The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)
Updated: Sep 30, 2018
Watching Hitchcock's films always impresses me by how timeless they are. When I first watched Psycho I was shocked at how terrified I was. I didn't know an old movie with such little technology could effect me so much. It still freaks me out if I think about it for too long. (Granted I'm terrified of any movie that's remotely scary, whether it be Disturbia with Shia Lebeouf or when I forced myself to fall asleep while watching the Shining for the first time.) Point being that The Lodger proves to be no different—there's no point in the movie where you get bored of the story, where it lulls you to sleep from either the lack of cuts, camera moves, or quality of the film. Even some of the continuity mistakes I found very charming: when the lodger (Ivor Novello) is at the top of the stairs staring down at Daisy (June Tripp) struggling with Joe (Malcom Keen), it periodically cuts to a close up of the lodger's bust, and one of these times completely neglects the continuity of the previous shot. When there are so few cuts, these shots seem more like ideas that move the narrative, rather than getting caught up in the business of logic.
Jean-Luc Godard has talked about how Hitchcock is unique because you remember objects. In the Lodger it's the chandelier waving back and forth slowly, or the footprint in the mud where Joe connects him with the murders. Hitchcock attaches meaning to objects, and they will represent either an emotion or a previous time, and he shows us them in big moments so they are memorable. He doesn't waste a close up or an insert, so that when he does use them, we can understand the change in the thinking of the character without dialogue. The suspense aids this as well, as we're for three quarters of the movie one step ahead of the characters, and so we see the cause and effect of the character's realizations, like when Joe says to Daisy the lodger isn't too keen on women, and we cut to a close up of Daisy, who up until this point has been fed up with Joe's aggressive attitude, and this close up marks the change where Daisy starts to fall in love with the lodger.
What I really loved about watching this was simple it was, contrary to most movies I've seen today. All of the shots have a purpose, there's one idea to each shot, and Hitchcock points the light to where he wants you to look in frame (if he wants you to look at the pupils moving back and forth, he'll lighten the eye itself while darkening under the brow). Just like a good painter, he guides your eye exactly where he wants it to go.
Another example of the simplicity was in the story telling—I found myself learning a lot about how to distill story structure down to its parts, and that was aided by this "each shot is an idea" approach I talked about earlier. Since these silent film directors don't have dialogue to help them, the stories become very simplistic out of necessity, but only in a good way, where there is nothing on the screen that isn't important to the narrative.
There are a lot of similar tropes and things reflecting to Hitchcock's later works, I found specifically Psycho: the lodger with the same pale complexion with dark hair as Anthony Perkins, the room they inhabited as well as the house staircase was very similar, Hitchcock's notorious affinity for murdering blonde women, and of course the lodger creeping up on Daisy unknowingly as she's bathing.
So much more I could get into, but all in all a very educational and exciting film. Great to watch for the visual storytelling and to see the fundamentals of suspense take shape from a masterful director just beginning to get into the groove of his career.