Made in 1926, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog was Alfred Hitchcock’s third completed feature and the one he considered to be his first real film. In spite of his inexperience, Hitchcock demonstrates a flair for building tension and creating an evocative atmosphere. This early silent establishes some of the idiosyncracies he later became famous for, notably his cameo appearances and his fixation on blonde actresses. It is also Hitchcock’s first take on the theme of the wrongly accused man, which would preoccupy him repeatedly throughout the rest of his career.
Based on the eponymous novel by Marie Belloc-Lowndes, the film is set in a foggy, gloomy London terrorised by The Avenger, a killer loosely modelled on Jack the Ripper. As yet another blonde woman is found murdered, a sinister gentleman takes up lodgings at the house of an elderly couple, Mr and Mrs Bunting. Soon, the lodger’s eccentric ways make him a suspect, and this is exacerbated by his obvious interest in Daisy, the Buntings’ young and pretty blonde daughter. Daisy is also courted by a police detective working on the case, and jealousy further spurs the latter’s suspicions when Daisy appears to reciprocate the lodger’s interest in her.
Like many of Hitchcock’s crime thrillers, this is really a sexual psychodrama. The hunt for the murderer is inseparable from the amorous triangle in which Daisy – a potential victim – is pursued by both the police detective and the suspect. In this way the film suggests that the connection between sex and violence is not simply restricted to the murder case but possibly underlies all male/female relationships. There is a scene in which the detective locks his handcuffs around Daisy’s wrists, telling her he’s hoping to do the same thing to the murderer soon. He means it in a playful manner but Daisy becomes upset and complains that he’s hurting her. Through this incident the film introduces intimations of violence in the courtship, revealing the disquieting side of the detective’s desire to possess Daisy. Although the story ends well – rather unconvincingly – a disturbing reminder of this undercurrent of violence is contained within the last images. As the happy couple stand by the window of their swish apartment, the words ‘To-Night – Golden Curls’ are seen flashing on a building behind them. These very same words appear on title cards at the beginning of the film, in connection with the murders. This small, barely noticeable detail introduces a sense of menace in the conventional happy ending, as if to suggest that men’s vicious impulses towards women lie dormant in any relationship, ready to be awoken at any time.
The Lodger is also worth watching for the sense of excitement that it exudes about the possibilities of the film medium. As the story requires that the killer’s identity should remain mysterious to the end, the tension relies on what is heard rather than on what is seen. This being a silent film, Hitchcock had to find clever ways of expressing sound through images. For some of the early scenes he went as far as constructing a glass floor in order to visually convey the noise of the lodger’s footsteps as he restlessly paces up and down his room. This may be slightly over-zealous, but it is that kind of enthusiasm and inventiveness that make the film so pleasurable to watch. The title cards are also worth mentioning: featuring designs by the Cubist-influenced artist E. McKnight Kauffer, they further enhance the dynamic, modern feel of The Lodger.