Literature Film Quarterly (1983) - Hitchcock's "The Lodger"
- article: Hitchcock's "The Lodger"
- author(s): Lesley W. Brill
- journal: Literature Film Quarterly (1983)
- issue: volume 11, issue 4, page 257
- journal ISSN: 0090-4260
- Sloan's Alfred Hitchcock: A Filmography and Bibliography (1995) — page 468, #705
- keywords: Alfred Hitchcock, Bodega Bay, California, Easy Virtue (1928), Eve Kendall, Frenzy (1972), Ivor Novello, Lesley Brill, Jack the Ripper, Marie Belloc Lowndes, Maurice Yacowar, Murder! (1930), North by Northwest (1959), Notorious (1946), Psycho (1960), Rebecca (1940), Roger O. Thornhill, Sabotage (1936), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), The 39 Steps (1935), The Birds (1963), The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (1927), The Wrong Man (1956), Under Capricorn (1949), Young and Innocent (1937)
Hitchcock's The Lodger
Following its director's lead, most critics identify The Lodger as the "first Hitchcockian" film. In his third feature-length movie, Hitchcock made his first venture into what Maurice Yacowar calls the "genre of suspense," dealt with the theme of the unjustly accused innocent for the first of many times, and exhibited the conspicuous technical flash which has done so much for him at the box office. Despite its acknowledged importance as an early marker in Hitchcock's career, however, The Lodger has received little attention - a few short essays and the inconclusive remarks critics make as they bustle past it en route to the films they really want to talk about. It deserves more careful scrutiny. Its significance in Hitchcock's career is underrated if it is regarded as little more than his first work of suspense. It displays, additionally, the mythic echoes, the complication of characterization, the self-conscious attitude towards its own formulae, and the social themes which run through Hitchcock's work for a half-century following.
The shaping mythic structure in The Lodger and in Hitchcock's films generally, has gone virtually unnoticed. This aspect of The Lodger appears as a modern version of the Persephone (or Proserpine) myth; but as a broad tendency in Hitchcock's art, it is perhaps best called "romance," in the sense of a narrative genre strongly informed by folklore and fairy tale, classical myth, certain stories in the Bible, and the literary derivatives of all of them. The structures of comic romance in particular - with its sprawling quests, miraculous coincidences, fearsomely evil antagonists, and emblematic marriages - organize the narratives and imagery of most of Hitchcock's films.
Since Hitchcock has reworked the Persephone myth according to the conventions of a commercial film of 1926, it may be useful to review the original briefly before examining its metamorphosis in The Lodger. The daughter of Zeus and Demeter, Persephone is seized and carried down to Hades by Pluto while she is gathering flowers with her handmaidens. Demeter seeks her vainly until Zeus convinces Pluto to release her. But because she ate part of a pomegranate while in the underworld, Persephone is doomed to spend a portion of each year in Hades. She is thus associated mythologically with the appearance and growth of vegetation, especially flowers, in the spring and summer and with its dying and disappearance in fall and winter. It may be relevant to The Lodger that Persephone's abductor is invisible and not able to be propitiated by sacrifice.
In The Lodger Hitchcock changes the actors from gods into men and locates the action entirely upon earth. The essential features of the underlying myth are further obscured by the circumstance that the film starts in the midst of the story which it returns to complete only in a late flashback. By the end of the movie we understand the sequence of events in the Lodger's quest to be as follows. The Lodger is dancing with his sister at her coming-out ball when a mysterious hand turns off the ballroom lights. When they are turned back on, his sister is discovered to have been murdered in his arms. His mother has thereby suffered a shock that will send her to her death also, but before she dies she asks her son to promise to pursue "The Avenger," whose triangular mark and signature were found by the body of her murdered daughter. (All this information is imparted by the flashback.) The Lodger's sister proves to be the first of a series of golden-haired girls murdered by The Avenger, and the geographical pattern of these killings brings her brother to the neighborhood of the Buntings in anticipation of the next crime. He takes rooms in the Buntings' house where his suspicious behavior and his growing closeness to Daisy Bunting bring Tiim under the scrutiny of a police detective suit. He is arrested, escapes in handcuffs, and is nearly killed by a mob which believes him to be The Avenger; but the police detective learns just in time that the real Avenger has been caught and rescues him from the mob. He marries Daisy or becomes engaged to her - it is not quite clear - and takes her home to his magnificent mansion. There, in the last sequence, he entertains his awed working-class in-laws and embraces his bride while "TONIGHT GOLDEN CURLS" flashes in the London background as it did in the opening sequence.
