Movie Discussion: Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

  • Monthly Theme: ProtohorrorlXyjJaTdJC1EwoQsuv0ZWqEeqzj
  • The Film: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog
  • Country of origin: U.K.
  • Date of U.K. release: February 14, 1927
  • Date of U.S. release: June 10, 1928
  • Studio: Gainsborough Pictures & Carlyle Blackwell Prod.
  • Distributer: AmerAnglo & Artlee Pictures
  • Domestic Gross: ?
  • Budget: $12,000 (estimated)
  • Director: Alfred Hitchcock
  • Producers: Michael Blacon & Carlyle Blackwell
  • Screenwriter: Eliot Stannard
  • Adaptation? Yes, of the 1913 novel The Lodger by Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes.
  • Cinematographer: Baron Ventimiglia
  • Make-Up/FX: C. Wilfrid Arnold & Bertram Evans
  • Music: n/a
  • Part of a series? No.
  • Remakes? Yes, Belloc Lowndes’ novel has been adapted four other times: 1932’s The Lodger, 1944’s The Lodger, 1953’s Man in the Attic and 2009’s The Lodger.
  • Genre Icons in the cast? No.
  • Other notables?: No.
  • Awards?: n/a
  • Tagline: n/a
  • The Lowdown: Here we have Alfred Hitchcock’s first true classic – the first screen adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ Jack-the-Ripper thriller. It is also the first time Hitchcock really established the tropes he would continue to explore for the rest of his career. The film centers on a series of gruesome serial killings in London that coincide with the arrival of mysterious stranger (Ivor Novello) who rents a room from the Bunting family. Mrs. Bunting (Marie Ault) begins to suspect that the lodger might actually be the murderer terrorizing the city, while her adult daughter, Daisy (June Tripp), finds herself drawn to him…

If you haven’t seen The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog our discussion will include massive SPOILERS. 

Sean: First things first. The lodger is a hottie.

Kristine: Oh my god, that is in my notes. And Joe is so creepy and nasty. I wrote: ‘I would have dumped Joe and totally knocked boots with the lodger.’ He can lodge it in me, if you know what I mean.

Sean: Joe has a gigantic moonpie faceand a throatsac.

Kristine: And a mouthful of shattered shards instead of teeth.

Ivor Novello - The Lodger (1927) look
Original Goth Prince

Sean: The way he was throwing heart-shaped cookie dough at Daisy?

Kristine: So corny.

Sean: What about how he was like, ‘I’m gonna clamp this wedding ring over your little whorefinger like handcuffs!’?

Kristine: Oh, I know. When he was all, ‘I’ll put a rope around [the killer’s] neck (complete with pantomime) and then a ring around your finger’? Who does that? I could not be clearer that his affections for Daisy sprang from a place of sadism and violence. He was a psychotic freak. That was actually my big beef with the movie. It really lost momentum towards the back half, for me. I wanted the Avenger to be Joe.

Sean: My question about the ending is, how should we frame the romantic pairing of Jonathan and Daisy? Did Jonathan get the girl?Or did Daisy get the guy?

Kristine: Oh, she got the guy and escaped her fate. That was my interpretation, anyway.

Sean: See, I disagree.

Kristine: Gasp.

Sean: This is one of my gripes with Hitchcock, actually. That he always winds up reverting to patriarchy and heternormativity at the end of his movies, after flirting with queerness and subversion.Did you notice that, as Daisy and Jonathan kiss at the end, the “To-Night Golden Curls” sign is blinking in the skyline outside the window?

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: I felt like that was a signal that Jonathan had claimed Daisy and taken her out of the lady-factory.That she was his prize.

Kristine: I didn’t read it that way. I thought it was more sinister, like maybe the Avenger really wasn’t captured, so it still could be the lodger. Or Joe.

Sean: Really? I think you’re projecting. Did you like Jonathan?

Kristine: Yes. I said he could lodge it anytime.

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You’ve captured my Queen, sweetie.

Sean: I loved how Jonathan is the most ‘over it’ person ever, rolling his eyes, sighing, flitting about daintily, and just generally radiating disdain.

Kristine: Oh, he is so over all of it. I didn’t even mind his emo eyeliner and scarf combo.

Sean: It is pretty cool that Daisy gets to be with an intellectual equal and a sexy goth prince of fabrics rather than a traditionalist lunkhead.

Kristine: Prince of fabrics.

Sean: I loved his eyeliner and scarves.So fey, so sexy.

Kristine: I liked how he and Daisy played chess (an adult game of intellect and stragey), as opposed to patty-cake heart-shaped cookie-cutter play-dough time with Joe.

