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

  • A Story of the Home Video Fog: some great quality copies, but many awful ones
  • The Lodger languished in multitudes of atrocious, corrupted copies for decades
  • First quality version finally arrived more than 80 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 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 1 of this article for a full rundown of The Lodger’s production, release, associated works, etc.

The Lodger aka Der Schrecken von London (Terror of London, 1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) Austrian poster

The Lodger aka Der Schrecken von London (The Terror of London) Austrian poster


Contents


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 in 1997 and is known as the “archive version’’ (AV). It’s tinted and toned throughout in amber or sepia hues for the indoor scenes, with 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.

Timeline of Historical Film Colors: tinted and toned 1926 nitrate print

The AV was swiftly superseded by the BFI’s restored version (RV), carried out in association with ZDF-Arte to commemorate the great man’s centenary.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. Its first home video appearance was on a UK VHS, albeit with another new orchestral score by Joby Talbot. The Irwin-scored version was later also released on DVD. The 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 at 86–99min.

There are actually a handful of restored versions in the BFI archives, as the original one was improved incrementally several times. Three variants appear on home video and though all have the same amount of footage, their overall appearance varies quite significantly. Some home video releases feature a couple of earlier iterations (RV1, RV2) that have chemically-applied colour schemes similar to the AV. Both seem to 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 efficiently.

The Lodger (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) BFI poster, 2012

The film was most recently 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 done to minimise onscreen damage, to the degree that it’s barely noticeable even under close scrutiny. Additionally, the previous RVs’ already gorgeous colours have been comprehensively overhauled in the digital domain. Now, for the first time since the film’s initial run, its original palette has been wholly reinstated. The night scenes are especially impressive, rendered in rich blue shades and turning to a deeper 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 Zaza score, the three RVs between them 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 needle-drop score, you’re doing it wrong.


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.

The Lodger (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US St. Clair Vision bootleg DVD screenshot

This is perhaps the most common bootleg transfer: a well-worn copy of the Vintage Films 16mm sound reissue, in circulation from 19?? to at least 1974 and distributed by Cine Service of Watertown, Mass. Once prevalent on VHS, the first DVD was from Laserlight/Delta (1999, w/Sabotage), and subsequently copied by many other bootleggers, eg the much-repackaged St. Clair DVD. It often has a particular vintage needle-drop score added, but can anyone identify the music used? There are a couple of particularly memorable cues at 2 and 5 min. Please let me know!

The Lodger (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) UK GMVS/Waterfall bootleg DVD screenshot

UK GMVS/Waterfall bootleg DVD. Yes, it looks bad, but a screenshot doesn’t convey how much the image quality fluctuates – it’s often even worse than this – and constantly bounces around inside the frame. Unwatchable.

The Lodger (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) UK Network archive version DVD screenshot

UK Network archive version DVD

The Lodger (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) UK Network DVD, restored version 1

UK Network DVD, restored version 1

The Lodger (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) US MGM DVD, restored version 2

US MGM DVD, restored version 2

The Lodger (1926, dir. Alfred Hitchcock) UK Network Blu-ray, restored version 3

UK Network Blu-ray, restored version 3

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

Home video releases

This is a complete rundown of The Lodger’s official releases to date.

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 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.

In contrast, 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. Its most conspicuous sin is in Sawhney’s inclusion of a couple of anachronistic 5min 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 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. There are two soundtrack CDs and 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 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 digital.

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 (1999) featurette (24min), which appears – and reappears – on just about every other release of Hitch’s ITV-owned British films. But beware, this edition does have two unforgivable flaws: burned-in French subs and a transfer at the pre-restoration PAL DVD speed of 25fps (86min). Lastly, beware the Spanish and German bootleg BDs.

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

Ivor leans in for a kiss; US Criterion Blu-ray

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 any of the many bootleg versions. None of the four licensed versions of the 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.


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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.

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