Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Lodger (A Story of the London Fog)

Title: The Lodger (A Tale of the London Fog)
Year: Produced 1926, released in 1927
Studio: Gainsborough Pictures
Screenplay: Eliot Stannard & Alfred Hitchcock
Source Material: From the novel by Marie Belloc-Lowndes
Running Time: 90 minutes
A Silent Picture in Black & White

Saturday 29th May, 9:45am

Due to a rather hectic and social weekend, I had to begin the study of Hitchcock's most famous silent film a little earlier than I had planned. I had already been awoken early around six o'clock due to some rather disturbing dreams and a persistently hungry cat stabbing at my head with her paws. As a naturally early riser anyway, this didn't stress me too much.
I sat on the settee once again wearing my pyjamas (although this time not my Peter Alexander's, but something resembling 'happy pants' and a rather shrunken nightshirt with a Penguin Books logo adorning the chest) and I tore off the previous weeks' notes from the A4 pad, accidentally destroying them in the process. I had intended to watch a bit of TV first, but the programmes on at that time in the morning are either pitifully woeful children's shows or tediously repetitive pop music shows littered with mind-numbingly awful commercials in between. So off went the stations and on went the DVD.

At this point, I need to briefly mention The Mountain Eagle. This was Hitchcock's second movie as director, but sadly, no prints are known to exist, so obviously, I cannot watch it as part of this project. Maybe one day it will be found... along with many lost Doctor Who episodes - one can dream. (Oh, Marco Polo, where for art thou? Marco? Polo! Marco?)

The Lodger - Ivor Novello
Daisy Bunting - June Tripp
Joe Betts - Malcolm Keen
Mrs Bunting - Marie Ault
Mr Bunting - Arthur Chesney

A girl is murdered on the embankment of the Thames. A crowd has gathered and the police and press are already in attendance. A middle-aged woman is the only witness and she makes the most of her moment in the spotlight and tells her audience the chilling details and describes a cloaked figure with the lower half of his face covered.
The body was found with the murderer's calling card. It is always a triangle with the words 'the avenger' written inside.
The presses roll and the papers are printed. We learn that the poor victim is the seventh in a line of murdered blondes. They are always murdered on a Tuesday night.
We then meet Daisy. She is a fashion model and while she and her colleagues are in their dressing room, they excitedly discuss the news. Daisy takes extra precautions before she heads home by attaching some fake dark curls beneath her bonnet in order to stave off an attack.

Daisy returns home to discover her fiance, Joe, is waiting for her. He is a policeman and he has been chatting with Daisy's parents about the murders. Daisy and Joe have an odd relationship. He is very flirtatious but she plays it cool. Her coy nature is a tease to Joe and he plays along.
The lights flicker and as they search for a coin to feed the meter, there is a knock at the door. We see the shadow of a figure against the woodwork and the number 13 bodes an omen for those amongst the audience who are superstitious.
Mrs Bunting opens the door and lets in this ominous figure before her. He wears a hat and cloak, carries a holdall and has a scarf covering the lower half of his face. He inquires about the room to let and she allows him inside.

His attitude is suspicious and a little unnerving. He pays for his room in advance and asks for the many pictures hanging on the walls depicting beautiful blonde ladies to be taken down.
Joe laughs at these actions and states he is happy the new lodger does not appear to keen on girls.
The lodger also has a holdall which he clutches onto tightly before placing it in a locked cupboard in his lodgings.

After about a week, the lodger has settled in and is more at ease with the family. He is playing chess with Daisy.
Joe arrives at the house to say that he is now on the Avenger case.
He proclaims; "When I've put a rope round the Avenger's neck - I'll put a ring round Daisy's finger!" Daisy looks as though she finds this a little distasteful.
Joe shows off the handcuffs he owns and chases Daisy upstairs and cuffs her playfully. She is not impressed - neither is the lodger.