The echoes of the Persephone myth are a bit confused, but suggestive. Like Demeter's daughter, the Lodger's golden-haired sister is assaulted, while in the company of an attendant crowd, by an assailant who seems to rise up from the underworld and disappear as abruptly as he came. The Lodger descends into the strange dark world of London (the film is subtitled "A Tale of the London Fog") and rescues another golden-haired girl with whom he returns to the bright and (socially) higher world of his home. The Demeter-figure, the Lodger's mother, has transferred her authority as searcher to her son, and the Persephone-figure is abducted in the person of his sister and recovered in the person of his new wife; but despite these and other alterations of the original myth, the outlines remain.
The imagery which dresses the plot is evocative of the mythic antecedent of the film. The ball at which the Lodger's sister is murdered is brilliantly lit and shot from predominantly low camera angles which make it appear to be a brighter, higher world than the dark, foggy London into which the Lodger descends on his quest. Darkness, as a mysterious hand that turns off the lights just before the murder of the Lodger's sister, erupts to seize the first Persephone-figure and the second is carried up from the persistently shadowy world of her parents' flat to the brilliant mansion in which she clearly belongs. The insatiability of The Avenger associates him with the unpropitiable king of the underworld. He commits his crimes in the darkness of Tuesday nights against golden-haired girls, emblems of the light (the flashing sign advertising "Golden Curls" is literally embodied in light). Daisy, in keeping with this imagery, is generally shot in bright light and shown full of gaity. Her name emphasizes her relationship to Persephone. In this very sparely-titled silent, Hitchcock insists upon its significance with a pair of titles, at least one of which is entirely superfluous from a narrative standpoint, which say only "Daisy." The presence of her parents in the final sequence suggests that she, like Persephone, will have to return occasionally to a lower world; not a symbolic Hades, perhaps, but a place closer to the underworld than the Lodger's mansion. "All stories have an end" reads the title that introduces the last sequence. It thus emphasizes the formulaic quality of Hitchcock's film, the fact that it is a story somehow like "all stories." As it concludes, the golden-haired Daisy is in her lofty brilliant palace, the Avenger is out of business, and "TONIGHT GOLDEN CURLS" is again flashing in the background, but this time promising an imminent marital embrace rather than murder on a dark bridge over a symbolic Styx. "The End" is superimposed, significantly, on a shot of luxuriant foliage tossing in the wind. Summer has returned.
It is worth observing that the influence of the Persephone story may also account in part for one of the more puzzling details of The Lodger, its evocation of Christ on the cross when its hero is trapped on the spikes of an iron fence. The story of Christ, like that of Persephone, has to do with descent and return, death and resurrection. Its evocation in a narrative infused with those themes, then, seems consistent and appropriate. As I shall argue later, it is fitting for other reasons as well.
How the Persephone myth came to be embodied in The Lodger is a question that is beyond the scope of this essay. Several general points about its presence can be made, however. First, the mythic elements of plot and imagery are artifacts of the film only; they are not to be found in the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes on which the movie is loosely based. Second, the outcropping of such mythic bedrock recurs in Hitchcock's films throughout his career. Wicked stepmother figures in Rebecca and Under Capricorn, echoes of Job in The Wrong Man and of the fall from Eden in Frenzy, the romantic quests of The Thirty-nine Steps and Sabotage are a few among many examples. Third, the mythic component of the film clarifies the import of certain details - Daisy's name and the foliage behind the final title, for example - and solidifies the coherence of its plot.
