Hitchcock’s next film The Mountain Eagle (1926) is lost. Sad for Hitchcock fans, but not for the great man himself who declared it to be “awful”. We’ll just have to take his word for it and move along to the second of his surviving films: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog.
Hitch considered it to be his first “true” film and it’s easy to see why. While The Pleasure Garden took its time to build up to the grisly murder, The Lodger jumps straight in with a vivid opening shot of a screaming victim.
What we’re witnessing is the handiwork of a “Jack the Ripper” style murderer, known as the Avenger, who attacks vulnerable blonde women under the cover of night-time fog.
Amid the panic, a pale and haunted tenant called Jonathan (Ivor Novello) moves into the spare room of a Mr. and Mrs. Bunting. He becomes increasingly close to their daughter Daisy (June Tripp), the girlfriend of Joe – police detective on the Avenger case (Malcolm Keen).
The Lodger is the first of Hitchcock’s films to explore the fetishistic sexuality which would go on to dominate much of his later work. Jonathan turns the pictures of women in his room to face the wall as he can’t bear to look upon them and can never resist staring at Daisy’s golden curls.
But it’s not just our creepy lodger friend who hints towards a relationship between sex and death: “When I’ve put a rope around the Avenger’s neck,” declares Joe, mimicking a noose motion, “I’ll put a ring around Daisy’s finger.”
As the intimacy between Daisy and Jonathan builds so does the tension; added to by distorted angles, long shadows and claustrophobic lighting.
When the tension finally breaks in the film’s climax Hitchcock employs a final twist that I genuinely didn’t see coming first time I saw it. Not half bad for 1927. Even silent film skeptics might find themselves seduced.