Later that night, Mr Bunting is out at work (as a waiter) and Mrs Bunting is in bed. It's 11:30pm and the lodger creeps out into the night. Mrs Bunting is wary and suspicious. Where has he gone to? At midnight, he returns, but during that time, another murder has taken place.
Mr Bunting reads about the eighth victim in the paper and Mrs Bunting is even more scared. Joe turns up and discusses the events. While Joe and Daisy's parents chat, a scream is heard. They run upstairs to find Daisy in the arms of the lodger - he was comforting her after she'd seen a mouse. Joe is not impressed and his hatred for this stranger grows.

The lodger visits the couturier's boutique where Daisy works. He sits watching the models parade and he is transfixed by Daisy. The pretty brunette beside him is frustrated by his inattention. He even nonchalantly acknowledges her need of a cigarette lighter by removing one from his waistcoat pocket, lighting her cigarette and then returning it without once taking his eyes off Daisy.

that evening, Daisy receives a package - it is the dress she had been modelling that day - the lodger had bought it for her. Mr Bunting is not impressed and tells the lodger that he won't let Daisy accept gifts from strangers.

Daisy takes a bath (in a very risque scene for its era) and the lodger speaks to Daisy through the door. he wants to make sure she was not offended by her actions and she laughs the whole thing off.
Daisy goes out with the lodger on a date. Her mother is horrified at having let this happen. "...And it's Tuesday night!" she exclaims.

The lodger and Daisy sit beneath a lamp post (at the same location of the eighth victim's demise, it seems) and just before they kiss, Joe finds them. He confronts them both and threatens the lodger. Daisy is appalled and tells Joe she does not want to see him again.
The two lovers retreat leaving Joe to ponder in his misery. He begins piecing together clues and starts to build a case of very circumstantial evidence against the lodger.
Back at the number 13, Daisy and the lodger share their first intimate kiss.
Joe arrives with a warrant and some fellow policemen. They discover the lodger's holdall which carries a gun, a map highlighting the locations of the murders, a selection of newspapers articles detailing the crimes and a photograph of a blonde woman. The lodger states that this is his murdered sister.
Joe is not convinced. The lodger attacks Joe, almost strangling him, but he is restrained and cuffed. As he is led out of the house, the lodger whispers for Daisy to meet him at the lamp post. When Mrs Bunting faints, it's all the distraction he needs and he darts out of the door into the London fog.
Daisy grabs her lover's cloak and follows him out. The police have gone in the wrong direction.
Daisy meets him at the desired location and he tells his side of the story which we learn about in flashback. His blonde sister was murdered at her coming-out ball. His mother never fully recovered from the shock and on her deathbed, she asked her son to find the killer.
Swear to me, my son, you will not rest until the Avenger has been brought to justice.
So he studied the crimes in order to catch him.
Daisy takes the lodger to a bar, keeping his handcuffed arms hidden under the cloak, and feeds him brandy. The attempt at subterfuge is futile and the bar patrons are immediately suspicious. The two leave just moments before Joe and his colleagues turn up. Whilst on the phone to his superior, the crowd at the pub learn that it must be the two strangers whom the police are after and as one mob, pile into the street in pursuit. What they don't overhear is Joe learning from his superior that the real Avenger has been caught red-handed.
Joe, reeling from the shock of his mistake, flees the establishment to find the lodger before the angry mob get to him.
The lodger is running or his life. He climbs over a fence/railing over which the other side is much lower. His cuffs get caught on the spikes and he is stranded, dangling down and vulnerable. The mob reach him and some are beating him from above and there's a second crowd beating him from below.
Daisy desperately tries to reach him, she sees his face as he becomes weaker. Blood trickles from his mouth.
Joe arrives and pushes his way through the crowds, eventually reaching the innocent man and retrieves him from his mock-gallows just in time.
The opportunistic newspaper boy arrives with the papers declaring the real killer's identity and sells them to the horde.

As a coda, we see the lodger recovering in hospital and eventually back at his real home in London, a large house, indicating his wealthy background. Daisy and her parents are there and the two announce their engagement much to the acceptance of the Buntings.
The End.

