Film of the Book: The Lodger

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1927)

From the book review of The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes:

London is agog over a series of horrific murders, all of drunken women. The murderer leaves his calling card on the bodies – a triangular slip of paper pinned to their clothes with the words “The Avenger” written on it…

Well, what a little gem this one turned out to be! Written in 1913, it’s clearly inspired by the Jack the Ripper murders but with enough changes to make it an original story in its own right. It’s the perspective that makes it so unique – the Buntings are just an ordinary respectable little family struggling to keep their heads above water, who suddenly find themselves wondering if their lodger could possibly be living a double life as The Avenger.

You can read the full book review by clicking here.

Film of the Book

This is a silent movie, Hitchcock’s third as director but first real success, and the film that set him on the path of psychological suspense movies. It shows all the signs of his later interest in twisted psychologies, innovative techniques – and blondes. And in taking the basic premise of someone else’s story and then changing it almost out of all recognition…

In the book, the victims are drunken women who, to some extent in the mores of the time, bring their misfortunes on themselves. Hitchcock immediately changes this to beautiful blondes, and makes Daisy Bunting, the quiet, respectable daughter in the book, into a glamorous blonde mannequin (a model for clothes). This allows him to do a bit of innocent titillation by taking us backstage at her girly show and letting us glimpse lots of young beauties in states of semi-undress. It also elevates Daisy to centre stage from the rather small role she plays in the book by making her a potential victim of the Avenger.

The Buntings in the film are a happy little family with no mention of money worries, taking away in one stroke much of the reason for Mrs Bunting’s moral dilemma as to whether she should report her suspicions of her new lodger to the police. Joe the policeman is still in love with Daisy and, at first, she with him. Joe is unfortunately rather ham, and looks considerably more sinister and crazed than the lodger – I’d have had him arrested just on the grounds that he looks as if he ought to be a murderer!

Malcolm Keen as the policeman Joe Chandler – I’m still convinced he’s probably a murderer…

Ivor Novello as Mr Sleuth the lodger, though, looks beautiful and sinister and tortured. I fell in love with him within about a minute and a half, so could quite understand when Daisy found him irresistibly attractive too. Poor Joe! I bet he preferred the book. As the film goes on, it diverges further and further from the book so that by the time it ends, it really has very little to do with the original in terms of plot.

Ivor Novello as Mr Sleuth… or is he The Avenger?

As so often with Hitchcock, though, the movie is still superb in its own right. I’m no film expert as you know, but some of his techniques feel very modern for the time: the use of flashing words to introduce the concept of the blonde victims and the girly shows; the way he shows the latest news being spread via newspapers (in scenes that reminded me somewhat of the later Citizen Kane) and radio – an interesting update from the book which, 14 years earlier, doesn’t mention radio at all; and a brilliant and completely Hitchcockian (is that a word?) moment when we see the Buntings listen to their lodger pace back and forth in his room above theirs – and then Hitchcock lets us see him pacing from below, filmed through a glass floor. The scene cards (yeah, I don’t know the technical term for those…) look more modern than is usual in silent films too – they are in colour for a start, often flash, and have a kind of jazz age style about them somehow.

Although Hitchcock changes the plot and loses some of the psychological depth as a result, he does a brilliant job with the creepiness and suspense, and again it’s not at all clear whether the lodger is the Avenger until late on. Peril a-plenty stalks our poor Daisy, while Joe does some seriously jealous tooth-gnashing. Mrs Bunting, as the worried mother and landlady, is the stand-out performance for me, though I was impressed by most of the cast, especially the women. Ivor Novello’s performance is variable – sometimes he feels a little ham too, like poor Joe, but at other times he’s so good at being a tortured soul that it’s easy to understand why the women especially so badly want him to be innocent.

Marie Ault as Mrs Bunting with her lodger…

The film was restored by the British Film Institute in 2012 and given a new score by Nitin Sawhney. The restoration is great – the film is pure pleasure to watch, and I wouldn’t often say that about a film of this age. I found the score less successful overall. Sometimes it adds greatly to the atmosphere of the film, but at others it sounds rather incongruous – too modern and not always quite in synch with the action. Halfway through, the orchestral music gives way to a sung love song which, while fine on its own account, simply seems out of place.

Lucky June Tripp as Daisy Bunting. He can’t be a murderer! Can he??

