Cinema Sunday: The Lodger (1944)
Title: The Lodger
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Writer: Barré Lyndon
Director: John Brahm
Producer: Robert Bassler
Starring: Merle Oberon, Laird Cregar, George Sanders, Sir Cedric Hardwicke
Released: January 1944
I’ll come right out and say that I love the lore surrounding Jack the Ripper. No, I’m not a fan of murder, but the fact that the killer evaded detection, while performing his hideous deeds is quite remarkable. It’s always been a fascination of mine, even to the point of watching and liking films that are loosely based (if that in some cases) on the murders in Whitechapel, London.
Another to be clear about is that none of these names ring a bell with me. Perhaps I’ve seen a film or two with one of the actors before, but the names definitely don’t seem familiar to me. One thing is for sure though, after watching this one, I’m a big fan of Laird Cregar! Alright, now for the movie!
The film begins after a couple of murders have already taken place. London (especially the Whitechapel area) is full of panic. Outside a pub, two locals read a paper posted about the murders and a reward for help leading to the capture of the murderer known only as “Jack the Ripper!” A couple of Bobbies (cops), begin to patrol the area. We then see a few more of them on horseback. Close by, a few inebriated patrons spill out of a pub, singing and dancing in the street. One woman in particular walks by, and tells them that she lives just around the corner, so they let her go alone. A few others call out to “Katy’ to tell her goodnight. She sings playfully on her way home. As she turns around a corner (where we cannot see her, but only hear her), where she’s apparently run into by someone unknown to her. A few seconds later she cries out in horror, and she is presumably dead. A crowd gathers around the police as they arrive to find her dead body. A few people talk of how it must’ve been the Ripper again, as she’s apparently been cut up quite badly.
The following day, a newspaper boy is selling copies of the latest edition, warning of another Ripper murder in Whitechapel. A woman supposedly got a look at him, but due to the darkness, couldn’t be of much help with a description. The people in that area are quick to buy copies to read about the horror. Out of the shadows, we see a man, “Slade,” walking towards a home. A man, Robert Bonting (Sir Cedric Hardwicke – image below) comes out of that home to buy a copy of the paper. Just as he returns inside, a knock on the door occurs. His wife, Ellen Bonting (Sara Allgood – image below), answers, and lets Mr. Slade (Laird Cregar – image above) into the house after he inquires about a room for rent. She tells him they do have one, and then she takes him upstairs to show him. He asks if there is any other rooms, and she says nothing except the attic. He gets visibly aroused when he sees how inconspicuous the room is and that there’s a back door to which he can use since he works late at night…
Ellen also remarks that their niece lives in the house as well, and that she’s an “actress” singing and dancing in a cabaret. Afterwards, Ellen returns downstairs and informs her husband that Mr. Slade will be renting the room and attic, beginning tonight. He’s more interested in the Ripper murders, and theorizing about them. He’s had a nervous breakdown after losing his job, but knows they need money. A while later, Ellen brings some food to Mr. Slade, and she finds him very irritable, and turning over all the pictures in the room (they’re all of gorgeous actresses). He tells her that he doesn’t like actresses, but she hopes he’ll change his mind because her niece, Kitty (Merle Oberon – image below), is one. As the week winds on, one night Mr. Slade is on his way out to “work,” and runs into Kitty, Ellen, and Robert, as they’re exiting to go see one of Kitty’s performances. They ask him where he goes at night, but he’s quite mysterious about it. He seems to be smitten with Kitty, but most men probably would be (I know I am!).
At the theater, Kitty is getting ready, when a former actress, Annie Rowley (Helena Pickard), comes to see her. She just wants to see her old dressing room again, as she apparently does every time a new girl gets to perform at this theater. Kitty appeases her, and invites her to stay, but Annie tells her she has other plans. Kitty throws her a few bucks, and Annie tries to refuse, but Kitty insists. The show goes on, and Kitty gets a thunderous applause. The show is a success, but during the performance, Annie Rowley is brutally murdered by the Ripper, in a nearby alley. One man, Inspector John Warwick (George Sanders), seems to be a bit ahead of the curve, and might just have a chance to figure out the riddle of Jack the Ripper!
The fear and panic are almost at a height where people are hysterical. There are hundreds of police combing the streets every night, but it seems they are at a loss to stop this fiend. Can Inspector Warwick and Scotland Yard catch the murder, or will he keep slaying unsuspecting women in London?
OK, here are my thoughts:
So, anyone with half a brain will obviously know that “Slade” is the killer 20 minutes into the film. Of course, they do a great job of keeping the illusion alive in the movie itself, so that makes it watchable. There are several good performances in the film, but none better than that of Laird Cregar. His portrayal of Jack the Ripper is exquisite. His cool demeanor when he’s trying to hide who he really is when the lights go down is excellent. The opposite is very menacing too, as he’s an extremely scary dude, due to his facial expressions and size. It sort of reminded me of Spencer Tracy in the 1941 classic “Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde.” Yeah, it’s that good.
Merle Oberon is also very good. She excels at being a strong female character (for the time), and is also extremely vivacious (see image below). Hardwicke and Allgood also do a fine job at their parts. Even the maid, Queenie Leonard, is fantastic at playing a quirky secondary character. A standard soundtrack does lend a hand in some parts, but isn’t necessary to be honest. The atmospherics and acting lift this film above any other film about this subject that I’ve ever seen. Quite easily, to be perfectly honest.
Hit up your local big box store or online at Amazon or some such sites. The film is definitely worth asking price!