Last night Mrs. R and I watched The Lodger, from 1944, starring Laird Cregar, Merle Oberon, and George Saunders. It’s the story of a down-on-their-luck upper middle class family who take in a secretive and bizarre lodger (Cregar). As the story progresses, it becomes slowly apparent that the man is the notorious Jack the Ripper, and he’s got his eye on their actress niece Kitty (Oberon).
Laird Cregar is very impressive as the tormented Ripper; his social skills are just a bit off and his body language is stiff and inhibited and at the end he goes over the top very nicely. He was apparently a big hit, and the studio quickly cast him in the similar Hanover Square, but his career was understandably shortened by his premature death at the age of 28 following an ill-advised crash diet.
Saunders dials down the snark and plays a conventional romantic lead, a Scotland Yard inspector infatuated with Kitty–and gives a good portrayal of an intelligent cop. Oberon is beautiful, of course, but her role isn’t very challenging, except for trying to make the character’s obliviousness to her peril convincing without making her seem like an absolute nitwit.
Two interesting things. One, the movie has so much music in it that it’s almost a musical, which is odd–almost a foreshadowing of Sweeney Todd.
Second, the cinematography is spectacular. All the photography is almost noir-like, wonderful shadows. London is foggy and mysterious and menacing. During a police manhunt for the Ripper, there are odd camera angles galore, neatly expressing the urgency of the hunt. And during the climax, in the music hall where Kitty is appearing, there’s one shot where the Ripper is crossing a catwalk that’s absolutely amazing–as the Ripper crosses the grated surface, lines of light from below the catwalk march up his body. Coupled with Cregar’s monsterlike hunched posture and his menacing look, the effect is astonishing.
So Mrs. R and I were enchanted, and I can heartily recommend this movie.
I got my copy from Hard to Find Films, whom I can conditionally recommend–their shipping is slooooooow (took us six weeks to get our order); but their product is just fine.