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 Jack the Ripper, that most famous of serial killers who murdered five prostitutes in London's Whitchapel district in 1888. Because it was released in 1944, the killer’s victims are altered slightly, with the Ripper taking out his frustrations on chorus girls as opposed to more traditional “ladies of the evening”. But this minor adjustment doesn’t detract one bit from its powerful story, throughout which director John Brahm and star Laird Cregar take us on a spine-chilling journey into the mind of a psychopath.

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. For starters, he's prone to taking long walks in the middle of the night, and, even more alarming, he brings his black medical bag along each and every time. 

Putting the clues together, Mrs. Bonting begins to suspect that their new tenant is, in reality, the killer known to all of London as Jack the Ripper, who in recent months has butchered several young women. Mrs. Bonting's concern is heightened when Slade becomes infatuated with her niece, Kitty (Merle Oberon), also a showgirl. 

But is Slade really the dreaded Ripper, or an innocent man with a few bizarre idiosyncrasies?

Laird Cregar delivers a brilliant performance as Slade, raising suspicions right out of the gate that his character might be a little touched in the head. When Mrs. Bonting leads Slade upstairs to show him his room, the new tenant walks in and immediately flips 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 Slade's disturbed mannerisms, like the distant gaze that suggests 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 frames his title character, keeping the camera close to ground level so it’s always peering up at Slade, making it look as if he towers over everything, and everyone.

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

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