Restorations and home video releases
- A Story of the Home Video Fog: for every quality release, many awful ones lurk to catch the unwary
- The Lodger languished in multitudes of atrocious, corrupted copies for decades
- First quality version finally arrived more than 60 years after the film’s début
- The Ripper restored: four versions, five scores and six transfer speeds!
- Examining all the best Blu-ray, DVD and digital releases worldwide
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 1: Production and remakes
The many faces of The Lodger
Believe it or not, four distinct versions of the film have been issued on official home video, along with five different scores – and six different running speeds! Factor in any number of poor quality bootleg variants too and that’s a helluva lotta Lodgers. The first official release, a transfer of an older, fairly worn but complete print, appeared on a German VHS in 1989 and is known as the “archive version’’ (AV). It’s tinted and toned throughout in amber or sepia shades for indoor scenes, and vivid blues for the many outdoor night scenes. It’s been transferred at the slightly-too-fast sound speed of 24fps (74min) so runs for 71min on various pre-2010 Euro DVDs, with their additional 4% PAL speed-up. Lastly, it features a lively and evocative jazz/modern classical score by Paul Zaza. Despite its technical shortcomings, the AV succeeds in giving a perfectly enjoyable presentation; it was a revelation when it first appeared and still stands up very well today. I know I’m not alone in having a nostalgic fondness for the AV and it’s certainly far better than the many awful B&W bootlegs floating around. They were once the only way to see The Lodger at all, but should have long since been consigned to the dustbin of history.
This tinted and toned 1926 nitrate print at the Timeline of Historical Film Colors, while retaining excellent detail, has faded drastically due to decomposition.
The AV was swiftly superseded by the BFI’s photochemically restored version (RV), carried out in association with ZDF-Arte to commemorate the great man’s centenary. It was first broadcast on 12th August 1999 by ZDF in Germany, accompanied with a new orchestral score commissioned from Ashley Irwin and was much later also released on DVD. But the RV’s first home video appearance came soon after the ZDF broadcast via UK VHS, albeit with a different new score by The Divine Comedy’s Joby Talbot. It was performed by the Matrix Ensemble with conductor Robert Ziegler, who later performed an excellent-but-unavailable score for Blackmail.
The Lodger RV is truly a thing of beauty: it has a stabilised, vastly improved image and optimally runs at a more accurate and pleasing 20fps, equalling 90min. However, as indicated below, a few releases have it sped up or slowed down to run anywhere from 86–99 min. There are actually a handful of restored versions in the BFI archives as the original effort, began in 1982, was improved on several times. Three variants of the latest one appear on home video and their overall appearance varies quite significantly. Some home video releases feature a couple of earlier iterations (RV1, RV2) whose chemically applied colour schemes, though slightly different to each other, are similar to the AV. Both have the same amount of damage, though it’s very slightly less evident on the RV1. However, this looks to be the result of the RV2 releases being more detailed due to superior mastering, which has the unfortunate side effect of also highlighting any flaws more effectively.
The film was most recently digitally refined as part of the Hitchcock 9 project and that’s the version (RV3) on post-2012 releases. This time around, an incredible amount of work was carried out on the photochemical restoration to minimise onscreen damage, to the degree that it’s barely noticeable even under close scrutiny. Additionally, the RV’s already gorgeous colours were comprehensively overhauled in the digital domain, resulting in a much deeper, richer palette. Now, the original lustrous hues can be enjoyed again for the first time since its original release. External night scenes are especially impressive, rendered in vivid blue shades and turning to an iron blue tone with amber tint to signify thick fog. This is truly one of the most beautifully coloured silents I’ve seen. It’s an incredible achievement; hats off to the restoration team.
“As the negative no longer exists, the source material for the restoration was a number of nitrate prints, held at the BFI National Archive since the 1940s, and other material that had been made from them in the various restorations over the years. An international search proved that our material was unique and, importantly, the access to Ivor Montagu’s hand-corrected list of edited intertitles showed that the film’s continuity had survived extremely well. After identifying and scanning the best material, several hundred hours were spent on the removal and repair of dirt and damage, resulting in a far cleaner image. The Lodger was tinted and toned on its original release, the differing colours used to dramatic effect. Earlier photochemical restorations had reproduced these effects, but digital imaging systems allow incredible scope for adjusting the contrast and depth of the colours to ensure a balance with the underlying black and white cinematography.” – BFI programme notes
As well as the AV’s re-edited Zaza score, between them the three RVs have been wedded to four additional custom scores. I like all of them to varying degrees, but whatever your taste you should find at least one to suit. The bottom line is that as with Nosferatu, that other most notable silent about a nocturnal killer, The Lodger was always intended to be experienced custom-scored and in colour. If you’re watching a gruesome B&W bootleg with a generic needle-drop score, you’re doing it wrong.
