The Criterion Collection’s release of Alfred Hitchcock’s third feature, The Lodger (1927), is actually a stealth double feature of Hitchcock and actor Ivor Novello as it includes their film Downhill (1927) as an extra. The Lodger, considered the first “Hitchcock” film, even by the man himself, tells of a mystery revolving around a serial killer working the streets of London. It has many story and visual elements that populate Hitchcock’s filmography.
Based on the novel of the same name by Marie Belloc Lowndes, the film opens, a young woman found murdered along the river. She is the seventh golden-haired victim of the murderer known as the Avenger, who serves as a Jack the Ripper stand-in. Unbeknownst to husband-and-wife tenement owners Mr. & Mrs. Bunting (Arthur Chesney and Marie Ault), the film suggests their new lodger Jonathan Drew (Ivor Novello), an odd fellow, may be the Avenger. In fact, the suggestions, which is all they are, are so blatant it seems like obvious misdirection.
Daisy (June Tripp ), the Buntings’ daughter, fits the Avenger’s profile, which raises the story’s stakes when she and Jonathan become attracted to each other. This upsets Joe (Malcolm Keen), an ill-tempered cop, who claims to be Daisy’s boyfriend, though it’s not apparent if she understands their relationship. He begins to suspect Jonathan as the Avenger, as do others as the story proceeds.
Once Jonathan’s odd behavior is explained, the story becomes a “Wrong Man” scenario, but what’s fascinating is that Hitchcock wanted the film with Jonathan’s innocence left in doubt, but the studio refused because they didn’t want their star to appear as a villain. At 90 years old, the film’s pacing is of the time, so it’s slow, lingering much longer than needed to pass on the information available.
The video has been given a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer struck from “a 35 mm duplicate negative was scanned in 2K resolution…Tints and tones of the original nitrate print [were] reproduced in the digital intermediate grade,” as revealed in the liner notes. The image appears in black and white and tinted colors and is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The blacks are inky. The clean up looks well done with only minor watermarks, scratches, and specks. The source does show its age with occasional softness and flickering.
The audio is available in LPCM Stereo. Neil Brand’s new score, performed by the Orchestra of Saint Paul’s, is the only sound element. The instruments come through with great clarity and the track has a good dynamic range.
Hitchcock’s Downhill, also starring Novello, has been given a 2K digital restoration and a new piano score by Brand. It tells the story of a young man, whose efforts to do the right thing to help out a friend, send him on the wrong track.
Other extras on the disc include William Rothman (HD, 33 min), with the scholar breaking down The Lodger and the themes and motifs that Hitchcock’s would become known for. The Bunting House (HD, 18 min) – art historian Steven Jacobs “explores the role that architecture, space and setting play in” the film. A collection of interviews between Alfred Hitchcock and François Truffaut (audio, 26 min) from 1962, and Alfred Hitchcock and Peter Bogdanovich from 1963 (audio, 20 min) where he talked about his early career and from 1972 (audio, 21 min) with talk about his early life. The Lodger Radio Play (audio, 31 min) was the pilot for the CBS Radio series Suspense. It was directed by Hitchcock and first aired on July 22, 1940. Neil Brand (HD, 23 min) talks about creating his new score. There are also essays on The Lodger and Downhill by critic Philip Kemp
The Lodger (spine #885) is a marvelous addition to the Criterion Collection. It allows viewers to see Hitchcock at the early stage of career on his way to becoming a legendary director. The Blu-ray offers a satisfying HD experience and the extras allow one to delve deeper into learning about the film and its director.