When we turn to other aspects of The Lodger we again see that it often anticipates its director's later films. The almost schematic but nevertheless complicated treatment of characters is thoroughly Hitchcockian. The contrast between the Lodger and Joe, his rival, organizes the characterization of all the important figures. Ordinary looking, somewhat burly, and unmistakably middle-class, Joe carries himself with a rough cordiality against which the Lodger's dark, slim beauty and gentle reserve appear exotic. Though the camera is manipulated to give the Lodger an air of menace, his actions are characteristically protective. The scene in which he is discovered with Daisy in his arms after she has been frightened by a mouse typifies his solicitousness, as does his expression of distaste when he rushes into the hall after hearing a scream and finds Joe jocularly handcuffing Daisy to the newel post. Earlier Joe cheerfully declares, "After I put a rope around The Avenger's neck, I'll put a ring on Daisy's finger." As this remark and as the handcuffing suggest, Joe extends his hunt-and-catch profession into his courtship. When he later puts handcuffs on the Lodger, he symbolically links Daisy and his rival as victims of his assaults. In contrast to Joe's rough clutching, Hitchcock sets a delicate symbol of the subtle intimacy growing between the Lodger and Daisy. During the scene in which they play chess, the Lodger and Daisy sit facing each other over a small table. Behind the table the arch of a fireplace rainbows between the two players and expresses, in contrast to the opposition of the chess game, a joining, a coming together. (Hitchcock was to use this symbol of lovers' concord again in, for example, Secret Agent  when the arch of a bridge in the background pairs Mr. and Mrs. Ashenden as they confess their love for each other, and in Saboteur  when the lovers are framed at a crucial moment in their relationship by an arched door.)
Evidently somewhat older than Daisy, Joe seems to be associated as much with her parents as with her. The Lodger, on the other hand, is Daisy's age and has virtually no social contact with her parents, who are suspicious of him. Like Daisy's parents, Joe is solidly middle-class. The Lodger, for most of the film, has the air at once of a criminal and of a gentleman. He will prove to be the latter, of course, but for most of the story it is his equivocal status as much as his gentility which contrasts with the social clarity of the representative of law and order who is his rival. An indication of both their social status and the eventual outcome of their rivalry may be found in Hitchcock's characteristically symbolic use of stairs and interior levels. He generally shows Joe coming down the outside steps which lead from street level to the ground floor kitchen of Daisy's parents. There Joe visits Daisy and socializes with her parents. The Lodger's rooms are upstairs and, as a consequence, we usually see him ascending. Daisy's parents seem uneasy in that part of the house, and Joe is there only twice, both episodes of sharp hostility. Only Daisy appears to be a comfortable and welcome visitor to the second floor.
The association of Joe with downstairs and the parents and the Lodger with upstairs and Daisy has both social and archetypal consistency. If Daisy recalls Persephone, she also reminds us of Cinderella with the Lodger as her prince. The dress that the Lodger buys her serves as a glass slipper, a token of her suitability for a more refined world. The Lodger realizes while watching Daisy in the fashion show that she belongs in mansions on hills rather than in shabby flats along the Embankment. It is worth noticing that stories like "Cinderella" usually contain a female blocking figure - a stepmother, wicked witch, or jealous hag. Hitchcock mildly evokes such a figure in Daisy's mother, who distrusts and fears the Lodger and resists the budding affection between him and Daisy. Until the very end of the movie she favors Joe's suit almost to the point of collaboration. Daisy's father, though he is partly under his wife's sway, seems more inclined to trust the Lodger, and in the last scene he nudges his wife clownishly in the ribs to draw her attention to the tenderness between the two lovers. His action pointedly parallels an early scene in which Daisy's mother had nudged him during some amorous play between Daisy and Joe.
In general outlines the Lodger anticipates many of Hitchcock's protagonists at the outset of their careers. Somewhat isolated and under unjust suspicion, he is also attractive, unmated, of marriageable age, and inappropriately tied in some sense to family members whom he ought to be leaving for a spouse. (In the Lodger's case the ties consist of the memory of his dead sister and the promise to his mother; but the late flashback to his dancing with his sister suggests the mild retardation of development that Hitchcock often gives his main characters at the beginnings of his films.) Daisy too needs to escape her somewhat protracted dependence on her parents, while Joe serves as an early example of a typical Hitchcockian Mr. Wrong-wrong age (a little too old), wrong class, wrong style, wrong intuitions, such is the stuff of Hitchcock's triangular configurations of characters: Sir John, Diana, and Fane in Murder! (1930); Robert Tisdall, Erica, and her father in Young and Innocent (1937); Jack, Charlie, and Uncle Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt (1943); Roger Thornhill, Eve Kendall, and VanDamm in North by Northwest (1959) - one could go on and on. Looking back across more than fifty films, one sees only a handful of exceptions to the disposition of characters which Hitchcock worked out in The Lodger. Joe must lose, the Lodger must triumph, and Daisy must find the arms of her proper gentleman prince.
