Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926), Part 2

by Brent Reid

Dispelling myths

  • The Master’s British breakthrough is replete with mysteries to be uncovered
  • Many aspects of the film are as enigmatic and elusive as its shadowy protagonist
  • Hitchcock’s famed love of art is fleetingly on display, cleverly augmenting the story
  • It has acknowledged cameos of Alfred and Alma at the beginning but there are no more
  • Despite the director’s later self-mythologising, its themes follow his established pattern
  • An abundance of modern commentary completely overlooks the history of the film itself

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.

The Lodger, Part 1: Production, 2: Dispelling myths, 3: Home video, 4: Remakes

The Lodger aka Les Cheveux d'or (The Golden hair, 1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) French poster

French poster: the title translates as “The Golden Hair” (alt)


Painting the way

The Knight Errant (1870) by Sir John Everett Millais

The Knight Errant (1870) by Sir John Everett Millais (alt)

An art connoisseur and keen collector, Alfred Hitchcock 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, Vertigo, and Psycho, 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 framed print of the 1870 Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece, The Knight Errant by Sir John Everett Millais; remember you heard it here first. It depicts a ravished, Titian-haired maiden being cut loose by a gallant knight from the tree to which her tormentors have tied her. The subtext is obvious and almost qualifies as a spoiler, if one were 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. It has also been noted the film has strong associations with the Persephone myth.

By the way, I’m embarrassed to admit I initially agreed with Doug Troyan’s incorrect assessment of it looking like “an extremely phallic post” in lo-res frame grabs. 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 Lodger’s other pictures.

Since most other aspects of Hitch’s oeuvre have been researched and analysed at length, I’m genuinely surprised no one’s yet written a comprehensive overview of his use of paintings, sculptures and other artwork signifiers throughout his career. After all, as we’ve already seen, there have been at least two books and a major exhibition devoted solely to the architecture he chose to feature. If anyone’s interested, get in touch; I’ve already collated a wealth of info on the subject. I’ve even got a title for you: The Art in Alfred Hitchcock. You’re welcome.

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 in 1962 he claimed came about on the spur of the moment as they were short of extras. From Hitchcock/Truffaut:

FT: “Wasn’t it in The Lodger that you made your first personal appearance on the screen?” AH: “That’s right. I was sitting in a newsroom.” FT: “Did you do it as a gag? Was it superstition? Or was it simply that there weren’t enough extras?” AH: “It was strictly utilitarian; we had to fill the screen. Later on it became a superstition and eventually a gag. But by now it’s a rather troublesome gag, and I’m very careful to show up in the first five minutes so as to let the people look at the rest of the movie with no further distraction.”

However, the film had many extras, including in that very scene, and at any one time there were dozens of crew and sundry personnel around. As previously mentioned, Ivor Montagu himself stated the real inspiration for said cameo. Hitch’s given reason is 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 porky pies, it has been endlessly and uncritically repeated. The second part is also demonstrably untrue, as some cameos continued to be made well into his films’ running time, like Topaz (34 minutes) and Family Plot (41 minutes).

Incidentally, earlier in the film a window frame’s shadow forms a cross over the lodger’s face, in much the same way another frame casts the shadow of a noose around Alice’s neck in Blackmail, foreshadowing her possible execution for murder. The scene of the lodger’s removal from the railings is shot to strongly suggest historic depictions of Christ being taken down from the cross and the Pietà, à la Topaz.

I also strongly dispute Hitch’s oft-supposed second appearance, towards the end of the film. The man standing third from right behind the railing in the above pic, and frame centre in the film itself, 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. Lastly, for now, the Lodger’s famous dress designer Dolly Tree also has a cameo in the early scenes featuring the models.

Not “the first true Hitchcock movie”

In his widely disseminated Truffaut interviews, Hitch was frequently apt to dismiss or downplay the quality of his early works, especially those that were not a commercial success. 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 and repeated ad nauseum by others ever since, “the first true Hitchcock movie.” But it’s an easy and lazy claim to make, given the near or complete unavailability of his first two films. In fact, his style and high standards were set right from the start, with his début The Pleasure Garden. Likewise, The Lodger’s often cited as being his first Wrong Man film but that honour definitely belongs to The Mountain Eagle, missing in action since the 1930s.

What The Lodger can lay claim to though, at least until its predecessor’s longed-for reappearance, 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.

Modern commentary

The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) artwork by Edward McKnight Kauffer

Artwork by Edward McKnight Kauffer

These 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. In particular, the superb book covers expansive ground far beyond the actual making of the film, and is a valuable addition to both Hitchcock and British film history studies. However, all overlook some very important aspects; namely the film’s afterlife beyond its original theatrical release, how we came to have so many different versions today, and which are the best to watch (and hear). Iterations of The Lodger on official home video alone creep into double figures and that can be doubled again for all the bootleg variants, which many lesser writings are unfortunately based on. Then there are the countless combinations of unique live scores accompanying numerous different transfers and film prints.

Think about it: countless books, essays, talks, documentaries etc will wax endlessly about various aspects – directing, cinematography, acting, editing, mise-en-scène; the list goes on – of films commonly available in different versions. Yet how many such treatises can you recall that specify which particular combination of image and audio is being referred to, or how the author experienced it? I can’t think of any cases where this isn’t of critical importance, especially in the case of silents and older films most often existing in many variants, less than optimum quality and overwhelmingly likely to be viewed on a TV or even smaller screen rather than their originally intended theatrical projection. However, though seemingly in a tiny minority on this I’m not entirely alone, as this insightful essay makes clear:

Technology, Criticism and the “Restoration” of Vertigo – Leo Enticknap, The Moving Image (2004)

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

US Criterion Blu-ray screenshot; this is the third restored version, which looks very different to its predecessors, as well as the same scene in a much earlier but widely released archive version.

The consistent failure to overlook the physicality of cinema’s most vital aspects may be a most regrettable but sadly typical omission of film studies but thankfully it’s not true of academia in general. In art history, for example, it would be unthinkable to not know exactly which painting of a popular subject was under discussion, as well as the precise details of its history, ownership and restoration being integral to its study and appreciation. Imagine any serious discussion of Shakespeare’s plays, or even the Bible, making no mention of which version was the subject. Unthinkable. Such a fragmentary approach then, 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 rediscovery by generations anew. At least in this case and with the rest of Hitch’s oeuvre, you can fill in the blanks for yourself.

Also of interest are a further essay on the same topic and two related books by the above scholar:

The Lodger (dir. Alfred Hitchcock, 1926) by Jefferson Chacon, 2023

The Mysterious Lodger by Jefferson Chacon, 2023

The Lodger, Part 1: Production, 2: Dispelling myths, 3: Home video, 4: Remakes

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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