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

  • 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 “real” Hitchcock film and his first crime thriller
  • But it was actually built on the solid, crime-driven plots of his earlier works

Note: this is one of 50-odd Hitchcock articles coming over the next few months. Any dead links are to those not yet published. Subscribe to the email list to be notified when new ones appear.

See Part 2 of this article for a full rundown of The Lodger’s restorations and 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


Contents


Production and release

Hitchcock’s third feature outing is often falsely considered his first real film, mostly due to the other two being all but unavailable or lost. It’s an accomplished, gripping drama that easily holds aloft the high bar set by its older siblings. Retitled The Case of Jonathan Drew in the US, like its shadowy, unseen protagonist, 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 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 succinctlyThe Lodger marks the first of Hitch’s famed cameos, this time seen from behind in a newsroom, though his supposed second appearance, towards the end, is strongly disputed. Even Alma gets in on the act in her sole Hitch film cameo, as a woman listening to the wireless – although she too may have an extra role.

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 poor victims, like those of most serial killers, have been too long 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, their 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 Lodger may have been Hitch’s third completed film 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, as he had similarly judged 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 contributions 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, American Airlines. His striking title cards, clearly showing strong influences of Vorticism and Constructivism, came to define the look of the film.

The newly retooled work enjoyed very enthusiastic trade 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

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 simply take his words at face value. The bottom line is, The Lodger is far from being his “first real film” and there’s every indication his high standards were set right from the start.

Big 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, as 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 based as much on Hitch’s drastically rewritten film as they are on John Buchan’s source novel.

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.

In the above pic, the man standing third from right behind the railing is often said to be Hitch in an unconfirmed second cameo. If so, it means this scene was directed by Alma Reville, who was credited as assistant director. Personally, I think it’s wishful thinking: even a cursory glance at the film itself shows the man to be in his 50s or 60s; 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.


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.

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

Apparently PD, sadly only a fairly poor quality transfer of the 63min US reissue edit is available on DVD from a number of 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 the 12-DVD/50-film Dark Crimes set (Mill Creek, 2005/2012, also expanded and reissued in 2006/2012).

There were two more versions of The Lodger associated with Hitch. He was promoted as having directed a half hour, July 1940 radio adaptation, starring Hitch regulars Herbert Marshall and Edmund Gwenn, stars of his about-to-be-released Foreign Correspondent (1940). 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.

Another radio adaptation from 1947 had a more peripheral connection: it featured a couple of minor recurring Hitch actors supporting Peter Lorre, who starred in The Man Who Knew Too Much and Secret Agent.

There were also several other big and small screen remakes…


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, starred Cregar in a similar role to that of The Lodger and reteamed him with Sanders, again playing the ‘tec on his tail. In fact, it actually reunited no fewer than 21 creative talents from the previous film, including its director, John Brahm, and screenwriter Barré Lyndon.

Despite the appearance of many bootlegs, both films are fully copyrighted. Especially beware the Spanish pirate BD-R of The Lodger from Mon Inter Comerz, titled Jack el Destripador. 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, 1945) Italian poster

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 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.

  • US: VCI DVD (2004)
    • Fox 2on1 DVD (2007) w/A Blueprint for Murder (1953)
  • France: DVD Artus Films (2017)

Avoid various DVD and digital bootlegs from the likes of Alpha Video, American Pop Classics, Arcades, Film Detective, FilmRise Movie Classics, Mr. FAT-W Video, RDM Edition, Reel Enterprises, Synergy, etc.


Armchair Mystery Theatre: The Lodger (1965)

This was an hour-long episode 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). This is the only screen remake as yet officially unavailable.


The Lodger (2009)

The Lodger (2009) US poster

US poster

After several decades since its last adaptation, 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.


More Ivor Novello on home video

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


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

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

You might also like