Cast & Crew
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
In 1889, former businessman Robert Burton and his wife Ellen are forced by financial necessity to take a lodger into their home near Slade Walk in London. In response to their advertisement, a mysterious man calling himself Slade rents the room from Ellen, and, telling her that he is a pathologist, also rents the attic for his experiments. Slade cautions Ellen that he keeps irregular hours and asks her to treat him only as a lodger, not a guest. The following week, Daisy, the Burtons' maid, refuses a pass to the theater to see the London debut of the Burtons' niece, music hall entertainer Kitty Langley. Daisy explains that she is too terrified to venture near a theater due to the recent string of murders of actresses. The killer, who has thus far eluded Scotland Yard, has been dubbed "Jack the Ripper" due to his cruel actions, and has killed four women in the Whitechapel area. Determined to support their niece, Robert and Ellen, however, go to the theater, where Kitty is visited backstage by former actress Annie Rowley. Kitty gives Annie, who is down on her luck, a sovereign, then goes onstage and dazzles the receptive audience. After the show, Kitty is questioned by Inspector John Warwick of Scotland Yard, who informs her that Annie has just been murdered in Whitechapel. Kitty assures Warwick that although she gave Annie money, they were not close, and Sheridan, the theater's doctor, speculates that the mutilating killer must be a medical man. The next day, Ellen and Kitty are upset to learn that Slade burned his small, black bag after reading a newspaper account of the murder, in which a witness described the killer as carrying a similar bag. Although Robert placates them, Kitty follows Slade to the University Hospital and discovers that he does work in the pathology lab there. Slade's sincere manner reassures Kitty, and as time passes, she becomes fond of her aunt's odd, bible-reading lodger. Warwick, who has fallen in love with Kitty, keeps a close eye on her as she continues her successful career, which includes plans to open a new theater in Whitechapel. On the night of another murder, Kitty sees Slade burning his blood-stained overcoat in the kitchen fire, but is satisfied by his explanation that the garment was contaminated in a pathology experiment. Later, Kitty asks Slade to attend her show at the new theater, and he explains his aversion to actresses, stating that it is wrong for women to exhibit their beauty on the stage and thereby lead a man to his destruction. As Slade rambles on about the necessity of cutting out the evil in beauty, Kitty assumes that he is merely speaking philosophically. Warwick arrives and offers Kitty a police escort to the theater, then covertly obtains a sample of Slade's fingerprints, as the lodger's unusual hours and behavior have raised his suspicion. The fingerprints, from Slade's right hand, do not match the fingerprints found at one of the murder scenes, but Warwick speculates that the fingerprints must be from the Ripper's left hand. After Slade leaves for the theater, Warwick searches his possessions and finds a miniature portrait of his dead younger brother. Warwick recognizes the youth as a once-promising artist who was led into a dissipated life by actress Lizzie Turner, who was the Ripper's first victim. Fearing that Kitty is in danger, Warwick dashes to the theater, but Slade has already made his way to Kitty's dressing room, where he threatens her with a knife. The terrified Kitty screams, and Warwick bursts in and shoots Slade. The wounded lodger climbs up the side of the theater and from the catwalk above, attempts to crush Kitty with a sandbag, but she is saved by Daisy. Warwick and his men then chase Slade until he jumps from the building into the Thames, and as his body sinks, Kitty remembers Slade's comments about the soothing qualities of deep, dark water.
Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Harold De Becker
John Paul Lock Barton
Hugo W. Friedhofer
R. L. Hough
Horatio R. Palmer
Walter M. Scott
E. Clayton Ward
J. Watson Webb Jr.
The Lodger (1944)
Such a lodger naturally draws suspicion on himself-anyone would be creeped out by such a guest. But in these dark times, as paranoia replaces logic, you have to remind yourself that there are logical explanations for all of this, that you have no proof that the man in the attic is Jack the Ripper.
The essential trick of The Lodger (1944) is its masterful inversion of the traditional mystery story. Instead of following a detective hero on a journey of ratiocination to determine whodunnit, we are exiled frustratingly to the sidelines-just like in real life. We are bystanders, waiting helplessly outside the action in a limbo where fear swirls without context, like children frightened by shadows and sounds in the night. Each new murder enhances the paranoia without bringing us any closer to understanding, because we are not collecting any valid evidence, only circumstantial clues that may or may not mean anything. In all likelihood, the city is full of such "lodgers," targets of suspicion for the people around them but genuinely innocent.
There is a fundamental glitch in this setup, however. While it is true that the real-life Jack the Ripper was never caught, that is one of those pesky inconveniences that separate reality from a good story, and movie audiences are apt to feel disappointed by any movie that concludes with the Ripper still at large. However, revealing that the lodger actually is the killer has the effect of undermining some of the point of staging the story among bystanders-if you really have Jack the Ripper living upstairs, then how ordinary are you?