Now Showing: worldwide screenings
A pictorial journey
Prior to the appearance of the AV and RVs, The Lodger really suffered: whenever he was sighted in the shadows it was only via blurry, battered and chopped up copies. These screenshots represent his home video journey over the past few decades.
More comparative screenshots:
- Landlady: UK Network DVD AV, RV1 | US MGM DVD RV2 | UK BD RV3
- Lodger: UK Network DVD AV, RV1 | US MGM DVD RV2 | UK BD RV3
- Mother: UK Network DVD AV, RV1 | US MGM DVD RV2 | UK BD RV3
Caps-a-holic: US and UK BD
Home video releases
This is a complete rundown of The Lodger’s official releases to date.
Archive version – 1989 Zaza score, 71 minutes
- UK: Network 10-DVD/11-film H: The British Years (2008) – also includes 90min RV1 w/no score
- Italy: Eagle 2on1 DVD (2005) w/Blackmail, also in 8-DVD/15-film AH Portrait
- Germany: Atlas Films/Zweitausendeins VHS (1989) – #1 of AH: 6 frühe Meisterwerke | info
- France: Journaux.fr DVD/magazine (2002, 2005)
- Spain: Divisa DVD (2003)
- Benelux: Video/Film Express DVD/alt (2005), also in 5-DVD/6-film H Collection: The Classics, Volume 1 and 10-DVD/11-film Classic H Collection/alt
- Poland: Studio Printel Digipak DVD (2009), also in 7-DVD H: Wczesne filmy mistrza and 6-DVD set
- US: MGM DVD (2008), also in 8-DVD AH Premiere Collection/warning – 99min RV2 w/two scores: Paul Zaza (1989, mono) and Ashley Irwin orchestral (1999, 5.1 surround)
- UK: BFI VHS (1999) – 93min RV1 w/Joby Talbot orchestral score (2.0 stereo)
- Network 10-DVD/11-film H: The British Years (2008) – 90min RV1 w/no score; also includes 71-min AV/Zaza
- Network BD/2-CD and DVD/2-CD (2012) – 90min RV3 (87min DVD: 4% PAL speed-up) w/Nitin Sawhney orchestral/pop score (2.0 stereo)
Prime Video HD| BFI Player– 90min RV3 w/Sawhney score; deleted
- France: Elephant Films DVD/BD and DVD (2014), also in 5-BD/5-DVD AH: Aux origines du suspens – 86min (25fps) RV3 w/Sawhney score; forced French subtitles on BD
- Australia: Madman 2-DVD (2011) info; w/Downhill – 95min RV2 w/Zaza and Irwin scores
- Brazil: Versátil 2-DVD/4-film A Arte de AH/alt (2016) info – 90min RV3 w/Sawhney score
If you intend owning only one copy of the film, by all means get the US Criterion issue. Their US region A/1-locked BD and DVD are awash with extras, not least of which is the restored Downhill. Leading silent film musician Neil Brand provides new scores for both films; his masterful, sympathetic orchestral score for The Lodger is performed by the Covent Garden Sinfonia, while Neil himself plays piano for Downhill. There are also an additional three hours of featurettes, interviews and the 1940 radio adaptation of The Lodger. Lastly, there’s a 16-page foldout booklet with essays on both films. Phew. The next best DVD is still the US MGM; in terms of image, audio and extras, it’s (foggy) streets ahead of all the others. Even its restored transfer (RV2) improves on that found on the UK Network DVD (RV1), as the image is more detailed and its colours more subtle and refined.
The Lodger’s first US DVD was later included in MGM’s Premiere Collection alongside Sabotage, Young and Innocent, Lifeboat and the four Hitchcock-Selznick titles: Rebecca, Spellbound, Notorious and The Paradine Case. Aside from some other newer Criterions nudging them into second place, most of the DVDs are still definitive for each film and come beautifully packaged in a large, spiral bound book with a semi-transparent plastic slipcase. But all copies of the collection were originally shrink-wrapped far too tightly, deforming the package and permanently warping many of the discs. This rendered them unplayable and led to hundreds of complaints like this, which mirrors the majority of those on Amazon.com. Subsequent individual releases come in problem-free, standard keep cases with additional four-sided liner notes inserts and I recommend buying those instead.
