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Revisiting 'The Lodger': Alfred Hitchcock's "first successful film"

'The Lodger' - Alfred Hitchcock

Widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers of all time, Alfred Hitchcock’s impact on the cinematic medium is incomparable. Over the course of his career, the ‘Master of Suspense’ made over 50 features and many of them are revered to this day. As a retrospective of Hitchcock’s early artistic efforts, we take a look at his “first successful film” which helped shape the conventions of the thriller genre; The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog.

A film adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ 1913 novel, The Lodger was inspired by the actions of the notorious serial killer ‘Jack the Ripper’. Although his 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much is often regarded as his first proper exploration of the mystery thriller genre, many of the precursors of the Hitchcockian style can be observed in The Lodger. That’s exactly why the filmmaker considered his 1927 effort to be “the first true Hitchcock movie.”

While starting work on the project, Hitchcock also remembered a stage adaptation of the novel that he had seen in 1915. Like Lowndes’ book, Hitchcock constructs a compelling intersection of true crime and fantasy in The Lodger with the help of screenwriter Eliot Stannard. Ivor Novello stars as Jonathan Drew, a mysterious and reclusive lodger who rents a room in a city which is collectively squirming due to the paranoia induced by a serial killer at large. As the evidence piles up, people around the lodger start suspecting that he is the one to blame for the atrocious crimes that are being committed.

We can observe Hitchcock’s obsession with the methodology of crime and its effect on the human psyche. Since The Lodger is a silent film, most of the cinematic power can be experienced through the impeccable visual narrative. Influenced by post-war tensions and the unprecedented changes to society, Hitchcock masterfully translated his own anxieties to the framework of the film including his irrational fear of authority. In addition, The Lodger contains some of his characteristic techniques like narrative foreshadowing and even contains his first cameo!

The influence of German Expressionism can also be seen in The Lodger; Hitchcock studied the works of filmmakers like F. W. Murnau and Fritz Lang and figured out a way to incorporate similar elements into his own artistic vision. Their experimentations with chiaroscuros fascinated the English director, compelling him to attempt the same in The Lodger and many subsequent films. The film’s editing was also a deviation from the visual grammar that was employed by most English films from that period and influenced the pioneers of the French New Wave.

When it first came out, The Lodger was critically acclaimed and managed to become a commercial success in the country. One journal even crowned it as “the finest British production ever made.” While that claim is no longer true, The Lodger is quite possibly the best of Hitchcock’s silent films. Despite the fact that it was just his third feature film, Hitchcock was already displaying signs of his undeniable talent by creating a truly masterful and seminal mystery thriller.

Watch Alfred Hitchcock’s 1927 silent film The Lodger, below.