Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926)

by Brent Reid

Production and remakes

  • In silents no one can hear you scream: investigating the Master’s take on Jack the Ripper
  • The elusive maniac emerges from the shadows in one of his earliest big screen outings
  • Often mistakenly called the first “true” Hitchcock film and his first crime thriller
  • But it was actually built on the solid, crime-driven plots of his earlier works
  • Butt it can lay claim to his first cameo, along with Alma’s, and MacGuffin

Note: this is one of 200-odd pending Hitchcock articles. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

Part 2: Home video releases

Ivor Novello in The Lodger (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) French Elephant Films Blu-ray screenshot

Ivor Novello is The Lodger; French Elephant Films Blu-ray


Production and release

Hitch’s third feature outing is often falsely considered his first “real” film, but that’s mostly due to his actual first being all but unavailable, while the second is lost. Nonetheless, The Lodger is certainly an accomplished, gripping drama that easily holds aloft the high bar set by its older siblings. It was often, alongside Shadow of a Doubt and Rear Window, cited by the director as one of his favourite own films. Retitled The Case of Jonathan Drew in the US, like its shadowy, unseen antagonist, this film is a creature of the night: it takes place entirely after dark, either indoors under artificial light or outdoors in thick, all-enveloping fog. Those of a nervous disposition may wish to think twice before venturing further…

Spoilers ahead: This was the first of a handful of big screen adaptations of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ immensely popular and still highly readable, eponymous 1913 novel. Said book is based on the evil activities of Jack the Ripper and expanded from her original 1911 short story. Iconic actor-composer Ivor Novello stars here in the first of his two back-to-back Hitchcocks, prior to his fall from grace in Downhill. Without spoiling it too much, I’ll just say this dark tale of multiple murders continues Hitch’s most beloved theme of the Wrong Man, one he’d already explored in The Mountain Eagle. My friend and film buff Allan Fish (1973–2016) sums it up very succinctly.

The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes, 1935 US Longman, Green and Co. photoplay edition

1935 US Photoplay edition; a tie-in with The Phantom Fiend reissue

Lowndes’ novel is in the public domain and available freely online at Gutenberg and the Internet Archive, etc. However, if you desire a physical copy, the definitive reprint edition is this one from 2015, edited by Victorian literature scholar Elyssa Warkentin. Among many contextual additions it includes the little-known incipient version of the story. In 2018, she also published a collected volume of Lowndes’ rare short stories. Note that both are only available in hardback. The Lodger is a brilliant, acutely observed and superbly evocative read, and it’s easy to see why it’s become such an enduring classic.

While on the subject of books, a quick aside: the Ripper’s unfortunate victims, like those of most serial killers, for too long have been denigrated or at best overlooked, due to society’s morbid obsession with such heinous crimes. Hitch’s film was one of the first of countless screen adaptations to memorialise the exploits of the Victorian psychopath, but finally, in this long overdue #MeToo age, the true stories of their actual lives, rather than just their grisly deaths, are being told:

An opera, Jack the Ripper: The Women of Whitechapel, debuted at the English National Opera to great acclaim in 2018, and was revived for a second run early the following year. Time’s up.

The women killed by Jack the Ripper are finally having their stories told

The Lodger (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US Criterion Blu-ray screenshot, showgirls

US Criterion Blu-ray screenshot

The above monographs are as well written and impeccably researched as one could possibly wish for, providing invaluable insights into the milieu in which The Lodger was created. However, both completely overlook some very important aspects of the film, namely its afterlife beyond the original theatrical release, how we came to have so many different versions today, and which are the best to watch (and listen to). This is a most regrettable omission but sadly typical of film studies, though not of academia in general. Such an approach does much to render films as dusty historical artefacts consigned to the realms of theory, not still-potent entities with the power to thrill and entertain, ripe for discovery by generations anew. At least in this case, you can fill in the blanks for yourself.

The Lodger may have been Hitch’s third completed feature but it was the second to get wide release in the UK. It’s well documented that his first cut was vetoed as being unreleasable by Gainsborough’s distributor, C.M. Woolf, just as he had similarly adjudged the director’s first two films. Michael Balcon, Hitch’s mentor and the head of Gainsborough Pictures, came to the young man’s rescue by hiring Ivor Montagu to work alongside Hitch on re-editing the film. Montagu’s suggestions were to remove many superfluous intertitles, tighten the editing and order reshoots. To that end, the scenes featuring the first victim, the showgirl victim and the lodger’s mother were all added after the fact. Montagu also enlisted the help of expatriate American artist and graphic designer Edward McKnight Kauffer, who’s best known for creating hundreds of iconic posters for the London Underground and, later in his career, American Airlines. His striking title cards, clearly showing strong influences of Vorticism and Constructivism, came to define the look of The Lodger. Montagu helpfully detailed his contributions to the remedial work in this excellent article:

Working with HitchcockSight & Sound (July 1980)

The newly retooled work enjoyed very enthusiastic preview screenings, including at my local Nottingham Scala Theatre on 15 September 1926The Lodger was shown publicly in London from January 1927, and rolled out across the rest of the country in February. This has led to it often being given either release year, though both are technically correct.

