Hitchock’s Legacy #1: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

Released in 1927, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog is a silent horror classic, and not just because it’s old.

To begin with, I feel I should assess this film’s realism. The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog deals with many things, including a Jack the Ripper-style murderer. However, one striking aspect of the film is instantly noticeable: The killer has a fetish for blondes.

It’s a bit of a surprise, given how old the film is, and how old-timers so often refer back to a morally pure, righteous age, where society wasn’t twisted and the streets were safe. Instead of that, this movie shows us a darker, kinkier reality. I like that, very early in cinematic history, innovative filmmakers were trying to shatter public illusions of total safety and sexual purity.

Not all gentlemen prefer blondes, but some miscreants do. Hitchcock was on to something with this focus, because that is often how a murderer’s mind works. They focus on some unique feature of a prospective victim, then, for whatever reason, swoop in and make the news. As a real-life example, serial killer Ted Bundy was said to focus primarily on women with hair parted down the middle. In this film, blonde women take to wearing hats or dark wigs when they head out!  While paranoia isn’t entirely a good thing, it’s actually not completely bad, either.

The Lodger does shy away from getting too brutal, as I’m guessing it would have been too shocking to really get into the murders.  However, you have to give this movie credit for establishing Alfred Hitchcock as a filmmaker, and for influencing horror/thriller films down the ages.

Even More Realism

Illustration shows the police discovering the body of one of Jack the Ripper’s victims, probably Catherine Eddowes, London, England, late September 1888. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Real life does tie into this film, even aside from the Jack the Ripper legend.  Alfred Hitchcock himself was famous for featuring blonde actresses in lead roles. In an interview with CBS TV, he apparently said of his cinematic victims: “Blondes make the best victims. They’re like virgin snow that shows up the bloody footprints.”  It seems Hitchcock wasn’t afraid to share what he liked with the world.

Of course, Hitchcock isn’t the only famous director who may have let his own preferences appear on screen. Edward D. Wood, Jr. is known for an angora fetish, featuring it in at least some of his films. Similarly, Quentin Tarantino seems to have something for lady’s feet. However, Hitchcock’s earliest horror film is overwhelmingly about a fetish, whereas sometimes it’s just a minor aspect of a film, or a quirk. This particular killer also strikes on Tuesday evenings, which would give any skilled detective something to work with!

The Performances

Ivor Novello plays Jonathan Drew, or “The Lodger.” At times sympathetic, at times suspicious, Jonathan Drew is the big question mark of the movie. Is he the so-called “Avenger” who’s been murdering blonde women throughout London? Marie Ault plays the lodger’s landlady, who comes to suspect he could be the killer (and Arthur Chesney plays the landlady’s husband).

The landlady’s daughter Daisy (June Tripp), a model, is quick to spring to the lodger’s defense against accusations. Is she a fool blinded by her attraction to the man, or is she right? Malcolm Keen plays Daisy’s policeman boyfriend, Joe Chandler, who also becomes convinced of Jonathan Drew’s guilt. Of course, it could be because he’s jealous of the guy, as Daisy dumps him for the lodger.

In other words, this film has some dramatic tension, which just happens to tie into the ongoing murders. One may be frustrated with Daisy, but there’s always a sense that she may be right, and maybe the lodger is simply eccentric and misunderstood. This is something that also happens in real life (look into the modern case of the “West Memphis 3,” for example, where murders were pinned on three teenagers with little to no evidence, except their love of heavy metal music and elements of goth culture).

Silent Screams

Although The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog is a silent movie, you can almost hear the screams of the actors, and the voices of the people in conversation. Yes, it’s partly because of the decent acting and Hitchcock’s directorial prowess, but it’s also because we can easily sense the news hype surrounding the murders. Media sensationalism, panic, outrage and shock are things we can identify and relate to in this world, and this film can successfully tap into one’s imagination based on their prior experiences.

Alfred Hitchcock Cameos

Alfred Hitchcock is known for cameos in his own films and this one is no exception. He can be seen in a newsroom at the 5:33 mark of The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog. Hitchcock also appears toward the end of the film, among the mob of angry anti-Avengers. Of course, it’s even possible he appears elsewhere in the film, if you feel up to giving it the old Where’s Waldo treatment. Still, those are the presently known cameos.

Notable Companion Piece Options To The Lodger

While I could list each and every version out there, I’ll list a few that could be decent companions to The Lodger. Man in the Attic (1953), directed by Hugo Fregonese, stars Jack Palance as the lodger, named Mr. Slade. It’s worth a watch.

Also, even though it’s not particularly inspired by Jack the Ripper or The Lodger, I’d suggest Edgar G. Ulmer’s Bluebeard as a companion piece to Hitchock’s film. It stars John Carradine as a puppeteer who happens to also be the murderous “Bluebeard.”

Finally, you might also want to simply pair The Lodger with Rupert Julian’s The Phantom of the Opera. Or, of course, you could pair The Phantom with Bluebeard. All these films are a little bit different, yet share a similar flavor. Feel free to mix and match as you see fit.

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What are your thoughts on The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog? Let us know in the comments!

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