- The Lodger: The First True Hitchcock Movie [nope!] (2017) – Philip Kemp
- 10 Things I Learned: The Lodger (2017) – Kate Elmore
In contrast to the US releases, the UK region B BD has attracted some controversy for its Nitin Sawhney-composed score, which also accompanied the restoration’s 21 July 2012 première at the Barbican Centre, London. Classically-based and primarily performed by the London Symphony Orchestra, it actually works very well for the most part. But its most conspicuous sin is in Sawhney’s inclusion of a couple of anachronistic, self-penned pop songs – I kid you not – which have drawn the ire of many silents aficionados. They’re perfectly pleasant ditties, but simply belong in another film from a much later time. Or confined to one of Sawhney’s own albums. In this context, their presence simply taints the mood and undermines Hitch’s exquisite visuals. Sawhney’s comments in this news report and BFI interview are very telling and perfectly illustrate his entire attitude towards this project.
The overall package gives a strong impression of being a vehicle for Sawhney’s music accompanied by a Hitchcock film, rather than the other way around. Sawhney’s presence gets more prominent billing on the sleeve than Hitch himself and the bonus material is centred around the composer rather than the filmmaker or his distinguished cast and crew. Two soundtrack CDs are included but the only on-disc extras are a featurette, Scoring The Lodger with Nitin Sawhney (19min), and a slideshow (2min). All a bit light considering this is the key early work from the world’s most famous director and the most well known British silent film of all. The package redeems itself somewhat by including, like the Criterion, a very informative 16-page booklet on the genesis, production and legacy of the actual film. Ironically, among many more deserving vintage and modern scores for Hitch’s British films, Sawhney’s is the only one also available separately in its entirety on CD and MP3.
Incidentally, despite being previously available, as of late 2020 The Lodger cannot be purchased on streaming platforms in the UK. Does anyone know why? Whatever the reason, it only underscores the fact that however you feel about physical versus streaming media, the former remains the best option by far when it comes to seeing classic films in the home.
The Sawhney-scored French region B disc manages to stay more on point with a short video intro in French (8min) and a Hitchcock 9 featurette (9min). Rounding off, there’s the efficient yet ubiquitous “Hitchcock: The Early Years” featurette (1999, 24min), which appears – and reappears – on just about every other release of Hitch’s ITV-owned British films. But beware, this BD edition does have two unforgivable flaws: forced French subs, though strangely they’re optional on the equivalent DVD, and a 1080i transfer running 4% fast at 86min. Lastly, beware the slipshod Spanish and German bootleg BD-Rs from Feel Films and Indigo respectively; the latter appears ripped from the French BD and has been stripped of its tinting.
I’ll qualify my comments by reiterating the majority of fans will thoroughly enjoy any of the official releases and they’re all infinitely better than the many bootleg versions. None of the four licensed versions of The Lodger itself are slouches, and all use their relatively limited but authentic colour schemes of differing shades of amber, sepia and blue most effectively. Factor in their generally great scores and you’re bound to have a very satisfying viewing experience. It’s just a pity several recent releases are some way short of all they could be, and not for reasons of production costs. In conclusion, via MGM and Criterion, the US has by far and away the best DVDs and BD of The Lodger to date. As I keep saying, if you can’t play overseas releases, get a multi-region set-up and enjoy your favourite films done properly. Go on – you know you’re worth it.
Part 1: Production and remakes
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Setting the Scene
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Miscellaneous British Films
- Free the Hitchcock 9! Releasing the BFI-Restored Silents on Home Video
- Bootlegs Galore: The Great Alfred Hitchcock Rip-off
- Alfred Hitchcock: Dial © for Copyright: British Law
- Hitchcock/Truffaut: The Men Who Knew So Much
- Alma Reville: The Power Behind Hitchcock’s Throne
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: The British Years in Print
- Alfred Hitchcock: The Dark Side or the Wrong Man?
- Alfred Hitchcock Collectors’ Guide: Miscellaneous Releases
- Beware of Pirates! How to Avoid Bootleg Blu-rays and DVDs
- Charlie Chaplin Collectors’ Guide, Part 2: The Bad, the Ugly and the Good
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.