The Lodger (1944) John Brahm

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.

****

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10 comments on “The Lodger (1944) John Brahm

  1. “… somehow he comes across as a sadly wounded bird.” Well, nobody could have said it better. Laird Cregar was one of those actors whose portliness surely limited his choice of roles, but then again, that voice… Oh, they had voices in those days. Trained voices. Beautiful voices.

    Hitchcock in the early ’40s wanted to remake his ‘Lodger’ but never managed it. He did, however see the 1944 version and disliked it. (Jealousy?) Patrick McGilligan’s biography quotes Hitchcock as saying to ‘Psycho’ author Robert Bloch, “I saw it at Fox, and they remade it so crudely… no suggestion in it… it was all just laid on the nose.”

    Well, the business of Cregar bending down to a cabinet and retrieving the picture of his brother about whom he rhapsodizes in an extremely suggestive fashion, as you noted, John, is certainly a Hitchockian equivolent of Judith Anderson showing Rebecca’s underthings to the new wife. “Look,” she says insinuatingly, slipping her fingers under the lace, “you can see my hand right through it.”

    This is an illustration of Hitchcock’s understanding that you can get around the censors who want to cut suggestive dialog by simply allowing the camera to tell the story. What you want to convey isn’t in the dialog. You play it a certain way, photograph it a certain way. Things come across on the screen, as in the Cregar moment, that can’t be spoken. It takes a knowledge of film methods to do this sort of trick. And the Hays office, seeing only bland lines in the script will not realize what’s being sneaked right under their noses.

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks David! I was unaware Hitchcock disliked this film so much especially since, at least to me, it is Hitchcockian in many ways. I read MacGilligan’s book, just don’t remember that part. You may be right as far as jealousy on his part when he certainly had no reason to be considering his overall career. Hitchcock and many other filmmakers certainly knew how to get around the censors. With Hitch, I always think of the kissing scene in “Notorious” where the censors limited kissing to something like three seconds and Hitch managed to get two or three minutes of Grant and Bergman kissing.

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      • John, in the McGilligan biography Hitch’s remark to Bloch is in a footnote in small typeface and that may be why you don’t remember it. I picked up on it because I thought it was a clear case of envy. You’re certainly right about the censorship problem and Hitch’s getting around it in “Notorious” by having the camera close on Grant and Bergman as they move from the table (where Bergman had trouble with a chicken— another of those many bird references in his films) to the doorway, nibbling and kissing all the while. Hitch noted that with the camera so close it became a menage a trois. I also think of Hitch’s solution to the problem of eluding the Hays office in “North by Northwest.” The kissing scene on the train was unusually erotic as Grant and Eva Marie Saint roll against the wall of the private cabin with Grant actually kissing her neck— I never saw that in a film previous to that time. Grant says something about the train being a bit unsteady as they turn. And we see that they are pressed against each other. Saint makes a comment about really knowing nothing about Grant and his reply is one of the subtlest I’ve ever heard in a film from that period. “What more could you know?”

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      • John Greco says:

        Thanks David for clearing that up. I always remember the NBN love scenes as being terribly erotic. Truthfully, I have not seem the film in quite a few years and do need to revisit it. Hitch was a master, for sure.

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  2. R. D. Finch says:

    John, I liked this film a lot when I saw it a year or so ago. I think you rightly attributed its power to the atmospheric visuals and the brilliant performance by Cregar, in which he simultaneously suggests creepiness and sympathetic qualities (not to mention those definitely peculiar feelings for his dead brother). For me these were the things that made the film stand out. I always think of Lucien Ballard as being a specialist in Westerns, but here he really excelled at the fogbound, expressionistic London streets and the chilly, gaslit Victorian interiors and music hall scenes. I saw it on TCM, and Robert Osborne pointed out some interesting trivia: Ballard was married to Oberon at one time and invented a special light called the “Obie,” which he devised to disguise the small facial scars, which she had received in a car accident, in her close-ups. I saw the follow-up, “Hangover Square,” not long afterward and preferred this film. A very catchy opening paragraph to your post, too.

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    • John Greco says:

      Thanks R.D.! I had the same feelings about Ballard (The Wild Bunch, Ballad of Cable Hogue, Buchanan Rides Alone, Nevada Smith, Will Penny, etc.) So I too was pleasantly surprised when seeing his name. I looked him up in IMDB and he does have a lot of westerns to his credit in the later part of his career but his earlier works include some interesting films like, Berlin Express, Fixed Bayonet, The Killing, The House on Telegraph Hill and is uncredited but apparently he worked on Preminger’s Laura.

      Thanks for sharing the Merle Oberon story, interesting. Actually a review of Hangover Square will be up on Saturday.

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  3. Judy says:

    Great piece, John, and great comments from David and R.D. too. I haven’t seen this film as yet but would like to do so – it certainly sounds well worth watching from your review.

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  4. Sam Juliano says:

    “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.”

    Indeed John, and I see you later do point out the director’s excellent work in television, especially in the anthology shows. To improve on Hitchcock on anything is no small order, but I dare say with THE LODGER Brahm has managed this feat. It was indeed to lose Cregar at such a young age. His performance (as the review that considers it here) is extraordinary.

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