The Lodger aka Les Cheveux d’or (The Golden hair) French poster

My favourite Hitchcock: The Lodger – Andrew Pulver, The Guardian

Hitch was apt to dismiss or downplay the quality of his early works, especially in his widely disseminated Truffaut interviews. But he was also often contradictory and sometimes outright disingenuous. This has caused problems for biographers ever since, as too many folk simply take his words at face value. The bottom line is The Lodger is far from being, as he told Truffaut, ‘the first true “Hitchcock movie”‘, and in fact his high standards were set right from the start. What it can lay claim to  though, at least until the longed-for reappearance of The Mountain Eagle, is the first of Hitch’s famed MacGuffins. In this case it’s the Avenger himself, since – spoiler alert – we never see him or his timely capture, nor is its method disclosed. All that matters is he remains a shadowy figure in the background, serving to throw the actual protagonists together and propel the plot onwards. Triangles are the order of the day – er, night – as recounted by film historian Charles Barr in English Hitchcock (1999):

The map links the lodger with the Avenger, but it also, of course, links him with Joe, and they will turn out to be engaged in parallel investigations. The killer, in the novel, left on the body of each victim ‘a three-cornered piece of paper, on which was written, in red ink and in printed characters, the words “THE AVENGER”’. The film takes over and develops this triangle motif, incorporating it both into the design of some of the title cards and into the dramatic structure. One triangle that is in the film but not the novel is the obvious romantic one: Daisy, Joe, lodger. Another is formed by three strong-willed men: Joe, lodger, the Avenger. The lodger is not only a rival suitor, but a rival investigator, and a rival avenger – one with a specific male crime to avenge (the killing of his sister) rather than the offence of provocative femininity which we infer that the killer in both film and novel sees himself as avenging.

The triangle structure is made complete by the link between the Avenger and Joe. The very first line given to Joe is spoken, ingratiatingly, to Daisy: ‘I’m keen on golden curls myself, same as the Avenger is.’ It is directly after this that the lodger knocks at the door, and enters the household and the film. During the chess game, he will look fixedly at Daisy, and stretch out his hand towards her, murmuring ‘Beautiful golden hair.’ Is he keen on golden curls in the manner of the Avenger, or in the socially acceptable manner of Joe? At this moment, we cannot be sure. It’s as if he has been conjured up, out of the London fog, in order to dramatise the continuity between these two kinds of arousal, and the difficulty of distinguishing between them.

As a art connoisseur and keen collector, Hitch had had a career-long habit of prominently inserting existing or specially commissioned artworks into his films. They were almost always directly relevant to the plot in some way, revealing extra layers of meaning and even, in the case of films like Rebecca and Vertigo, pivotal plot points. The Lodger is no exception: when the landlady shows our star to his room, clearly overcome with emotion he gazes in horror at various paintings of blonde women adoring the walls. The last and most distinctive of these is a print (restored version) of the 1870 Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece, The Knight Errant by Sir John Everett Millais; remember you heard it here first. It depicts a ravished maiden being cut loose from the tree her tormentors have tied her to by a gallant knight. The subtext is obvious and almost qualifies as a spoiler, if one was quick enough to spot it and make the connection. Tethered to a life of mundanity, the Lodger is set to free Daisy from the constricting expectations of her insistent fiancé and workaday parents.

By the way, I’m embarrassed to admit I agree with Doug Troyan’s incorrect assessment of it looking like “an extremely phallic post” in the lo-res frame grab. Freud would have a field day but sometimes it turns out a tree is just a tree! Leave a comment if you recognise any of the other pictures.

Spoiler: Hitch also frequently posited the notion that Novello was originally supposed to be guilty, as per the ending of the novel, but that he was pressured to make the matinée idol innocent so as not to upset his legions of adoring fans. This is plausibly just another of Hitch’s many tall stories and he probably didn’t read the book until long after he was familiar with the ending depicted in the film. Hitch was a keen theatregoer from a young age and often spoke of how impressed he was when he originally encountered the story via its 1915 stage adaptation, Who Is He?, also co-written by Belloc Lowndes. The lodger of the play had already been altered to make him a cultured gentleman, innocent of all wrongdoing, so in this and other respects the film is based equally on both sources. In much the same way, latter-day interpretations of The 39 Steps are usually based as much on Hitch’s drastically rewritten film as John Buchan’s source novel.

