With THE LODGER, Alfred Hitchcock really began to hit his stride. The beginnings of the director’s trademark wit and invention are clearly in evidence, but equally the ambiguity of the central role of The Lodger, played by Ivor Novello, foreshadows the darker lead performances in later works such as REBECCA and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. One can almost feel Hitch stretching himself here, testing the boundaries of his own capability.
On the surface it’s a slim tale: a mysterious man (Novello) arrives to rent a room in a house in central London just as a series of Ripper-esque murders are terrifying the city, and which have police baffled. Slowly the owners of the house begin to suspect their new tenant might be this self-proclaimed Avenger, as does the police officer who is dating their daughter, Daisy. When she throws him over in favour of the lodger, he decides to do something about it.
The clouds of suspicion that form are as thick as the fog outside on the streets…
Hitchcock has oodles of fun trying to throw the audience off the scent by making Novello look as suspicious as possible: long, lingering close-ups on his face and eyes, which seem to hide a very dark secret; the threatening way he picks up a poker, or hangs around the bathroom door while Daisy has a bath. The famous superimposed shot of him walking backwards and forwards across his bedroom floor as seen by the family below increases their, and our, anxiety. The clouds of suspicion that form are as thick as the fog outside on the streets. Once the cat is out of the bag however, the story runs out of steam and the end feels slightly anti-climactic – something that Hitch would strenuously avoid in the future.
Nitin Sawhney’s score, newly commissioned for this restoration, has plenty to recommend it – lashings of Bernard Herrmann-style suspense – but is also too bombastic at times. A touch more subtlety would have been welcome, to complement the director’s own intuitive sense of pace and style.