It is the Whitechapel district of London in 1888, and grisly murders have the city agitated. Amidst this, lodger Mr. Slade leases a room from Robert and Ellen Bonting. Mr. Slade’s eccentric behavior leads the Bontings and associates to wonder if Mr. Slade is…Jack the Ripper.
The Lodger is the second adaptation of the novel of the same name by Marie Belloc Lowndes, the first was the 1927 silent film, directed by none other than Alfred Hitchcock. This 1944 adaptation is directed by John Brahm (The Undying Monster, The Mad Magician) , with the screenplay adapted by Barré Lyndon (Dark Intruder).
The movie begins with the Ripper murders already in progress, a headline sprawled across the page. The bulky and already menacing Mr. Slade (Laird Cregar, Hangover Square), approaches the Bonting flat, looking to lease a room. Robert & Ella Bonting (Sir Cedric Hardwicke & Sara Allgood), under some financial stress, immediately take him up on his generous payment. . He is distressed to find out he will be sharing the building with their niece, a singing actress named Kitty Langley (Merle Oberon, The Price of Fear).
We are introduced to Kitty and her kind hearted nature shortly after a show she has performed, where she gives a charitable donation to down-on-her-luck actress Annie Rowley, who only turns out to be more down-on-her-luck as the movie continues its dark, Gothic mood. Kitty finds two romantic competitors for her heart — an investigator in the Jack the Ripper case, Inspector Warwick (George Sanders, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Village of the Damned) and the moody, caustic Mr. Slade. Through her eyes, we see the flip sides of dark nature in both Mr. Slade and Inspector Warwick. The murders mount up, and the Bontings worries accumulate over Mr. Slade’s increasingly eccentric behavior, and Kitty Langley becomes the center of the two warriors’ battle, weaving between bright musicals and dark pursuit — a battle which ends in the cold, rushing depths of the Thames.
Lucien Ballard’s excellent command of the cameras provides moody and elegant use of the lighting, turning Mr. Slade into twice the menacing character he already is, simultaneously creating a murky London, full of hungry shadows. This is complemented with Hugo W. Friedhofer’s haunting soundtrack. It is a fairly good movie, with great actors everywhere bringing their best, managed by a director at his peak.
A must see for fans of old, Gothic style horror/thrillers, and enjoyable movies in general.
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