Not Hitchcock

Ivor Novello and June Tripp (centre) in The Lodger (1926). Malcolm Keen is holding Ivor's legs.

Ivor Novello and June Tripp (centre) in The Lodger. Malcolm Keen is holding Ivor’s legs, but can anyone ID the two uncredited policemen to the right? Please answer in the comments!

The Lodger marks the first of Hitch’s famed cameos, seen from behind in a newsroom in the first reel, which he claimed came about on the spur of the moment as they were short of extras. Arrant nonsense and simply more self-reflexive building of the Hitchcock mythos, a habit which history has proved to be incredibly effective and which deserves credit in itself. But like so many other of his tall tales, it has been endlessly and uncritically repeated. I also strongly dispute Hitch’s supposed second appearance, towards the end of the film. In the above pic, the man standing third from right behind the railing is also often said to be Hitch. If so, it would mean he allowed this complicated scene to be directed by his wife Alma Reville, who was credited as assistant director. But it’s wishful thinking: even a cursory glance at the film itself shows the man to be in his fourth to sixth decade; way older than the then 26-year-old Hitch. Still not convinced? Here’s a 1926 nitrate print and a screenshot from the UK BD.

In my opinion, H.F. Maltby is a prime contender and bears a very strong resemblance. The South African-born actor-writer was a regular fixture on the British film and theatrical scene at the time, and would have been in his mid-forties when The Lodger was shot. Further, he actually had a prominent role 10 years later as the dour Sergeant Ruthin (right) in Hitch’s Young and Innocent. As is well documented, Hitch was very fond of repeatedly using the same actors, sometimes even decades apart. I rest my case, m’lud. Oh, and remember you heard it here first, ok?

Of course, Alma briefly gets in on the act herself in her first known cameo, listening to the wireless during the film’s opening news montage, and would go on to make at least one more Hitch film appearance in Sabotage.

On the radio

There were several other versions of The Lodger associated with Hitch. He was promoted as having directed a 1940 radio adaptation starring Hitch regulars Herbert Marshall and Edmund Gwenn, who also featured in his about-to-be-released Foreign Correspondent. Coincidentally, the latter filled the role played by his own brother, Arthur Chesney, in Hitch’s film version. It’s pretty unlikely Hitch actually had anything to do with the programme though: according to the Radio Daily newsletter, he was unable to attend the broadcast and his appearance was apparently voiced by actor Joseph Kearns.  Nonetheless, the programme was pivotal in another sense: it led indirectly to the formation of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, the show that cemented Hitch’s name and image in the public consciousness forever.

Another radio recording from 1947 had a more peripheral connection to the Master: it featured a couple of minor recurring Hitch actors supporting Peter Lorre, who starred in The Man Who Knew Too Much and Secret Agent. The latter film also featured Robert Montgomery, who starred in a 1948 radio adaptation.

Good Evening: AH on Radio – Charles Huck and Martin Grams, Jr.

  • CBS Radio Mystery Theater, May 13, 1974, (57min) – Kim Hunter and Michael Wager

Vintage Hitchcock: A Live Radio Play (2000, script) is a light-hearted three-parter also incorporating Sabotage and The 39 Steps. It’s oft-performed (Facebook/Twitter) and there are various excerpts and trailers on YouTube; here’s The Lodger portion:

German collective Hollywood on Air specialise in staging live readings of classic films adapted into radio plays and have a particular fondness for Hitch. Following performances of SuspicionVertigo and the expectedly Hitchcockian The Spiral Staircase, they turned their attentions to The Lodger. A 2018 studio recording (YouTube) is available on CD and MP3 in “3D sound”, no less, while the most recent of two 2019 performances can be enjoyed for free, along with many SWR TV news reports.

On the TV

There are two small screen remakes, but the first is long unseen. Armchair Mystery Theatre: The Lodger (1965) was an hour-long installment of the 34-episode UK TV anthology series (1960-1965). I can’t even verify whether any episodes survive; can anyone help? It’s not to be confused with ITV’s 452-episode Armchair Theatre (1956-1974).

Both Belloc Lowndes’ novel and Hitch’s film remained perennially popular in Germany, eventually leading to Der Mieter (1967), a highly regarded and expressionistic TV movie starring Swiss-born character actor Pinkas Braun as the mysterious Mr. Quill. Unavailable for years, it’s recently been released domestically on streaming and DVD. The latter is barebones, with no extras save two unrelated trailers, and keine Untertitel.