Sean: Right? The lodger is definitely the better romantic option for any right-thinking individual.

Kristine: The only lodger scene I objected to was when he went to the fashion house to watch Daisy do her thing. That felt very traditional male, very Joe, intrusive and creepy and very ‘Feel my male gaze.’

Sean: Oh my god, right? Leering and salivating at her?

Kristine: It reminds me of two things from my notes. First, did you notice in the opening credits that Daisy is given a title? It reads, “Daisy Bunting, a mannequin.” I found that… interesting. And secondly, modeling (or excuse me, manequinning) was way cooler in the 1920s. I loved the groovy, circular showroom. And you could smoke whilst you mannequinned.

Sean: Very Blood and Black Lace, right?

Kristine: Absolutely.

637061
Sissy that walk.

Sean: I agree that all the models and their swag were pretty amazing. I loved all that.In fact, during those scenes I realized, this might be the only time Hitchcock ever went into an all-female space in one of this movies. I can’t think of any other moment in any of his movies when he went into a place occupied only by women. I was sort of dying about how many tropes of slasher movies are recognizable here. Like, when one of the models pretends to be the Avenger, covers her face, holds a ‘knife’ and terrifies a colleague. Such a classic slasher-movie moment.

Kristine: For sure.

Sean: Daisy is the first “Hitchcock blonde” – and you know how he fetishized blonde women – Grace Kelly, Tippi Hedren, Kim Novak – throughout his career. With that in mind, I was fascinated by that moment when one of the girls masks her blonde hair with fragments of a brunette wig, as her girlfriend looks on, giggling. And another girl is like, “No more peroxide for yours truly!”

Kristine: Yes, I noticed that, too. Being blonde in this universe means being a victim. Almost like Hitchcock is aware that his own fetishes come from some anti-social, sadistic place.

Sean: Yep.

Kristine: I was actually scandalized by the remastered soundtrack. What the fuck? The two songs with vocals?

Sean: Oh, I know. So bad.

Kristine: Terrible. Especially the first one when Daisy and Jonathan are playing chess.

Sean: There was a big British Film Institute remastering of the movie and they commissioned a new soundtrack, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra. The vocal tracks are abominations.

Kristine: Sean, I actually paused the movie because I thought the music was coming from some other source. I was confused and frightened. It was like, a Native American wind instrument love ballad. It made zero sense.

Sean: So dumb.

Hitchcock's The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog.
Goodnight, moon. Goodnight, diva.

Kristine: It is a silent movie. No vocal tracks, please.

Sean: Agreed.

Kristine: I hated the songs with vocals, but I did like the ‘bumbling fool’ instrumental theme that Joe got whenever he came onscreen. Also, I found Mrs. Bunting to be quite the piece of work. I sort of loved her miserableness. How she was the classic snoopy landlady and stirrer of pots. Remember the scene where she is on her hands and knees scrubbing the hearth while her husband sits in his chair, smoking and reading the paper? The power structure is pretty clearly defined there, but then she upends it by dangling her theory that the lodger could be the Avenger and gets her husband all worked up. Then Mr. Bunting is ranting about wanting to confront the lodger, while Mrs. Bunting watches on, titillated and thrilled. Classic manipulative behavior from a person with little formalized power. I also think showing Mrs. Bunting and her lot in life goes a long way towards explaining why Daisy would want an out from her ‘conventional’ life and why she would immediately be attracted to the Other (i.e. the lodger).

Sean: I am so glad you’re interested in Mrs. Bunting.She’s one of my main an archetype that Hitchcock is totally into (like Mrs. Oxford in Frenzy and Mrs. Chambers in Psycho).But she’s an anomaly because her intuition turns out to be wrong. Usually Hitchcock grants this kind of character authority by having her turn out to be right in her assumptions/intuitions.

Kristine: But are her intuitions totally wrong? I feel like the movie leaves a certain amount of ambiguity about whether the lodger really is or is not the killer.

Sean: The original script was supposed to end with there being ambiguity about whether or not Jonathan is the Avenger, but when Ivor Novello was cast, his PR team refused to let it even be suggested that he is really the killer. So Hitchcock was forced to have “the real Avenger” arrested off-screen.

Kristine: I knew it. See, that’s why I think the ‘Golden Curls’ sign is darkly ambiguous in that final kiss between Daisy and Jonathan. That sign was used as a signal that the Avenger was going to strike throughout the movie – and there it is, still blinking in the background during the ‘happy’ ending.

Sean: Right. The elder Buntings are a classic Hitchcock trope – the older, fuddy-duddy couple who have prurient interests in the gruesome.

