Sunday, February 26, 2012
Made during the tail end of the silent era in 1927, Alfred Hitchcock’s The Lodger lays out the director’s concerns with all the clarity of a street lamp piercing the London fog. The barebones plot is primal Hitchcock—a serial killer is prowling the London streets for fair-haired victims, while the titular lodger takes the rap, due to an outrageous series of coincidences (and, it must be acknowledged, his own general air of creepiness). Many of the familiar obsessions are already fully evident here: dim-witted cops, blondes in peril, and the prototype for dozens of unjustly accused and needlessly pursued Hitchcock protagonists, the original Wrong Man.
Yet the film’s greatest strength lies in its skewed love triangle, with the lodger and a policeman vying for affections of the landlord’s daughter Daisy. Sexual repression becomes interchangeable with police oppression, and the paranoid mistrust of the lodger is impossible to separate from everyone’s attempts to micromanage Daisy’s love life. Tellingly, the smarmy cop comes on to the girl by equating a wedding ring to a hangman’s noose, and then slaps a pair of handcuffs on her (smooth operator, he). Little wonder she prefers the lodger, who lustily kisses her golden locks and doesn’t make his love conditional upon a hanging. But in an icky twist that oddly recalls Vertigo, Daisy is revealed to be the spitting image of the lodger’s murdered sister, meaning she is essentially a recreation of his lost love (his, um, sister). Unlike Vertigo, there’s a happy ending, but only of the most sour and peculiar sort. Somehow, the murderer seems less perverse than our putative hero.