Screenshots: Linde Fulda, Eva Zilcher, Pinkas Braun and Zilcher, Fulda and Zilcher

Thankfully, at least the cinematic retreads are (mostly) available…

The Lodger (1932)

Ivor Novello reprised his Lodger role in a 1932 talkie remake by prolific British director Maurice Elvey, and it’s well worth a watch for fans of the original. This version, the second of several, has a third different ending, following on from those of the novel and Hitch’s film. In 1935, it was chopped down by around a third for US B-movie release and given the more lurid title of The Phantom Fiend. In this guise, it was often aired as part of a syndicated TV package in the 1950s and 1960s; for instance it was the opening episode of Terror! Theatre (1957), a short-lived Los Angeles horror anthology series. Its reissue title was also appropriated for the 1966 US reissue of The Return of Dr. Mabuse (1961), the first sequel to Fritz Lang’s famed trilogy featuring the eponymous villain.

The Lodger aka The Phantom Fiend (1932) with Ivor Novello and Elizabeth Allan, US lobby card

The Lodger aka The Phantom Fiend US lobby card

Although The Phantom Fiend is actually copyrighted, sadly only a fairly poor quality transfer of the 63-minute US reissue edit is available on DVD from a number of supposedly-PD labels. I’m afraid exactly the same fate has befallen any number of very worthy films. Even the BFI Archive has only a 16mm scrap of the original; does anyone know if it even exists or is its faded shadow all that remains? The current best source for The Phantom Fiend abbreviation is in several humongous but dirt cheap, region free box sets from Mill Creek:

The Lodger (1944)

The Lodger (1944) US three sheet poster

US three sheet poster

This superior take on Belloc Lowndes’ story starred Laird Cregar in the titular role, with George Sanders as the detective tasked with catching the killer. Cregar had a brief but remarkable career, featuring prominently in many key Hollywood films of the early 1940s and was surely destined for even greater things. But it was cut short by his untimely death aged only 31, arising from adopting a drug-assisted crash diet for his following film. The equally superb Hangover Square (1945), released posthumously, stars Cregar in a similar role to that of The Lodger and reteams him with Sanders, again playing the ‘tec on his tail. In fact, it actually reunites no fewer than 21 creative talents from the previous film, including its director, John Brahm, and screenwriter Barré Lyndon. What’s more, it has a fine score by Hitch fave Bernard Herrmann and is based on the eponymous 1941 novel by Patrick Hamilton, who also authored the source plays for Rope and Gaslight (1940/1944).

Despite the appearance of many bootlegs, both Cregar-Sanders films are fully copyrighted. Especially beware the Spanish pirate BD-R of The Lodger from Mon Inter Comerz and Italian DVD from A&R Productions. These are all the legit issues:

Hangover Square aka Nelle tenebre della metropoli (In the darkness of the metropolis, 1945) Italian poster

Hangover Square aka Nelle tenebre della metropoli (In the darkness of the metropolis) Italian poster by Ercole Brini from its first post-war release

There are fewer, but ample, official releases for the lesser known Hangover Square:

Man in the Attic (1953)

Man in the Attic (1953) US poster

US poster

Jack Palance, with his craggy, ex-boxer’s features and omnipresent air of brooding menace, was here perfectly cast alongside Constance Smith, an ill-fated Irish actress. Her extremely promising screen career lasted barely 12 years, compromised by her troubled personal life, which ultimately ended in poverty and obscurity. Her star shone briefly but brightly and left us with many memorable performances, such as this one.

  • Fox 2-DVD (2007) w/A Blueprint for Murder (1953)
  • France: DVD Artus Films (2017)

This copyrighted 20th Century Fox film is now owned by Disney and the only two licensed DVDs have an excellent transfer from original vault materials. However, no end of bootleggers have ripped it off with substandard copies on DVD and streaming platforms. Discs include those from the US (Alpha, American Pop Classics, Film Detective, FilmRise, Medusa, Movie Classics, Mr. FAT-W, Reel, Remember When, Synergy, VCI), France (RDM), Mexico (Disconet), etc.

The Lodger (2009)

The Lodger (2009) US poster

US poster

After more than half a century since its last cinematic outing, the most recent remake came as a bit of a surprise. It’s a decent enough film in its own right, though perhaps overlooks some of the story’s innate strengths in its attempt to update it for modern audiences. However, it’s still well worth a look – but only after you’ve seen the foregoing versions.

Lastly, here’s a 2015 Spanish homage to Hitch’s original.

More Ivor Novello on home video

I’ve compiled a complete rundown of all the thespian’s screen works that are available to buy or view.

The Lodger, Part 2: Home video releases

For more detailed specifications of official releases mentioned, check out the ever-useful DVDCompare. This article is regularly updated, so please leave a comment if you have any questions or suggestions.

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Phoenix Swanson
Phoenix Swanson
15th October 2018 12:19

Yes, Al told me; “I was a young Novello.”

1st November 2020 23:25

You have an excellent page, Mr. Reid. I had 5 of the 6 radio programs you’ve listed but was unaware of one of them. I appreciate the fact you shared a link to that program. I will mention your fine site on mine.

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