Over the years, different adaptations have approached this hiccup in their own ways. The original 1913 novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes samples bits of the legendary case of Jack the Ripper into a (then) modern-day London terrorized by "the Avenger." The first film version, Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger (1927), keeps the contemporary setting, the "Avenger" name, and works as a case study in paranoia. Hitchcock's lodger is no killer, and the audience's belief otherwise is used to demonstrate how easily we are led astray by fear.
When Fox producer Robert Bassler set out to make a B-level thriller from the book in 1944, it was decided to bring the highly exploitable Jack the Ripper connection front and center and set the story in 1880s Whitechapel. Screenwriter Barré Lyndon found certain story details forbidden by skittery censors. Although 1944 audiences were tough stuff-this was the Greatest Generation, facing down international fascism and gearing up to drop nuclear bombs on Japan-the Motion Picture Code believed such people would be scandalized by the sight of blood or the explicit mention of sex, so a story about a serial killer who disembowels prostitutes had to use some sly narrative dodges to get its point across. But where the censors could omit from the printed screenplay the most direct mentions of taboo subjects, they had no such reign on the fevered imaginations of the filmmakers, who managed to sneak depravity into every corner of the film through suggestion and bold artistry.
Director John Brahm was a German immigrant with a background in Expressionist theater, whose career is dotted with examples of Gothic horror and film noir. Together with cinematographer Lucien Ballard, Brahm frames every shot with deliberate care, using shadows, canted angles, silhouettes, mirror reflections, distorted points of view, and fog to give every image maximum effect. He also has a keen ear for the power of sound, and daringly pulls the soundtrack back to near silence during the tense finale.
The casting of Laird Cregar as the titular lodger was the masterstroke. Cregar was a Fox contract star with a flair for the sinister and his own private demons. His crazed performance brings The Lodger to a new level. The screen fairly oozes sticky sweat every time he's on. Cregar's anxiety-laden portrayal of psychosexual torment was years ahead of its time, and pushed past censors one of the screen's first and most influential depictions of psychological horror. Combined with the Gothic atmosphere of the period English setting, it was Psycho as imagined by Hammer Films, fifteen years early. This was the future of horror.
In one of the film's most impressive moments, Cregar corners Merle Oberon (who, it so happened, was married to cinematographer Ballard at the time). Her beauty and ostentatious sexuality is driving him insane, and since he was not the portrait of mental stability to start with, this is quite a problem. Patiently, lovingly, he explains how he has no choice but to dismember her and worship her lifeless corpse, how ridding the world of tempting women is his civic duty, how she should understand this is necessary. Cregar seems for all the world like a raging torrent of crazy held in place by the most fragile bindings of self-control, as if a single sneeze would be enough to unleash a violence only barely hinted at by his quavering voice and unsteady body language. It is Oberon's response to this performance that sets the scene apart. Here, and throughout the film, she shows no fear-only tenderness, even forgiveness. The film asks us to find sympathy for the devil; she shows us how.
Add an uncharacteristically restrained George Sanders and the always-compelling Cedric Hardwicke to the mix, and you've got yourself a movie. Audiences agreed, and turned this modest production into a sizeable hit for Fox, both commercially and critically. The delighted production team rushed ahead with a follow-up, Hangover Square (1945), so rushed they didn't really have time to write a new story. That 1945 film would be The Lodger redux, with only very slight modifications. A decade later, screenwriter Lyndon wrote yet another adaptation, which was filmed as Man in the Attic (1953) with Jack Palance in the Laird Cregar role.
Cregar, however, despaired of how his success in such roles had typecast him. Seeking a new romantic hero image, he went on a drug-fueled crash diet that wrecked his health and contributed to his premature death in 1944, before Hangover Square was released. The Lodger had claimed his final victim.
Producer: Robert Bassler
Director: John Brahm
Screenplay: Barré Lyndon, based on the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes
Cinematography: Lucien Ballard
Art Direction: James Basevi, John Ewing
Music: Hugo Friedhofer
Film Editing: J. Watson Webb, Jr.
Cast: Merle Oberon (Kitty Langley), George Sanders (Inspector John Warwick), Laird Cregar (Mr. Slade), Cedric Hardwicke (Robert Bonting), Sara Allgood (Ellen Bonting), Aubrey Mather (Supt. Sutherland), Queenie Leonard (Daisy).
by David Kalat
The Lodger (1944)
The Lodger - THE LODGER on DVD - A 1944 Thriller based on the Jack the Ripper case
The Lodger, then, is certainly not a whodunit, and it's actually more of a character piece than a suspense film, though it does build to a riveting and suspenseful climax. The rest of the characters (mainly the family who owns the house and a Scotland Yard detective) don't figure out the lodger's guilt as quickly as we do, and for them the story is a whodunit. Director John Brahm and screenwriter Barre Lyndon intelligently make the movie, for us, about something deeper. They're more interested in exploring the lodger's state of mind and his inner demons, and they do so without grinding the story to a snail's pace.
