The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog
With his third feature film, The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, Alfred Hitchcock took a major step toward greatness and made what he would come to consider his true directorial debut. This haunting silent thriller tells the tale of a mysterious young man (matinee idol Ivor Novello) who takes up residence at a London boardinghouse, just as a killer who preys on blonde women, known as the Avenger, descends upon the city. The film is animated by the palpable energy of a young stylist at play, decisively establishing the director’s formal and thematic obsessions. In this edition, The Lodger is accompanied by Downhill, another 1927 silent exploration of Hitchcock’s “wrong man” trope, also headlined by Novello—making for a double feature that reveals the great master of the macabre as he was just coming into his own.
Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog receives a lovely new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection, presented with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentation in the film’s original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on a dual-layer disc. This new restoration, conducted by the BFI National Archive, comes from a 2K scan of a 35mm duplicate negative.
The 90-year-old film comes out looking fresh and new thanks to this restoration. Damage from the source print is still evident but it’s astonishingly minimal. The damage is limited primarily to fine scratches and bits of dirt, with the occasional missing frame or two, but most of this barely registers. The image on the whole is very clean and incredibly stable, and the frame rate looks to be correct. The film has also been tinted throughout. I can’t speak as to whether the colours are correct (I admittedly have no clue) and most sequences are tinted a yellowish-orange, while night time sequences have blue/orange tints (a few interior nighttime sequences are black-and-white) but these colours look fine, not seeming to impede the image or the details.
And speaking of details they are very clear here. The source, rather expectedly, does limit some scenes and the image can maybe look a little fuzzy, but a good majority of the film renders the fine details perfectly. You can make out textures on the walls, in costumes, and so on. The digital presentation renders this all very well, likewise the film’s grain structure, and it does look like a film. On the whole this looks shockingly good.
The film is silent but it is accompanied by a new score recorded by composer Neil Brand and presented in lossless PCM 2.0 stereo. Since it is newly recorded it’s not too surprising to find it sounds very good. It’s very dynamic, range is impressive and the sound is stable, never getting harsh or edgy. The mix is nice between the speakers and it all sounds razor sharp. It sounds good.
This is a fairly stacked special edition, the biggest bonus being a whole other film by Hitchcock, Downhill. The film is a melodrama and doesn’t have much in common with The Lodger other than it was directed by Hitchcock right after that film and also stars the Lodger himself, Ivor Novillo, who also co-wrote the story with Constance Collier. The film is actually a fairly straightforward melodrama, with Novillo playing a well-off university student who takes the fall for another poorer student’s actions. This leads to his expulsion, his eventual disownment by his father, and then general downward spiral.
The story is fairly predictable and rarely takes any unlikely paths. Admittedly I thought the film could get a bit tiresome since it’s basically one obstacle after another for our protagonist, with a brief ray of hope halfway that is quickly followed by another punch in the gut, and it makes the 110-minute runtime all the more noticeable. Yet it was still interesting to see Hitchcock take the rather simple story and tell it in almost completely visual terms, only relying on intertitles when need be, and there are some great visual cues and gags (I don’t know why, but I was quite fond of one pullback reveal that suggests one thing for our protagonist only to see we’re just getting a glimpse of his new job).
The film isn’t benefitted the exact same love and tenderness as the disc’s feature film, but its restoration and encode is also very strong. Damage is a bit more prominent (I noticed more splice lines for instance) but there’s still very little of it and the image is sharp, the presentation looking fairly filmic. The new score by Neil Brand is also presented in Dolby Digital stereo and sounds quite good.
After that rather significant feature Criterion then includes a number of academic supplements related to the main feature. The first is a new interview with film scholar William Rothman, who discusses Hitchcock’s visual style and editing in the film and how this would carry on to his later works, making comparisons between moments in The Lodger and similar moments (which then share similar themes) in his later works, like Vertigo, The Wrong Man, Blackmail, The 39 Steps, and others. The 33-minute segment does have moments of interest, and I enjoyed seeing some of the similarities in his later films, but it can be a little bit stale.
A bit better is a new video essay by Steven Jacobs called The Bunting House, which looks at Hitchcock’s use of locations, settings, and objects, and how these can change to alter the mood and/or atmosphere. He also goes over the use of specific objects in the film, like the paintings, and then looks at Hitchcock’s use of reflections to fit the appropriate objects in the frame. I found this one a bit more enlightening than the previous, as this aspect of the film isn’t as front and center as some of the more obvious visuals. It runs a fairly brisk 18-minutes.
Next up composer Neil Brand spends 23-minutes talking about composing the score. I wasn’t too in to this at first, but as it progressed I became more intrigued. Brand explains what he was going for in terms of sound, but then he explains the difficulties and second-guessing that can go into trying to appropriately match Hitchcock’s visuals as they can be a bit playful at times. There are also many little things I have never thought about when one writes a new score, even little things like where the relationship between two characters is at and catching the right tone there. Throughout, using his software, he also steps through a number of scenes, explaining his reasoning behind choices. It ends up being one of the more interesting examinations of what goes into composing a silent film score.
Criterion then provides a series of archival audio interviews featuring Alfred Hitchcock: a 26-minute excerpt from his interview with director François Truffaut and then two clips between Hitchcock and Peter Bogdanovich, a 20-minute excerpt from 1963 and a 21-minute one from 1972. I was expecting some repetition but there’s actually very little repeated between them. The Truffaut segment is primarily about The Lodger and Hitchcock talks about its development, his visuals, and its success (though the studio heads apparently hated it at first). The most interesting aspect, though, are the issues that arose because of the casting of Ivor Novillo, a huge star in England at the time. I’ll just warn that spoilers follow through to the end of the paragraph: Hitchcock wanted to make the Lodger’s guilt unknown at the end of the film but the studio would not let him even attempt that and he had to give the more conclusive ending we get now. He had a similar issue with one of his later films, despite the star being a-okay with their character turning out to be a murderer. These recordings between Hitchcock and Truffaut are always fascinating, the two so engaged with one another, but I found this one especially good.
The Bogdanovich clips actually focus more on his childhood and then early career. In the first clip he talks a bit about his father and then his work at UFA in Germany, and everything he picked up there. The second segment gets into more details about his early work in the film industry, before becoming a director (like designing film titles) and even talks about the films he fell in love with early on. Hitchcock seems quite at ease in these two as well and he’s very open with Bogdanovich making the conversations very rewarding.
Playing a bit into Hitchcock’s comments to Truffaut about how he wanted to end the film, Criterion closes the disc off with a 31-minute 1940 radio adaptation of The Lodger, which was also been directed by Hitchcock (it also sounds like this corresponds with the release of both Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent) and was a sort of pilot episode for a series called Suspense, which must have been picked up because I’ve come across other broadcasts. The play is fine for a radio adaptation (it does what it can limited to sound, difficult since the film itself is so visual) and I guess it might be closer to the original story (there are a lot of elements not in the film). But the most interesting element is that Hitchcock ends the radio adaptation in the manner he wanted to end the film.
The release then features a large fold-out insert with two essays by Philip Kemp: one for The Lodger and the other for Downhill. They both offer a decent analysis of their respective films but I was especially appreciative of the piece on Downhill, as my one disappointment with the release is that that film sort of gets thrown to the wayside. Otherwise this edition provides some great academic material on the film and Hitchcock’s early career.
This release comes with a very high recommendation. The presentation is really quite amazing and the supplements (with the inclusion of his follow-up film, Downhill) prove incredibly satisfying altogether.