Blu-ray: ‘The Lodger’ – Alfred Hitchcock begins

The Lodger (1926) isn’t the first film directed by Alfred Hitchcock—it’s actually his third, though it does mark his first feature produced in Britain after directing two co-productions in Germany—but even Hitchcock embraced it as the first “Alfred Hitchcock film.” He announces his arrival in the cinematic jolt of the opening scene: a close-up of a woman screaming in terror (the score on this restoration musically picks up the scream on the soundtrack), the sprawled corpse of a murdered woman, not gory but unnerving in the worm’s-eye view of the body with limbs akimbo stretching toward the lens, the rubbernecking crowd, and the flashing marquee sign visually shouting “To-Night Golden Curls,” connecting the nervous blonde showgirls of a London revue with the fair-haired victims targeted by The Avenger (beginning Hitch’s lifelong cinematic obsession with blondes).

Criterion

The Lodger, adapted by Eliot Stannard from the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes and the play she co-wrote, draws on the legacy of Jack the Ripper for a fictionalized thriller (Hitchcock’s first) built on the atmosphere of hysteria and suspicion in a London under assault by a serial killer. It stars Ivor Novello, at the time one of Britain’s biggest entertainment superstars, as the enigmatic Lodger who takes a room in the Bunting home and June Tripp as the Bunting daughter Daisy, a blonde model at an upscale clothing store who gets close to the otherwise distant young man. Her would-be suitor Joe (Malcolm Keen), a police inspector assigned to the case, is none-too-happy about it and his jealousy charges his suspicions about the Lodger’s unusual behavior until he targets him as a suspect.

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Blu-ray: Laird Cregar is ‘The Lodger’

Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Laird Cregar is The Lodger (1944) (Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Blu-ray) in the third screen adaptation of the thriller by Marie Belloc Lowndes (the most famous was the 1926 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock) set in London during the reign of Jack the Ripper.

While the city panics in the wake of another murder of a showgirl by the knife-wielding madman, a man who identifies himself as Mr. Slade (Cregar) takes a room in the middle-class home of an elderly couple with financial difficulties (Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Sara Allgood). Also living there is their niece Kitty Langley (Merle Oberon), an attractive, flirtatious entertainer making the leap from music halls to more respectable theaters, and the Bible-quoting Slade can barely hide his fascination behind his admonitions of sin and temptation. George Sanders co-stars as the Scotland Yard investigator who becomes sweet on Kitty and suspicious of Slade. For good reason.

This is film noir by way of gothic thriller, a shadowy suspense thriller in the Victorian era of gaslight and horse drawn carriages on cobblestone streets, and director John Brahm gives the film a lively energy.

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DVD of the Week – Halloween 2008 edition – Hitchcock and Horror

It must have been kismet that I received my copy of the Fox Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection late, too late to feature it the week it actually came out. Because now it leads off the Halloween week MSN DVD column. Hitch wasn’t really a horror director outside of Psycho, but The Master of Suspense was a master of thrillers, and this set features his very first thriller:

The Lodger was Alfred Hitchcock’s third film, his first classic, and arguably the first “Alfred Hitchcock movie.” Moody and textured, the 1926 silent thriller stars music hall superstar Ivor Novello as a mysterious figure who arrives at a boarding house out of the foggy night. Hitch creates some of his most expressionist images (the ceiling dissolves to a man pacing above, the fog that swirls about the mysterious lodger) and introduces his murky world of guilt and innocence in the story of an eccentric figure who may be Jack the Ripper. Previously available only in inferior versions, this remastered and digitally restored edition looks superb and offers two scores: Ashley Irwin’s vivid, dramatic orchestral score, and a more somber and impressionistic one by Paul Zaza.

The set features eight films all together, including two of his early British thrillers (the classic Sabotage with Sylvia Sidney and lighter and lesser Young and Innocent), his World War II drama Lifeboat and all four films made for David Selznick: the Gothic classic Rebecca (Hitchcock’s only film to win an Oscar for Best Picture), the Gregory Peck films Spellbound and The Paradine Case, and the romantic masterpiece Notorious. Alfred Hitchcock had everything he needed to make cinema magic when he undertook Notorious: a brilliant cast of beautiful, seductive stars (Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman at their most galmorous) and excellent character actors (Claude Rains and Louis Calhern), one of Hollywood’s smartest and most adept screenwriters (Ben Hecht), and best of all a producer with lots of money and class who was too busy to interfere–for once. The result is one of his most sparkling romantic thrillers, smooth and silky with a dangerous, darkly suggestive undercurrent of sex, power, and sacrifice.

The DVD is featured on my MSN column here.

Lucio Fulci’s surreal giallo masterpiece The Beyond has been out of print for years. Now Grindhouse brings their restored edition back out. Lucio “King of the Eyeball Gag” Fulci is hardly a favorite of mine, but this film is a wild, eerie, mad masterpiece. The largely incoherent plot has something to do with a turn of the century curse and a doorway to hell in the cellar of an old New Orleans hotel, but then plot in giallo is rarely more than an pretense. If you can overlook little things like wooden acting and clumsy dialogue and arbitrary twists, you’ll find an insane tale of zombies from hell invading Earth and eating their way through a cast of crucified martyrs, blind visionaries, creepy hotel handymen and befuddled cops, while a plucky pair of heroes desperately fleeing a horde of hungry undead. The blood red art direction is eerily beautiful and Fulci’s relentless long takes, punctuated by jolting shock cuts and eruptions of grotesque violence, creates a mood of sheer paranoid horror right down to the final, mind bending image. Just let yourself get carried away on the creepy visuals and it’s a surprisingly stylish treat, an eerie, edgy bit of gothic gore pitched in all it’s bone crunching, flesh ripping, organ splatting glory. But beware: this sadistic, sanguinary hell-spawn tale is for gore-hounds only.
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