Joe and the Lodger are rivals not only for Daisy but also in their pursuit of The Avenger. Their portrayal as hunters of the murderer involves them with the more general question of how society as a whole responds to the crimes. The reaction of London at large to The Avenger's crimes is the theme of the opening movement of the film. In the first shot the head of a light-haired young woman fills the frame; we see her scream. Immediately a crowd gathers to gape at the victim, newspaper reporters phone their central offices, presses roll, and distribution trucks rush into the streets. "Tuesday's my lucky day," crows a paper seller. Radio accounts are broadcast and eagerly consumed. For his amusement and to the alarm of a witness giving a statement to the police, a bystander at the scene pulls his coat across his face and pretends to be the murderer. Later we will see a young man play the same joke on a chorus girl in the show "Golden Curls" - ironically, for she proves to be the Avenger's next victim. The sequence that conveys society's response to the murder runs surprisingly long and gains emphasis from the repetition of several series of similar images.
Why this concern with social response? Part of the answer is, I believe, the obvious one: Hitchcock devotes the opening of the film - second in rhetorical importance only to its end - to social reactions because the murders have great significance for the whole society; they are not represented as an isolated aberration. Furthermore, the opening sequence establishes the extremes of an isolated individual and an unparticularized crowd between which the central concerns of The Lodger lie. First we see the face of a single woman, screaming for help that does not come; then we witness the social appropriation of her tragedy by crowds of people whose identities flow together as smoothly as the dissolves of the radio listeners' faces. Between the solitary victim and the crowds, and illuminated by both perspectives, are the central figures of the film.
London's response to the murders is to make of them entertainment, a source of titillation for the idly curious. Details both in the opening and in later sequences indicate that the amusement the people of London find in The Avenger's murders is related to the voyeurist pleasures they take in fair-haired young women more generally. The murders occupy an extreme place on a scale of entertainments, but the important point is that they are on a scale at all. The film does not portray them as socially incongruous acts. "Golden Curls," with its blond chorines, represents one aspect of the general fascination with fair young women; Daisy's job as a model is another. The pictures in the Lodger's rooms suggest that golden curls are consumed even in middle class houses, and their sexy (in one case sadistic) renditions relate them to The Avenger's monstrous obsession. Even the Lodger is implicated. "Beautiful golden hair," he says, stretching his hand toward Daisy's head. The most suggestive indication that The Avenger's criminal passion has ordinary analogues occurs when the Lodger first kisses Daisy: the camera is very tight on Daisy's face, which is framed obliquely and lighted like the faces of The Avenger's victims.
Joe's attitude toward The Avenger is determined by both his public and his private interests. From the public viewpoint, as a police detective, Joe regards The Avenger with the amused interest of London at large. He bets Daisy's father that the criminal will be caught before the next Tuesday and is delighted to be assigned to such an entertaining and well-publicized case. But he has private interests as well, interests foreshadowed more clearly than he understands when he makes his remark about putting a rope around the Avenger's neck and a ring on Daisy's finger. This personal interest climaxes with Joe's arrest of the Lodger. The Lodger and Daisy, out together despite the opposition of Daisy's mother, are confronted by Joe as they sit together on a park bench. Joe irritably claims that Daisy is his girl, the Lodger rises indignantly, and Daisy tells Joe that she never wants to see him again. She and the Lodger walk off, leaving a disconsolate Joe sitting on the bench alone. Head hanging, he gazes absent-mindedly at the footprints of the just departed Lodger which (thanks to some deft lab work) begin to fill with inculpating images of his rival. Suddenly "on the track" of The Avenger, Joe rushes off to get a warrant for the search of the Lodger's rooms that leads to his arrest. The sequence makes the self-interest of Joe's suspicion unequivocal. Like the rest of London's citizens, Joe finds the Avenger murders a source of entertainment; and like the newspaper people and the radio broadcasters, he also finds in the crimes furtherance of his private interests.