Nearly a century on, I still found the film remarkably watchable, enjoyable and effectively scary, and I heartily recommend it even to people who, like me, normally avoid silent films. (There’s a very good quality copy on youtube, though perhaps illegally – I don’t know. Here’s the link, the decision is yours.) The trailer below gives a good idea of the style of the film and a snippet of the new score…

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Although I enjoyed the film hugely, the changes to the plot means it doesn’t quite have the psychological depth of the book, so if I reluctantly have to choose, then…

The Winner in the Book v Film Battle is…

THE BOOK!

* * * * *

52 thoughts on “Film of the Book: The Lodger

    • I love Hitchcock too, but hadn’t seen this one before – it’s well worth watching. The book’s great too, and actually they end up being so different it doesn’t matter too much which you go for first in this case. Hope you enjoy them both! 😀

    • They look more sepia as stills than they seemed to when I was watching the film for some reason. But all that dramatic stage make-up does make them all look pretty strange… though in Ivor’s case, gorgeous too… 😉

  1. Hitchcock is never really true to the source material, is he? It’s almost like the book gives him a nudge for his very own story… brilliant in its own way, but not quite what the author intended. I don’t think I’ve seen this film, will have to search for it.

    • No, I’d never realised how much he deviates from the original till I started doing these film of the book comparisons. I wonder what the authors felt about it. I suppose they were pleased to get the big money (which I assume they got) but it must still have been a bit galling. I believe in this case he was forced to change it because the studio had a fixed idea about how they wanted to market Ivor Novello.

  2. Great review! Eee. The guy playing the police officer looks the creepiest.

    Hitchcock’s films were always revolutionary. But had he still been alive today (which would make him extremely old), I would not want him to adapt a book I wrote, since he seldom sticks to what was written. Hayao Miyazaki is the same way with his animated film adaptations. You don’t recognize your story after he’s done.

    • Thank you! Hehe – I know. Poor Joe!

      I love his films but doing these comparisons has made me so aware of how much he deviates from the original. I suppose the authors would have been pleased to get the big money and maybe it helped boost book sales, but it must still have been pretty galling, I’d think.

  3. That’s Hitchcock for you, FIctionFan. He doesn’t stay true at all to the original source material. But what he creates can be absolutely brilliant in its own right. I think the best way to conceive of a Hitchcock film (as you’ve done here) is to see it almost as a different story. I’m glad you enjoyed the film, even if it’s different to the book.

    • Yes, I’ve become much more aware of how much he deviates from the originals since I started doing these comparisons, but each time I still end up loving the film rather than getting annoyed by it as I usually would. In this case, it was hard to choose between them… 🙂

    • I love Hitchcock but hadn’t watched this before because generally I don’t like silent films. I should have trusted Hitch though – great stuff! I shall undoubtedly watch it again… 🙂

  4. This sounds great FF! I don’t think I’ve seen it, but the thing with the glass floor is so familiar there’s a small doubt creeping in, my memory is appalling. I enjoyed the trailer with Nitin Sawhney’s music, so I may be off to encourage illegal activity on You Tube 😉

    • That happens to me so often with films, but I definitely hadn’t seen this one. I hope you enjoy it, and when I read my review over I felt I’d been a bit harsh on the new score. Overall I enjoyed it quite a lot, except for the sung song in the middle. If you do watch it, I’d love to hear what you think. 😀

  5. I haven’t seen (or read) this one, but something tells me I, too, would prefer the book. Perhaps it’s the silent nature of the film. Or how Hitchcock changed things around. Or those distracting clothing styles. Who knows? Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed both!!

    • Usually I hate silent films but I should have trusted Hitchcock to win me over – he always does, even when he changes the story out of all recognition! It was fun comparing them anyway… 😀

  6. Woohoo! I’m looking forward to seeing this! I’m signed up to review it for a blogathon in the coming months, but am so glad to be able to read your review of it…and of the original book.

    Scores for silent movies can be so weird, sometimes. I feel like it can go a long way towards making or breaking a film, at times.

    You could write a book…comparing novels/short stories with the Hitchcock adaptions. 🙂 It would be fascinating! I don’t think he ever stayed close to the original source material, did he? Except Rebecca. But I read that was more Selznick’s doing, who forced Hitchcock to stick to the source.