Chorus Curls - The Lodger (1927) paper
In the land of the prostitute cartographers.

Kristine: Yes. Remember Mrs.Bunting’s miserable bedroom? Not only do they not sleep in the same bed, they don’t even sleep in the same room. I did love the game of cat-and-mouse between the lodger and Mrs. Bunting, when they are each trying to elude the other. He is trying to leave the house without being seen and she is trying to catch him. Also, Mrs. Bunting is the ultimate capitalist, who is ruled by her love of money. She doesn’t trust the lodger, but she wants his money. She is fascinated by the coins he keeps out on the mantle, which seems like a constant (and effective) signal from him that she should not ask too many questions about him, because he can pay.

Sean: Didn’t you think that all of Mrs. Bunting’s suspicions revolved around his perceived effeminacy?

Kristine: I didn’t think about that, but it makes sense.

Sean: Like, how Jonathan turns all the pictures of blonde women against the wall, and to Mrs. Bunting that is evidence of his lack of masculinity, or his perverse sexual fetish… Remember that Mrs. Bunting immediately shows Joe the paintings, and is like ‘Can you believe he didn’t want these in his room?’ Mrs. Bunting is constantly torn about whether or not the lodger’s effeminacy is a problem. When she says, “Even if he is a bit queer, he’s a gentleman” – the tension is between his socioeconomic status and his liminal masculinity.

Kristine: Why the hell would you decorate a room with a grip of nude portraits of blonde women???? It’s like Mrs. Bunting is intentionally fetishizing her own daughter.

Sean: Oh, I know. That moment, when she leads him into the rooms and opens the door to reveal all those paintings all over the walls is so insane and campy. Also, so cinematic –  how the lights from a passing train play across the wall of portraits.

Kristine: Yes.

Sean: His shudder of revulsion as he turns them to the wall…

Kristine: And Mrs. Bunting is standing there beaming at Jonathan, like she is the madam of the whorehouse being all, ‘You like what you see?’ I both love and am repulsed by Mrs. Bunting.

lodger-1926-ivor-novello-curtain
Mrs. Bunting’s Penthouse-inspired penthouse

Sean: I think you’re onto something. The presence of those portraits signals that it’s not just the killer who is fetishizing the blonde, white woman as a cultural object. Everyone is doing it, the entire society.

Kristine: Right.

Sean: I think that plays into Hitchcock’s obsession with how the media reports stories of murder and violence.He is more interested in the media/society reacting to the murder than the murder itself.

Kristine: Oh, for sure. The movie is clear that the media is both titillated by and profiting from the murders. Remember when the newspaper man says, “Always Tuesday, my lucky day,” when he sells out of papers? Murder is good for business. That feels very current, very Nancy Grace. Mrs. Bunting  would totally watch Nancy Grace, don’t you think? It’s definitely significant that the lodger is saved from the lynch mob not because of his claim of innocence or even Joe the policeman, but because the newspaper man comes along with the headline that the Avenger has been captured elsewhere. The public believes the media above all else.

Sean: I also noticed that the media is the force that spares Jonathan and dissuades the mob. They are literally controlled by ‘the story.’ That is what has power – not Truth. It’s a very cynical representation.

Kristine: By the way, that mob? I was dying laughing at their fists raised in the air.

Sean: That predicament – with Jonathan strung up on the fence by handcuffs – is such a weird moment. Very cinematic, very anti-realist.

Kristine: I usually don’t read religious imagery into things, because I am a heathen. But that moment was totally Christ being crucified, right? The look of pain but acceptance and resignation on the lodger’s face, the outstretched arms, the abused body, the ignorant, violent mob.

Sean: Right.

Kristine: I guess that makes Daisy into Mary Magdalene.

Sean: I wanted to bookend this month with that moment of mob rule. Because The Phantom of the Opera ends with a nearly identical setpiece, but with a different outcome.

lodgerA
Obvious.

Kristine: You are very wise. Probably because the Phantom is hideous and the lodger is hot.

Sean:  I think it is interesting to put Erik, the Phantom, and Jonathan, the lodger, next to one another. The deformed/truly queer monster vs. the effete/semi-queer goth hero. Jonathan is the ‘wrong man,’ another Hitchcock obsession. But Erik is the ‘right man.’

Kristine: The wrong man vs true monster. Most of the silents we have watched feature woman in peril and a boring, hetero-male of no consequence (Joe in The Lodger, Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera, Hutter in Nosferatu, Alan in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari).

Sean: Right. And in The Lodger, Joe – the hetero-male – is literally doubled with the violence of the killer/monster, when he tells Daisy, “I’m keen on golden hair myself, same as the Avenger is.” Hitchcock is basically saying, All straight men are the Avenger, they all have that prurience and violence in them.