As portrayed by Laird Cregar, this Ripper (who goes by "Mr. Slade," a name he makes up from a street sign), is wonderfully creepy and menacing. Cregar smartly doesn't play him as a simple madman, giving him sensitivity and soft-spokenness to go along with some twisted sexuality: he seems to lust after his own dead brother, declaring that "the beauty of women led him to his destruction." As a result, Slade hates women, especially showgirls and actresses who peddle their sex appeal to attract males. (While the real Jack the Ripper murdered prostitutes, the Hays Code prevented that element from figuring into this film - hence actresses.)
John Brahm remains an underrated director with interesting pictures like Tonight We Raid Calais (1943), Guest in the House (1944), Hangover Square (1945) and The Locket (1946) to his credit. He was highly skilled in creating vivid atmosphere and detail, and The Lodger shows him in fine form. An opening crane shot takes the audience through foggy, cobblestone streets one night, casually and intriguingly gliding over a large group of mounted policemen, sitting and waiting atop their horses in the street. There is an overwhelming police presence throughout the entire film, in fact, which does a great deal to make the Ripper murders even more shocking because it makes us marvel at the fact that the killer could elude detection.
Even with the constant police presence, Brahm and his ace cameraman Lucien Ballard are still able to give us a sense of the dark loneliness of the London streets. The scenes with Cregar tend to emphasize the actor's hulking size (unsurprisingly), and his lighting is consistently ominous and sinister, making for a nice clash with his soulful eyes and well-dressed appearance. More satisfyingly, Brahm and Ballard often find ways to depict Slade's tormented mental state via composition and lighting. The scariest scene in the movie involves a murder which is presented from Slade's point of view as he approaches a woman so terrified she literally can't even scream; the camera shakes as it dollies forward, creating a "handheld" effect unusual for the era.
Elsewhere in the cast are Sara Allgood and Cedric Hardwicke as the couple who own the house, Merle Oberon as their showgirl daughter Kitty, and George Sanders as the detective. Allgood is wonderful, Sanders is adequate despite not getting much chance to offer his trademark sarcasm, and Oberon is fine and beautifully photographed by Ballard. (The following year, Ballard would marry her.)
Fox Home Entertainment has packed The Lodger with two other films in a somewhat curiously titled boxset: "Fox Horror Classics Collection." Only one title, The Undying Monster (1942) qualifies as a horror film. The Lodger is more of a Gothic noir, and Hangover Square (1945), which reunited the director, writer, producer and two stars of The Lodger, is a noir melodrama quite similar to The Lodger. Regardless, these are good movies, all directed by Brahm and all worth seeing, and they have been very well transferred and given many extras. The Lodger comes with a making-of featurette which offers intelligent analysis and historical perspective; a trailer which even shows a snippet of a scene that was cut; a superb stills gallery; a radio version starring Vincent Price; a "restoration comparison"; and workmanlike commentary from film noir experts Alain Silver and James Ursini.
For more information about The Lodger, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order The Lodger, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
The Lodger - THE LODGER on DVD - A 1944 Thriller based on the Jack the Ripper case
Merle Oberon fell in love with film's cinematographer Lucien Ballard and they married the following year. Because of her facial scars sustained in a car accident, Ballard developed a unique light for Oberon that washed out any signs of her blemishes. The device is known to this day as the Obie (not to be confused with the Off-Broadway award).
Marie Belloc Lowndes' novel originally appeared as a short story in McClure's in January 1911. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, in 1940, Lowndes assigned the screen rights to her work to Alfred Hitchcock, who had directed the first screen version of the novel in 1926. The rights were eventually transferred to Myron Selznick and Vanguard Films (David O. Selznick's production company), from which they were purchased by Twentieth Century-Fox in 1943. According to a July 21, 1943 Hollywood Reporter news item, the studio was "mulling the idea of an all-British cast" to support Laird Cregar because of the novel's popularity throughout the United Kingdom. On August 21, 1944, Hollywood Reporter noted that the picture had recouped all of its negative and production costs from its successful run in England alone. The picture's excellent reception prompted the studio to re-team Cregar, George Sanders, producer Robert Bassler, writer Barré Lyndon and director John Brahm on the 1945 psychological thriller Hangover Square, which was Cregar's last film.
Although many films have depicted the character "Jack the Ripper," Lowndes' novel, in which the character is not actually identified as the Ripper, is the basis for only a few of the productions. As noted above, the first picture based on her novel was the 1926 Gainsborough film The Lodger, which starred Ivor Novello. Novello again played the title role in the 1932 Twickenham picture The Lodger, which was directed by Maurice Elvey and released in the United States in 1934 as The Phantom Fiend. In 1953, Twentieth Century-Fox released a remake of their film, produced by Panoramic, entitled Man in the Attic, which was directed by Hugo Fregonese and starred Jack Palance and Constance Smith. Lowndes' novel was also the basis for a play entitled The Lodger (Who Is He), written by H. A. Vachell (London, 1916). For more information about the real Jack the Ripper and films based on his crimes, see the entry below for the 1960 Paramount release Jack the Ripper.