Great Lines
Newspaper Boy: "Always happens Tuesdays - That's my lucky day."
Comments between the models in their dressing room: "He's killed another fair girl." "No more peroxide for yours truly."
When the landlady (Mrs Bunting) suggests that leaving money around the place is tempting providence, the lodger replies; "Providence is concerned with sterner things than money."

What a pity the movie poster depicts the climax. That's not the smartest of marketing ploys. Fools.
Although the character of the Lodger is never named in the film, Alfred Hitchcock would often refer to him as Jack the Ripper and the similarities are obvious.
The opening shot of a young girl screaming is magnificent. It gets you in immediately. The repetition of 'To-Night Golden Curls' book-ending the movie is a nice touch.
Joe and Daisy are ill-matched in my mind. She is beautiful - he's a bit weird and creepy, frankly. One can see why she fancied the lodger!
One magnificent scene comes early in the film when, below the new lodger's rooms, the other inhabitants can hear the lodger pacing his room. The small chandelier sways beneath the rhythmic pace and they envisage his footsteps above them - this is displayed for the audience in a beautifully inventive glass-floor fantasy shot.
There are a few red-herrings throughout including a great moment when the lodger is playing chess with Daisy. She leans down to pick up a fallen chess-piece and he reaches for the poker by the fire. We imagine he is going to strike, but he merely pokes the fire. Earlier we had even seen him flick something off Daisy's clothes with a butter knife. Maybe he was paying attention to some minor detail or perhaps this was his clumsy notion of foreplay - who can say?
When the lodger creeps out into the night, he descends the staircase. We look straight down the gap of the spiral in a shot which would become familiar to film makers and viewers in the future - foreshadowing Vertigo and others.
At the rendezvous when Daisy chooses the lodger over Joe, there is a beautiful tableaux of emotion in the frame - the lodger looking victorious, Daisy defiant in strength and love, Joe a vision of despair.
Daisy and the lodger's first kiss (65 minutes into the film) is cinematic brilliance. It is a slow build like extended foreplay. They tease each other and the audience as they keep getting closer. We then are the eyes of Daisy as the lodger's face looms towards us. The big moment with the two of their almost perfect profiles interlock is mesmerising and exquisite. Hitchcock was always brilliant at sexual tension and this was the first moment of genius depicting such erotic art.

The question is; just who was the Avenger and what was he actually avenging? Brunettes?
One important note is that in the novel, the lodger is the killer, but Ivor Novello was such a matinee idol, it was thought best not to have him play a bad guy.
This is not the last time a hero is rewritten for the sake of face for the producers and their audience. It will happen again most notoriously when Hitchcock makes Rebecca, but more of that when the time comes.

My Verdict
As I said previously, this is Hitchcock's most famous silent film and it is easy to see why. It has a very accessible plot with some wonderfully eerie moments. The most frightening of all is the lynch mob who, still lively from their evening's drinking, make the most terrible errors of judgment. (Joe has no excuse. His demons were pure jealousy.)
Ivor Novello has been described as camp, but I think that is rather unfair. I thought (with hindsight)that his depiction of a broken and weary hunter was astute and accurate. June Tripp is simply beautiful as Daisy but it's Marie Ault who is most convincing as Mrs Bunting. Her performance as the scared, paranoid woman fearful for her daughter and the mysterious lodger is rather impressive.
Once again, we see future tricks of Hitch's come into play with no end of shadows lurking in the corner of our eyes or emblazoned across the screen.
Although their are some loose ends, the plot is rapid and entertaining. 7/10

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Pleasure Garden

Title The Pleasure Garden
Year: Filmed in 1925, released in 1927 (after the success of The Lodger)
Studio: Gainsborough Pictures
Screenplay: Eliot Stannard
Source Material: From the novel by Oliver Sandys
Running Time: 1 hour
A Silent Picture in Black & White.

Saturday 22nd May, 1:30pm

With lunch over (Campbell's Tomato Soup - no sign of a pop artist anywhere), I drew the curtains in the lounge, made a mug of Yorkshire Gold tea and curled up on the settee wearing only a pair of Peter Alexander's Pyjamas (I hope he doesn't want them back) and a warm, comfy dressing gown. Fizzgig was curled up by my side.
I would dearly love to say I was armed with a packet of custard creams but due to my recent exercise regime and weight loss diet, I couldn't justify a biscuit crisis.
My Hitchcockian adventure began!

