Monday, August 13, 2012

#728. The Lodger (1944)

Directed By: John Brahm

Starring: Laird Cregar, Merle Oberon, George Sanders

Tag line: "PROBING EYES that marked the woman he loved for death!"

Trivia: The sequence involving the killing of Annie Rowley was judged to be so well done that studio chief Darryl F. Zanuck ordered it placed at the beginning of the picture

The Lodger is a stylish take on the Jack the Ripper story, that most famous of serial killers who murdered five prostitutes in the Whitchapel district of London in 1888. Of course, being as this film was released in 1944, the killer’s focus is altered slightly, taking out his frustrations on chorus girls as opposed to the more traditional “ladies of the evening”, but it’s a minor adjustment, and doesn’t deter one bit from what is ultimately a chilling look inside the mind of a psychopath.

The setting is London, during the height of the murders. Robert and Ellen Bonting (Cedric Hardwicke and Sara Allgood) have just rented a room in their spacious London flat to a strange man named Slade (Laird Cregar). From the moment he moves in, Slade behaves in a peculiar manner, like his penchant for taking long walks at night and bringing his black medical bag along with him. Putting the clues together, Mrs. Bonting begins to wonder if their new tenant is, in reality, the killer known as Jack the Ripper, who in recent months has butchered several young women. Augmenting her concern is the fact Slade has become infatuated with the Bonting’s niece, Kitty (Merle Oberon), herself a showgirl. But is Slade really the dreaded Ripper, or simply an innocent man with a few bizarre idiosyncrasies?

Laird Cregar delivers a brilliant performance as Slade, raising suspicions almost from the start that his character is a little touched in the head. When Mrs. Bonting leads him upstairs to show him his new room, Slade walks in and immediately turns all the pictures around so that they’re facing the wall, as if he couldn’t stand to look at them for a second longer. More than actions, though, it’s his disturbed mannerisms, like the distant gaze suggesting his thoughts are miles away at any given time, or his obsession with his deceased brother, that get our attention. Adding to his menace is the way in which director John Brahm shoots his title character, keeping the camera close to ground level so it’s always peering up at Slade, making it appear as if he’s towering over everything, and everyone.

This winning combination of director and star works in unison to make The Lodger an incredibly satisfying motion picture, and quite possibly the finest Jack the Ripper movie ever made.

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