The Lodger is a 1927 silent film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and oh boy is it fantastic. The direction is inspired. The creativity on display is unparalleled. This is a silent film for people who don’t like silent films.
The story follows a mysterious man who takes a room in a boarding house in the middle of a murder spree by a Jack the Ripper-like serial killer.
To begin, the performances avoid the over the top style normally associated with silent films. There isn’t the wide eyed mugging of most silent actors. There isn’t the hand wringing and wild gestures commonly found in films of the 1920’s and early 30’s. The actors behave more naturally and more organically on screen. Time is devoted to establishing their relationships and allowing them to live and breath within the story.
The direction is unbelievable. Hitchcock really pulls out all the stops here. His editing is faster paced than the average film of the time. He cuts more quickly and between a wider variety of shots. He keeps his story moving. It never falters or lags. This is especially visible in the way he edits together the opening montage. He generates the sense of fear and paranoia that the city is feeling, all the major characters, and the entire premise in a few short minutes of screen time.
The most spectacular thing about the film is his innovations in communicating sound in a silent film. There is a sequence when the mysterious lodger leaves his room at night. The housekeeper hears him leave his room. She hears him creep downstairs. She hears the door close. How does he communicate all this without sound? He uses eye line and cross cutting to tell the audience everything. His atmosphere is so thick the audience can practically hear the door close when he finally leaves.
The lodger paces in his room. The people down stairs are annoyed by the sound. How does he show us what is bothering them? Not through title cards, but by removing the ceiling and showing the lodgers footsteps above the people. He then returns the ceiling and shows the chandelier swaying with his pacing. This swaying is then linked with the pacing throughout the rest of the film. Instantly when the swaying chandelier is shown the audience knows exactly what is happening.
There are some classic issues with the story. This isn’t a perfect film. The conclusion feels abrupt. The plot wraps up a little too neatly. A main female character swaps love interests rather flippantly as the story requires, but these are minor and do not detract from an amazing film experience.
This is absolutely my cup of tea. Rating – A