The opening murder scene sets the stage for the remainder of this darkly drenched eerie atmospheric horror. A woman is walking home late at night in foggy London; the streets are so wet they almost glisten. The woman turns into an alleyway out of the camera’s eye, we hear a scream and she is soon dead. We see her hand in a close up on the sidewalk curb as water trickles by along the curb. Jack the Ripper has struck again. If you ever wonder where Hammer Films found its stylish look for horror, well it just might have been here this 1944 20th Century Fox thriller.
The 1940’s are generally not considered a high point in time for horror films yet this production of “The Lodger” is the exception to the rule. Directed by German born John Brahm, this remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s original silent version is directly influenced by the German Expressionist film movement of the 1920’s and 1930’s, with its harsh lighting and superb camera placement. Laird Cregar’s magnificent expressionistic and moving performance fits right in.
Cregar’s Mr. Slade, as he is called, is a sexually twisted individual obsessed with his dead brother (he was a genius!), ruined by women, actresses specifically. We see Slade’s almost manic obsession with his brother in one scene when he is holding a photograph of him and practically pouring out his love in a way that seems to be more than just well, brotherly love. Slade takes out his revenge by killing off these “actresses” (really prostitutes but this is a 1940’s film) slicing and dicing them up.
Slade has rented a couple of rooms from Robert (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) and Ellen Bonting (Sara Allgood). Soon after the new lodger settles in, he discovers the Bonting’s niece Lily Langley (Merle Oberon), an actress of course, also is living in the same quarters, and he becomes quickly obsessed with the young beauty. The elder couple slowly become suspicious of their new border suspecting he is the infamous Jack the Ripper when they discover him oddly going out late at night. Later on, Lily finds him mysteriously burning some soiled clothing. A dandy like police inspector, George Sanders, in a rather dull role, tries to woo Lily and hunt down the Ripper at the same time.
While the story is more or less what we have seen now over and over in so many other Jack the Ripper tales, it is the visual storytelling ability of John Brahm and the performance of Laird Cregar that rank this film so high on the scale. Cregar manages to make his perverted, sexually twisted character frightening and strangely sympathetic at the same time. You know this guy is sick, and a murderer, but he somehow comes across as a sadly wounded bird. The film is beautifully shot by Lucien Ballard whose long career included such works as “Berlin Express”, “The Killing”, “Pay or Die”, “Will Penny” and “The Wild Bunch.”
Brahm and Cregar would reteam again the following year in “Hangover Square” where Cregar would again portray a maniac type killer. Sadly, Cregar died in 1945 at the age of 31 after battling with a weight disorder. After “The Lodger”, John Brahm had two more good films in him “Hangover Square” and “The Locket.” In the 1950’s and on into the 1960’s Brahm’s best work would be in television where he worked on episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” ,”The Twilight Zone”, “Thriller”, “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” among others.