before as a 1916 play called Who Is He? The Lodger was remade in 1932 by Maurice Elvey and Ivor Novello (a popular matinee idol of the time) once again starred in the same role of the lodger, in 1944 it starred Laird Cregar, in 1953 as Man in the Attic it starred Jack Palance as the lodger.

It’s a Jack-the-Ripper-type killer suspense story, using a London serial killer, calling himself “The Avenger,” who leaves his calling card after each murder on the vic’s corpse by signing his alias on a hand-drawn triangle. The Avenger is on the loose murdering only blondes on Tuesday night, which puts a fright on a foggy London after seven such murders.

A gaunt well-dressed aristocratic looking Jonathan Drew (Novello) rents a room in the London boarding house of the lower-middle-class Buntings (Marie Ault & Arthur Chesney) on a foggy night, and because he’s such a quiet and mysterious person and insists on the removal of all the pictures of women from the room, he makes the landlady a bit nervous. The Buntings are especially alarmed when the lodger shows that he’s attracted to their clothing model daughter and despite warning their daughter to steer clear of him, she goes out with him. Their attractive blonde daughter Daisy (June Tripp) is dating Joe Chandler (Malcolm Keen), one of the detectives assigned to find “The Avenger.” The boorish Joe promises to marry Daisy as soon as he puts a rope around the serial killer’s neck.

Things get hairy, when all the killings are in the same neighborhood where the lodger lives. When Joe becomes jealous that the sensitive lodger stole his girl right from under him, he gets a search warrant to search his room. It leads to a memorable climax, that fits the Master’s long-running theme of an innocent person being persecuted by the police. The studio refused to allow its hot property matinee romantic star to be the serial killer fearing it might dim his popularity with the fickle public, so the Avenger crime is solved off-screen while the innocent lodger in handcuffs escapes arrest and is chased by an angry mob who believe he’s the Avenger and want to tear him apart.

It’s an especially valuable film for cinephiles who wish to see how the Master exercised his trademark style during his early days.