Almost alone in London, the Lodger has an entirely serious interest in The Avenger's crimes. This fact, along with their contest for Daisy, brings him into conflict with Joe. For unlike Joe - and London at large - the Lodger expects no personal profit or pleasure from his pursuit of The Avenger. Already a victim of The Avenger through the deaths of his sister and mother, he will suffer again in his "crucifixion" by the tavern mob. From the social as well as the mythological perspective, then, the association of Christ and the Lodger is appropriate. The Lodger's sister is the first, and the Lodger himself is the last, to suffer from the Avenger's crimes. In his dedication to pursuing the criminal and in his near dismemberment by the mob, he may be seen as a redemptive figure, one who suffers not on his own behalf but in place of the truly guilty, the society which gave rise to The Avenger and which is implicated by association in his crimes. The fact that The Avenger is apprehended at the same time the Lodger is arrested and attacked by the mob underscores the redemptive aspect of the Lodger's sacrifice. The explicatives in the detective's two titles during this sequence are perhaps more resonant than usual: "My God, he is innocent" and "Thank God I got here in time."
Joe, who incites the mob against the Lodger, also rescues him from them. As clearly as Hitchcock renders the contrasts between his central male characters, he does not make either one uniformly vicious or valiant. Not only does Joe in an act of personal and professional integrity save his rival, but he is allowed to attract some empathy throughout. When Daisy returns Joe's cookie-dough heart and, more clearly, when she rejects him after he's discovered her with the Lodger on the bench, we are likely to sympathize with his disappointment even while finding it mildly comic. For all his rough edges, Joe behaves in a straightforward manner and has an unfeigned affection for the heroine of the film. The Lodger, on the other hand, carries a slight stain of the vigilante and outlaw, however just and gentle the main lines of Hitchcock's drawing show him.
The mild suggestions of tarnish on the hero of The Lodger must not be exaggerated, however, or the central themes of the film are rendered incoherent. It grossly deforms the tone of the Lodger's characterization to argue that "The Avenger is only doing on a larger scale what the hero, the avenger, would do. ..." One critic actually makes the Lodger more culpable than The Avenger: "He intends to kill the killer, and his crime - not of passion or a deranged mind ... is a carefully premeditated act of hatred." Such interpretations turn the diffident figure portrayed by Ivor Novello into something like Hawthorn's Roger Chillingworth, a revenge-obsessed monomaniac. We do not know, in fact, that the Lodger "intends to kill the killer"; he never says so, and his possession of a gun is hardly conclusive proof of such an intention. To equate The Avenger with the hero asks us to forget that the former is a madman who has killed innocent young women and the latter is the grieving brother of one of his victims.
Although she appears on first consideration to be the most clearly stereotyped figure in the film, Daisy's character nonetheless includes rich complications. A golden girl living below her natural station, she is surprisingly receptive to Joe's rather coarse attentions, especially early in the film. At the same time she often retreats from him for no apparent reason. Her readiness for love precedes the arrival of its proper object, and her on and off responsiveness comes on the one hand from her desire and on the other from her intuition of the detective's unsuitability. When the Lodger arrives, Daisy immediately feels the pull of his attraction. Her prior involvement with Joe and her confusion about her own feelings lead to some intricate choreography. After Joe has angered her by playfully handcuffing her, for example, Daisy kisses him (in front of an approving mother) by way of forgiveness. Having done so, she immediately detaches herself and skips upstairs to the Lodger, leaving behind a puzzled detective and perhaps a puzzled film audience as well. Daisy's ambivalent interest in the two men lasts until nearly the end of the film. It is echoed by triangular composition within the film frame and by prominent details of the sets - repeated shots of the chandelier, for instance, with its three glass shades. Medium shots very frequently include three figures. The triangles which decorate the titles and The Avenger's triangular logo underscore the broad implications of the love triangle as a motive for the action of the film.
