Monday, October 23, 2023

Ten Days of Terror!: The Lodger (1944)

Film: The Lodger (1944)
Format: Internet video on Fire!

There are a lot of interesting things to talk about when it comes to the 1944 version of The Lodger, not the least of these being that this is a remake of a silent Hitchcock film. There are some real surprises here, although the plot isn’t one of them. There’s nothing here that is going to be a shock in terms of the plot and how it works, but there’s a lot around the edges that is surprising.

The Lodger is a sort of macabre love triangle that involves everyone’s favorite uncaught psychopath, Jack the Ripper. What I’m going to say here is going to seem very much like spoilers, but I promise you it’s not. If you’ve ever seen a movie before, especially one of this vintage, you’re going to know what is happening long before the people in the film do.

Essentially, the Ripper is haunting London, although in this version of the world, his targets are not prostitutes but stage actresses. Around this same time, a mysterious man who calls himself Slade (Laird Cregar) has taken up residence in a home near many of the murders. Knowing that Cregar always played heavies and understanding the way movie storytelling works, you’d not be shocked to have your suspicions about Slade. When he starts talking about needing his own

entrance into and out of the house, keeping strange hours, and more, well, you’ll be pretty sure (and correct) that Slade is our killer.

Meanwhile, his landlords, Ellen (Sara Allgood) and Robert Bonting (Cedric Hardwicke) are happy to have the extra income. They are also playing host to their niece Kitty Langley (Merle Oberon), who is recently returned from Paris and going on the stage to show off the latest Parisian dances for the locals. If you think this is going to set up a conflict, you’d be right. Slade is immediately attracted to Kitty, but also has a vendetta against actresses (which becomes clearer as the film goes on).

At the same time, there is a budding romance between Kitty and Inspector John Warwick (George Sanders) of Scotland Yard. Warwick is investigating the murders, and when an older actress who knew Kitty is killed, it brings the two into contact with each other, with immediate sparks between them. So that’s our love triangle— we have a singer/actress who is attracted both to the police inspector and the dark stranger in her midst. It’s not going to be difficult to figure out how this is going to turn out (it being 1944 when this was made, after all), but it’s the suspense in getting there that sells the movie.

The biggest issue with The Lodger is that there are no surprises in the story. It’s clear from his opening scene that Slade is the Ripper, and if you miss that, it’s evident more and more through the film—it lacks only a neon arrow pointing toward him. Once John Warwick enters the scene, we know how the relationships are going to fall out as well. If you are not able to plot this movie out to the end within the first 30 minutes or so, you’re not trying or you’re not paying attention.

If you go into this understanding that the plot isn’t going to surprise, you though, there’s a lot to like here. To start, Merle Oberon is quite charming as Kitty, and has a great scene in the Scotland Yard Black Museum where she asks excited questions about all of the murder implements she sees while Inspector Warwick is desperately trying to ask her out. Sanders is generally good, although perhaps a bit stiff for this film. It’s Laird Cregar who is the real star, though. Hollywood never really figured out how to use his talents, but a movie like this one comes close. Him watching Kitty on stage is one of those moments that shows his talent—both clear attraction to her and revulsion for her can can-like performance is nearly perfect and done entirely with his face. Cregar was himself as tragic as the characters he tended to play—this is a good showcase of what he was capable of on camera.

For a wonder, the relationships here actually work in terms of the ages of the people involved. It certainly seems like George Sanders is 100 years older than Merle Oberon, but he’s only five years older than she is, and Laird Cregar was actually a couple of years younger than she was. Both of the men look older than she is, but they really were age-appropriate. It’s sad that this is so shocking.

I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. If you understand that you’ll know what’s happening long before it does, it has some real charms.

Why to watch The Lodger (1944): Believe it or not, the romances are age-appropriate.
Why not to watch: The plot is absolutely dead simple to follow.


  1. There's still a lot of Hitchcock from his silent era to the 1940s that I still need to go into as well as his films he did after Marnie.

    1. I need to see his version of this story. It's just not always easy for me to want to watch a silent.

  2. I would agree this is not the most “mysterious” of mysteries but with that cast the joy is in the journey. The three leads and the major supporting performers are all so at home in their roles. I like Geo. Sanders in his good guy mode though it is often true he was less at ease in that role than the snarky bastard. He is however put in the shade here by Merle, in one of her better performances, and especially the great Laird Cregar. The film also is thick with atmosphere and that richly appointed studio look. It was an enormous success, so much so that when Fox finally gave Laird his shot at being a leading man in the next year’s Hangover Square, they insisted on switching the story’s setting from contemporary times to this period much to Cregar’s chagrin.

    A sad bit of trivia attached to this film is that through no fault of her own Merle planted the idea that turned into the fatal obsession leading to Cregar’s death. One day on set between setups Merle mentioned to him that his face was attractive enough to be a leading man if he could slim down somewhat. He took that too much to heart and began the stringent, destructive weight loss regime and surgery that killed him.

    Hitchcock's silent version is quite good, and he felt the film was the one that marked the end of his apprenticeship in silents to the point where his talent for directing began to come into a sharper focus. I can see that, his few early silent films before this were adequate efforts with flashes of inventiveness as he learned the tricks of the trade laboring on whatever scripts were made available to him. But in this he started to experiment and implement his own vision on the story. It's not perfect but definitely one of his better early efforts.

    1. Laird Cregar's tragic life is something I've brought up before. It's a shame that he couldn't essentially decide that the roles he was getting would be enough for him--he could have been fantastic heavy/character actor for decades. He had the chops to have become a household name.