The Lodger (1927) ****
Is this Hitchcock’s greatest film? Certainly it is one of his most perfect. He liked to think of it as his first (in fact his third, but the first to bear any clear authorial stamp), and it is still conveys the energy, freshness and stylishness that electrified audiences in the twenties.
The style is heavily in debt to the German masters Hitchcock had observed while making his first two pictures, and some elements - particularly the stylised intertitles with their flashing graphics and recurring motifs and phrases - seem lifted whole from this source. Other bravura touches, such as the famous plate-glass ceiling effect whereby we witness the upstairs lodger pacing up and down from beneath the soles of his shoes - display precocity if not, perhaps, personality.
What is new, and clearly Hitchcock’s own touch, is the complete lack of moral seriousness. It is about Jack the Ripper, more or less, a savage killer of fair-haired girls at large in a still-gaslit London, but Hitchcock wants only to manipulate his audience. He chooses his subject because it is the easiest route to his chosen aim: to generate mass emotion through cinematic technique. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to him - or more likely just didn't bother him - that in the course of this his people must suffer and die; this is fun, and that, I suspect, was new. Just compare it with Lang’s M.
Striking, too, is the close-up embrace between the lodger and the heroine towards the end, a vivid, almost morbid marriage of two pin-sharp white faces shot from a variety of subjective positions. Was Ivor Novello matinee idol enough to make the suggestion that his character might be the killer utterly impossible, as was later the case with Cary Grant in Suspicion? Or are we right to find this sequence sinister?
The film's other delights are incidental, but potent indeed - chiefly the rare chance to enjoy London's version of twenties fashion and social mores. The central character, Daisy Bunting (played by 'June'), is the first Hitchcock blonde and 'a mannequin' by profession (according to the titles) so we get to see a lot of her standing around in the latest styles before Hitchcock puts her in peril; there's also an unexpected scene of her taking a bath (in a British utilitarian bathroom, however, this is not a DeMille picture!) complete with a close-up of her feet beneath the running tap.