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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Lodger (1927)



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Alfred Hitchcock found his calling with The Lodger, his first characteristic thriller. It tells the story of a mysterious man who rents an upstairs room from a family in a time when Jack the Ripper is terrorizing London with a series of brutal murders.

The film is visually striking in a way British film had not been by 1927. Hitchcock learned the art of cinema from the German Expressionists Murnau and Lang (he had visited the set of The Last Laugh, for instance), and this influence is clearly in evidence. Although the sets and spaces themselves are realistic, note how exaggerated the lighting is. In one shot, for example, there is a dramatically distorted silhouette of a window on the wall that I don't think could be there naturally.

Ingenious visual cues are used as a substitute for sound. In one scene, people hear a man pacing about on the floor above. For a moment, the ceiling becomes transparent, so we can see the man pacing about. In a later scene, this gimmick is unnecessary, as the swinging of a chandelier reminds us of the earlier scene.

Hitchcock would perfect his style over the next several films, but the themes and styles he would work with throughout his career are clearly visible here, such as the innocent man on the run, and the judgment of society. Even visual touches bring later Hitchcock works to mind. The film's most memorable shot, for instance, is an overhead look down the middle of a spiral staircase, famously used in Vertigo. Here, we see the hand of a man on the banister as he descends. The effect is eerie, to say the least.

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