The Lodger (1944) / Thriller
MPAA Rated: Not rated. but would be PG for overall creepiness Running Time: 84 min.
Cast: Merle Oberon, Laird Cregar, George Sanders, Cedric Hardwicke, Sara Allgood
Director: John Brahm
Screenplay: Barré Lyndon
Although given a much more lavish production and some star-power, Alfred Hitchcock's original adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes' THE LODGER still offers much more to like. Admittedly, this one does have the benefit of a terrific performance by Merle Oberon, and she is almost enough to make this rather redundant film worth watching. THE LODGER would come to have been made four times in all, and this is the third, and perhaps the most high-profile for its time. Unfortunately, it hasn't exactly lasted the test of time, after witnessing such harrowing murders committed by Hannibal Lecter and the like, not even good ol' Jack the Ripper can scare the crap out of us anymore, and certainly not in a film this static.
Set in the Victorian era, Laird Cregar plays Mr. Slade, an imposing and mysterious man who takes a room in London by a kindly elderly couple. The streets are abuzz with the news of the gruesome "Jack the Ripper" killings, and Slade's creepy behavior begins to draw suspicions from the people of the house, and what's worse, their live-in niece seems to have caught his eye.
Although it has garnered some critical acclaim, THE LODGER is not nearly as thrilling or interesting as it should be, given the subject matter. The actors are lively enough, but the writing lacks spark, only coming to life occasionally during scenes shared with Oberon and potential love interest George Sanders. Laird Cregar is a very large and imposing man, and certainly makes a commanding presence as a would-be Jack the Ripper, but his character's habits border more on the comical than the horrific.
THE LODGER does feature a couple of musical numbers by Oberon, and the bits of German expressionism in the look makes for some good examples of using shadows and light for mood and effect. However, if you're looking for a nice fright flick, this one just doesn't build up its characters enough for us to be truly ill at ease. Although many consider this to be the definitive adaptation, at least Hitchcock's silent classic was ahead of its time.
© 2003 Vince Leo