The Lodger (1944)
Release year: 1944
Director: John Brahm
Screenwriter: Barré Lyndon, Marie Belloc Lowndes (based on the novel by)
Starring: Merle Oberon, George Sanders, Laird Cregar, Cedric Hardwicke, Sara Allgood, Aubrey Mather, Queenie Leonard
In late Victorian London, Jack the Ripper brings terror to town with his horrific killings. As the Bontings gets a new lodger, mr. Slade (Cregar), Mrs. Bonting (Allgood) starts suspecting the mysterious man who stays out late at night might be the killer everyone is looking for. Meanwhile Slade starts showing interest for the couple’s other lodger, the beautiful actress Kitty Langley (Oberon).
Lowndes’s novel has been filmed on several occasion, among other’s it was the base of one of Hitchcock’s earliest films, and it is no big wonder why. A lodger suspected of being a killer is a fine example of the evil moving inside the safety of your own home and instantly adds tension to the story. One can argue the most recent version from 2009 did it right. Here the Ripper story is replaced by an historical unknown killer, something that makes sense, since most knows Jack the Ripper was never captured or even named. That makes it strange, that he is used as background to a story, where the killer is named at the end. With that said, the known cruelty of him does add some suspense to the film. Black and white movies had the advantage, which was used to great effect in the film noir genre, that shadows could be an effective weapon to create both atmosphere and suspicion. So when we are made to fear the mysterious lodger there is nothing spared: his body is in shadows with only his eyes highlighted, he is often filmed from below making him appear even more towering and intimidating. Off course it also helps, that Cregar (Heaven Can Wait, 1943) brought so much to the part and makes us uncomfortable around from the beginning without you ever being able to pinpoint why exactly. Meanwhile Oberon (Wuthering Heights, 1939) is his opposite, light next to dark with her charming and vital Kitty making an otherwise good Sanders (Rebecca, 1940) fall into the background next to the two bright stars. Not bloody, like today’s horror thrillers, The Lodger chooses to build up its tension with the murders taking place of screen. But as we get nearer the end it intensifies; we get to know bit of the victims and the murders gets closer meaning the ending is just as chilling as one would like. A tight and tense thriller worth your while.
Merle Oberon fell in love with the film’s cinematographer, Lucien Ballard, and they married the following year. Because of facial scars Oberon sustained in a car accident, Ballard developed a unique light for her 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).
One of the last films starring Laird Cregar who died far too young of a heart attack in 1944 only 30 years old. The last film he filmed was Hangover Square (1945), which was first released after his death.
There is a real Black Museum (now called the Crime Museum) at Scotland Yard. It officially came into existence in 1875 and has a police inspector and a police constable assigned to official duty there. It is not open to the public but can be visited by police officers from any of the country’s police forces by appointment.
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