Daisy is both the likely prey of The Avenger and the protector of the Lodger. Thus she is potentially victim and savior, a young woman murdered or a wife - only at the end of the film can we be sure which possibility will be realized. (The prolonging of suspense implies substantial similarity between two roles which coexist so persistently.) When Daisy finally goes home with the Lodger, she has found someone like her in the most crucial ways. She protects her protector and, a revitalizing Persephone figure herself, marries another redemptive figure. At the risk of belaboring a point, Hitchcock's treatment of the relation between Daisy and the Lodger again anticipates his later films. Love in Hitchcock's work is nearly always mutually healing and transforming. The gallant heroes who carry away their loves need to be lifted up and carried themselves; without each other, both lovers in most Hitchcock films are misplaced and alienated.
Without each other they are also endangered. The onscreen murders of the two fair-haired young women and the arrest of the Lodger dramatize the vulnerability of the unprotected to misdirected erotic energies. The second murder occurs, significantly, after the victim and her boyfriend have quarreled and separated in anger, leaving her exposed to the sexual madman who stalks the London fog. It is hard to judge how far to push the implications of the fact that The Avenger's first victim, the Lodger's sister, is murdered while dancing in her brother's arms; but the suggestions which arise from her "coming-out ball" seem clearer. The Lodger is concerned both with right courtship and marriage and with the dangers of growing up and going out. In Easy Virtue (1927), Notorious (1946), Psycho (1960), and Frenzy (1973) the theme recurs: men and women - especially women - face terrible dangers from the distorted amorous impulses of other people when they are away from or fail to find their proper mates. Daisy and the Lodger might well look gratefully heavenward as they stand in each other's arms at the end of their adventures.
Among other themes and motifs typical of Hitchcock's art is a clear sense of physical geography and an equally clear sense of social geography, class consciousness; both do a great deal to define the ambiance of The Lodger. Hitchcock's famously unenthusiastic view of the police appears clearly in this early film, as does his less well-known but more consistent demophobia. (In a Hitchcock film any group of people larger than roughly half a dozen registers as a mob - conformist, unimaginative, inhumane. A curious variant on this pattern occurs in The Birds, in which the peaceful intimacy of a pair of lovebirds is set against the mob frenzy of the flocks that attack Bodega Bay.) These themes do not appear as emphatically in The Lodger as they do in other Hitchcock movies, but their presence demonstrates again how early in his career he found his central concerns.
Equally typical and of considerably more importance in The Lodger is Hitchcock's self-conscious treatment of the mystery genre, the playfulness with which he treats its more conspicuous conventions and his systematic manipulation of the audience's expectations. As the subtitle promises, most of the photography is dismally atmospheric. The murders are portrayed by the stylized heads of screaming women and there is a memorable low-angle shot of a line of police marching through the night. Hitchcock relentlessly uses the conventions of the murder mystery to cast suspicion upon the Lodger. He appears first, shrouded in fog and masked by his muffler, on the Buntings' doorstep just after the gaslights have abruptly gone off in the house. The Buntings, of course, live at No. 13. His rooms are full of spooky shadows. He behaves eccentrically: sneaking outside in the middle of the night, carelessly leaving money lying about his room (an idea Hitchcock repeats in the opening oí Shadow of a Doubt), and making oracular pronouncements about the concerns of Providence. Radical camera angles and suggestive cutting give innocent gestures an aura of menace. Obvious examples include the occasions when the Lodger reaches for a poker to stir the fire and when he tries the bathroom doorknob while Daisy is in the tub (another idea, the vulnerability of a bathing woman, that Hitchcock was to use effectively later in his career). The famous shot through the ceiling of the room below the Lodger's chambers casts further suspicion on him.