    • Oh, I think you’ll love it! Especially since I know you’re much more comfortable with silent movies than I normally am. I’d like to hear the original score but I don’t know if it actually exists. I think I’ve heard somewhere that back then sometimes it was just left to local cinema organists to pick music?

      Haha! Funny you should say that! I was just thinking – not about a book – but that I’ve compared so many of the Hitchcock films to their originals now that I might as well just go on and do all the other ones – the Hitchcock challenge! As if I don’t have enough challenges on the go already… 😉

      • The Hitchcock Challenge! I like it. That would be delightful… a very worthwhile challenge. 🙂

        That’s true, though by 1927 they were able to record a score specifically for the film and play it in sync with the film, along with sound and speech. Perhaps they were not doing that in British studios just yet? That would be interesting to know. When different countries began to adopt sound.

        • I don’t know. I know when I was young – ’60s and ’70s – we always seemed to be a few years behind technologically but I don’t know if that was always the case or still just a hangover from the post-war dip the country went through. Intriguing!

  7. Great to hear you enjoyed this 😀 I have watched and loved Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Rear Window, The Birds, Vertigo and The Man Who Knew Too Much (the 2nd version he did). Of the ones where I have read the source material, I think Rebecca was pretty close to the original novel except for a tweak to the big reveal at the end – small tweak in action but quite a large difference in meaning! While The Birds went completely off piste lol, but still a great film 🙂

    • I love Hitchcock so I’ve seen most of the well-known ones many times but haven’t really ventured into his earlier stuff much – this one has encouraged me to seek more of them out. Haha! Yes, apart from the birds there’s not much similar about the book/story and film in that one. I’ve been meaning to do a comparison of Rebecca since I re-read the book recently – if I don’t do it soon I’ll need to re-read it again! But yes, I think the change in that is pretty major and makes Max much more sympathetic than in the book. I wonder if that was the studio’s doing – in this one apparently the studio wasn’t willing to let Ivor Novello be too unsympathetic as they were marketing him as a heart-throb. With Vertigo, I thought the book was vastly superior to the film – it’s never been one of my favourite Hitchcock films. Just can’t seem to like Kim Novak…

  8. I just finished watching it. Yes, I remember having watched it in my youth. I have seen lots of his movies in Spain and he is number 1 to me, my favorite movie director.

    • Oh, I’m glad you enjoyed it again! He’s my favourite director too – so many great films, and often adapted from equally great books or stories, even if he does change them. I’ve seen all his famous films many times, but I’m beginning to seek out the less famous earlier ones too now, which are often just as good. 🙂

  9. I’m at the part in the book where Mr. Bunting gets news that “our Daisy” is coming because there is scarlet fever at the aunt’s house. I have theories about who the lodger really is, but not yet confirmed! I have to say, one of the reasons I love Hitchcock’s version of Rebecca so much is that it follows the plot of the novel beautifully, but cuts out some excess du Maurier left in. Later, I learned that this was the producer’s doing. Hitchcock basically wanted to be inspired by the source material and then do his own thing, which would have made the film unrecognizable. I’m so glad he didn’t get away with it. I’ll definitely watch this film when I’m done with the book, but I think it’s a real mistake to take them emphasis away from Mrs. Bunting. Though we get into other characters’ thoughts in the novel, it really is her story, her worry, her “going over to the dark side” when she becomes interested in the murders in the newspaper.

    • I’m so glad you’re enjoying the book. I think Mrs Bunting’s character is fantastically well done – utterly believable because of the time Lowndes puts in at the beginning to let us see their desperation over money. With this film, Hitchcock changes it so much that it really is like an entirely different story in the end, which actually works better for me than minor changes do. After about the first half hour I stopped making comparisons and was able just to enjoy the film in its own right. And though she doesn’t have as important a role, I still found Mrs Bunting to be the stand-out performance. She portrays her growing worry and fear brilliantly, especially when you think she only had her face and mannerisms to work with – no words. Hitch did make a pretty significant change even in Rebecca, at the end. I think quite often he was forced to by the studios who didn’t want their romantic leading men shown in too bad a light…

    • Haha – I know! Good yo know his blonde obsession started so early in his career. 😉 Thank you, and I do hope you enjoy it – one of my favourite viewings of recent months.

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