The Lodger: Alfred Hitchcock’s First Truly ‘Hitchcockian’ Movie (1927)

Before Alfred Hitch­cock freaked out audi­ences every­where by killing off the pro­tag­o­nist halfway through Psy­cho, before he was praised as a great mas­ter of cin­e­ma by a bunch of French crit­ics who would them­selves go on to become cin­e­mat­ic mas­ters, before the adjec­tive “Hitch­cock­ian” entered the lan­guage, Hitch­cock was sim­ply a guy strug­gling to make a go of it as a direc­tor.

He start­ed his career in film when he was bare­ly out of his teens in 1919. Hitch­cock soon found him­self work­ing in the largest and most influ­en­tial stu­dio in Europe, Germany’s Uni­ver­sum Film AG (UFA). There he not only watched Fritz Lang and F. W. Mur­nau direct, but he also worked as a writer, art direc­tor, assis­tant direc­tor on a num­ber of silent films includ­ing The White Shad­ow (1924) and The Black­guard (1925). Though Hitch­cock got his first director’s cred­it with the 1926 movie The Plea­sure Gar­den, the first movie to tru­ly feel Hitch­cock­ian was The Lodger: A Sto­ry of Lon­don Fog (1927). You can watch it above.

Based on a nov­el by Marie Bel­loc Lown­des, The Lodger opens with a blonde woman scream­ing in ter­ror. She is the vic­tim of a shad­owy Jack the Rip­per-like ser­i­al killer who leaves a call­ing card announc­ing him­self as ‘The Avenger.’ Cut to Daisy, a blonde mod­el whose par­ents are jubi­lant over final­ly find­ing a board­er for their spare room. The guy is hand­some, mys­te­ri­ous and has a weird thing for blondes. You think he might have some­thing to do with the mur­ders?

For a film that came out decades before Ver­ti­go and Rear Win­dow, The Lodger has just about all of Hitchcock’s cin­e­mat­ic ticks. A fetishis­tic obses­sion with blondes? Check. An unset­tling min­gling of sex and death? Check. A man wrong­ly accused? Check. The only thing it real­ly lacks is a nation­al land­mark as the back­drop of a showy action set piece.

On the oth­er hand, The Lodger feels decid­ed­ly Ger­man. The claus­tro­pho­bic light­ing, the grotesque shad­ows and the gen­er­al­ly mor­bid sto­ry­line all would be per­fect­ly at home at Uni­ver­sum Film AG. In fact, The Lodger, in terms of sto­ry, tone and looks, feels like a cin­e­mat­ic cousin to Fritz Lang’s 1931 ear­ly sound mas­ter­piece M.

Of course, Hitch­cock was just a young direc­tor in 1927. And like many young film­mak­ers, he had a hard time with his pro­duc­ers. While the book leaves it ambigu­ous whether or not the lodger is the killer, the han­dlers of the movie’s star Ivor Nov­el­lo couldn’t pos­si­bly have the actor play a vil­lain and demand­ed a change to the end­ing. When Hitch turned in the final movie, Michael Bal­con, the movie’s main pro­duc­er, was unim­pressed and almost shelved the flick, and, with it, Hitchcock’s career. But after a lit­tle bit of tin­ker­ing, the movie was final­ly released. And when The Lodger became a huge box office hit, Hitchcock’s career was assured.

You can find The Lodger on our list of 23 Free Hitch­cock Movies Online, as well as in our col­lec­tion, 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch The White Shad­ow, the Recent­ly-Dis­cov­ered and Ear­li­est-Sur­viv­ing Hitch­cock Film

23 Free Hitch­cock Movies Online

The 39 Steps: Hitchcock’s 1935 Clas­sic Online

37 Hitch­cock Cameo Appear­ances Over 50 Years: All in One Video

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

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