The obvious conclusion that these sequences show the unreliability of appearances has been drawn often enough. Equally, however, they show the unreliability of the conventions of the genre. In doing so they emphasize the self-consciousness of the film, its tendency to draw the viewer's attention to its status as a work of art as well as a representation of life. The Lodger gives its audience the sort of images they can easily recognize as conventional; Hitchcock did not invent the game, but he played it enthusiastically throughout his career. In The Lodger Hitchcock's manipulations of the conventions of the mystery-thriller enrich the other modes of the film. A modern mystery story encompasses the shape of an ancient myth; an entertainment based on Jack the Ripper portrays a society titillating itself with accounts of murders. There is a mild suggestion that such imitation and social appropriation help people to deal with the fear engendered by violent, random crimes. The two men who mimic The Avenger in the film both intend to produce the relief of laughter, though neither meets with overwhelming success. What is true of the social transformations of The Avenger's crimes within the film is true of the film itself. It too makes of murder an entertainment; it too transforms anxieties into stylized, distanced, cathartic representations. "The technique of art and the technique of life," as Sir John calls this mingling of real and fictional events in Murder!, blur and twine in The Lodger.
While the film, like the media it portrays, exploits the sensational appeal of homicide, it also brings to its subject a complex personal and social understanding quite unlike media accounts. The voyeuristic eyes suggested by the rear windows of the newspaper van represent only too well the public perspective on violent crimes, then and now. But Hitchcock's early silent turns its eyes to the more human perspective of Joe, the Lodger, Daisy, and her parents. The Lodger, like most of Hitchcock's films for the next half-century, is a love story in which suspense and loss occasion resolution and marriage. It is, additionally, a self-conscious narrative turning its gaze inward at itself as well as outward at its characters and action. In doing so it asks, in contrast to the blankly staring eyes of the newspaper van, what it is and who is watching.
Hitchcock has complained that the presence of Ivor Novello as leading man compelled an exonerating ending for the film. The changes he made in adapting the novel to the screen bring the narrative into a shape so characteristic of his later work, however, that I think we can discount as superficial the influence of the matinee idol on The Lodger as a whole. What Hitchcock changed, and kept, in Marie Belloc Lowndes' novel shows clearly his characteristic romanticism, social concerns, and self-consciousness as a storyteller. The center of attention in the novel, and the source of most of its point of view, is the landlady, Mrs. Bunting; in the film the center of attention shifts to the three younger people; and the point of view, with a few interruptions is objective. The film adds Daisy's job as a model, a change that emphasizes her natural nobility. It changes the Lodger from a sham to a real gentleman and from a murderer to the innocent pursuer of The Avenger. As it makes him into a type of Christ it also removes a theme of religious dementia which is prominent in the novel. From a few mild hints in the Lowndes story the film develops the involvement of Daisy and the Lodger, and it adds entirely the rivalry between the Lodger and Joe. Hitchcock kept most of the details which in the novel eventually reveal the Lodger's true identity as the murderer, but in the film they are used deceptively to suggest a spurious guilt. The film preserves almost unchanged from the novel the gossipy interest of media and populace in The Avenger's crimes, but it pushes the implications of that interest harder. The flashback to the sister's coming out exists only in the film, of course, as does the associated imagery invoking the Persephone myth. The changes that Hitchcock made in adapting the novel all incorporate the themes and motives that were to characterize his entire career. In Marie Belloc Lowndes' story he found not those concerns but materials to be reshaped and converted. At age twenty-seven Hitchcock showed a remarkably secure grasp of what were to be his central artistic preoccupations for the next fifty years. His conceptions were clear, and he was confident enough to treat a popular novel by a well-known writer with extreme freedom. One might add in closing that such license with his sources is also characteristically Hitchcockian.
Lesley W. Brill, University of Colorado
- In François Truffaut, Hitchcock (London: Panther Books, 1969), p. 48, Hitchcock calls The Lodger "the first true 'Hitchcock movie.'"
- Since I wrote this essay, William Rothman has published Hitchcock - The Murderous Gaze (Harvard University Press Cambridge, Mass. & London, 1982) which includes an extended treatment of The Lodger. He is concerned largely to discuss "the relationship of author and viewers," in that film. His analysis thus overlaps only slightly the subjects of my discussion.
- Maurice Yacowar, Hitchcock's British Films (Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1977), p. 40.
- Donald Spoto, The Art of Alfred Hitchcock (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1976), p. 7.
- Yacowar discusses "the contrast of circle and triangle shapes," p. 38.
- Hitchcock discusses this shot in Truffaut, p. 50.
- Truffaut, pp. 48-49.
Copyright Salisbury University 1983