Kristine: I am telling you, I bet in the original script not only was it ambiguous as to whether the lodger was the killer, it also left the door open for Joe to be the real Avenger.

Sean: This is why Hitchcock opens the movie by intercutting the advertisements for the models (“To-Night Golden Curls”) with the police discovering the seventh victim (who, indeed, has golden curls) – in order to make the point that these murders merely reflect a perverse fetishization that is going on in the whole culture, not just with this one “freak.” The Avenger is just a literal distillation of society’s dark desires.

Kristine: Agreed. Why is does the killer call himself  ‘The Avenger’? We know that Jonathan is a kind of ‘avenger,’ because  he is trying to avenge his sister’s murder. But what is the actual Avenger avenging? Society’s ills? Also, it is still true today that the murder of an attractive young white woman will get headlines, while the death of anyone else is often forgotten/ignored.

Sean: I was also wondering about the killer’s name. It is weird, because it reads more like a comic book vigilante than a serial killer. The novel this is based on is ‘inspired’ by the Jack the Ripper killings. But, as far as alter egos go, ‘the Ripper’ and ‘the Avenger’ are a far cry from each other.

Kristine: For sure.

Sean: I’m not sure what to make of it.

Lodger-8-1024x768
Gorilla back.

Kristine: Hitchcock was 26 when he made this movie. That is really weird for me to think about. He is one of those figures that I can’t believe was ever young. I looked up pictures of 26-year-old Hitchcock and they are just bizarre. I can’t wrap my head around them.

Sean: It’s funny that, at 26, Hitchcock was all ready establishing the tropes and fetishes that he would spend the rest of his career exploring. That’s why The Lodger is often considered the first ‘real Hitchcock movie,’ even though he made earlier pictures. This is the first of his movies that feels like vintage Hitchcock – the wronged man, the blonde bombshell, the killer obsessed by his own fetishes, etc.  Also, this was the first movie where Hitchcock does a cameo, which became his thing from hereon out.

Kristine: I missed the Hitchcock cameo.

Sean: He was in the newspaper office.

Kristine: I was totally into the title cards for this movie, with all the angles and how they related to the triangle motif used throughout the movie, like how the Avenger’s calling card is folded into a triangle, the triangle drawn around the murder area, the love triangle. I did a Google search of “Hitchcock The Lodger title cards” and learned this: Hitchcock started his film career as a title-card designer for what was later to become Paramount Studios, working on movies such as The Call of Youth (1921) and The Princess of New York (1921). Hitchcock’s output as a titler was unremarkable, but it almost certainly contributed to his awareness of the potential of titles as a creative and emotive device. More importantly, Hitchcock’s early collaborations with director Graham Cutts took him to Munich in the mid-1920s, as German Expressionism was coming to a head. The influence of films such as Fritz Lang’s Destiny (1921) and the atmospheric titles from Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1920) can be seen in every aspect of The Lodger, titles included.”

Sean: I really love the title cards.I was really impressed with the sense of design in the film overall.I had read that Hitchcock was really influenced by the German Expressionists.

Kristine: I had no idea Hitchcock started as a designer, but it makes sense.Lastly, I was shocked by Hitchcock’s inclusion of implied Daisy nudity with the bathtub scene, though I shouldn’t have been. Daisy wiggling her toes in the bathwater made me laugh, but also made me clutch my pearls. How can toes be so perverse?

Sean: He’s a master of perversion. He can make anything dirty.

Kristine: Truth talk.

Sean: I think that Jonathan, the lodger, is more of an icon for the Birth of the Goth than Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Kristine: Agreed. Especially when you consider his objection to society’s baseness, crudity, dumb brutality, and bad wall art. Whereas Cesare is just a sad pawn – until his sensitive true nature is awoken and then he essentially commits suicide. Plus, the lodger has accessories. He’s the prince of fabrics.

Sean: Yeah, he is the man of feeling. An aesthete and a dandy. And a total protoqueen.

Kristine: He’s a fancy boy. And he cannot even handle any of it.

Ratings Roundup

The Girl’s Rating: Bloody wonderful gender exploration and critique AND Poses great questions, fumbles the answers AND Stylistic triumph

The Freak’s Rating: Pop perfection AND Queerer than you’d think AND Stylistic triumph AND Worth watching for the campy dramz

6 thoughts on “Movie Discussion: Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927)

  1. “…So Hitchcock was forced to have “the real Avenger” arrested off-screen…”

    Hitch was often forced to change his endings. You have to be able to read what the real ending would have been by the clues he left us.