Patsy Brand - Virginia Valli
Jill Cheyne - Carmelita Geraghty
Mr Levet - Miles Mander (many sources misspell his name 'Levett', but I am going by the on-screen caption)
Hugh Fielding - John Stuart
Mr Hamilton - George Snell
Native (Levet's lover) - Nita Naldi
Mr Sider - Frederick Martini
Mrs Sider - Florence Helminger
Prince Ivan - C. Falkenburg

(I know I should try to remain fairly spoiler free, but in writing synopses for a film blog, it's rather difficult, so skip ahead if you don't want to know what happens.)
'The Pleasure Garden' is a theatre which presents revues for the public. It is run by a Mr Hamilton. We witness the girls performing their routine and the salivating men who watch in delight. One even visits backstage after the show to comment on how attractive he finds the girls' hair. Our heroine, Patsy Brand laughs as she proves it's merely a wig. (This is not the first time a Hitchcockian blonde turns out to be a fake!). That night, a girl named Jill Cheyne turns up having left her role as companion to an old lady in the country in order to find fame and fortune in London.
Moments before she enters the theatre, her money is stolen from her naively open handbag. Distressed by this cruel act, Patsy offers her home for Jill to stay at. They return to Patsy's accommodation where we meet the landlady, Mrs Sider, her hen-pecked husband and the resident dog 'Cuddles'.
That night, the girls get on famously and undress in a simply unladylike fashion before sharing the uncomfortable bed together. Jill has a photograph of her fiance, Hugh, in her suitcase. Patsy is surprised by Jill when she kneels down and prays at the bedside. This foreshadows a role-reversal later. Another piece of foreshadowing is when Cuddles nips Jill's toes...

The next day Jill arrives for a rehearsal at The Pleasure Garden and shows off her ability to Charleston. Mr Hamilton offers her five pounds a week, she refuses and asks for twenty. He laughs at her audacity and agrees.

Jill's fiance, Hugh, turns up at the apartment - Cuddles seems to love him - while Jill is out at a costume fitting. There is immediate chemistry between Hugh and Patsy but they keep themselves to themselves. Hugh explains that he has to go away for two years to a foreign plantation for his work. His intentions are to save enough money to one day return and marry Jill - meanwhile, Jill is flirting with Mr Hamilton and even implies that she would go further had she her own apartment to entertain guests!
Meanwhile, Hugh introduces his work colleague, Mr Levet, to Patsy.

One night, the two couples go out for dinner at a glitzy nightclub. Mr Hamilton is there and he introduces Prince Ivan to Jill. It appears he has admired her from the Royal box.
Hugh becomes a little jealous but Patsy consoles him by saying she'll keep an eye on her while he is away. Levet seems to be aware of Jill's fickle nature once he's danced with her.

Hugh goes overseas to the plantation and Jill's star begins to ascend. She finds her own apartment and leaves Patsy behind. Patsy tries to make Jill see sense and come down to Earth, but Jill is enjoying herself too much and has extravagant evenings with Prince Ivan. The two girls fall out.

Patsy shares her concerns with Levet (who still has a month before he returns to the plantation) and he makes a pass at her. They decide to make the most of the time they have together and get married(!)
Meanwhile, Jill is becoming quite a diva. She taunts Prince Ivan but then kicks him out. She's treating 'em mean to keep 'em keen.

On the day of the wedding, it's bucketing down with rain - maybe it's an omen.
Levet and Patsy honeymoon in Lake Como but it is evident that despite early days of breakfasts in bed and beautiful Italian scenery, their marriage is perhaps a little rushed. It is Patsy who prays now, for her marriage to be a happy one. In one telling moment, Patsy sees the truth when she notices that Levet has thrown away the rose she gave him. He tells her "it wilted".
When it is time to wave her husband off at the port, she desperately wants him to wave back, but he is already settling down on the deck of the boat, eyeing up another lady.
When he arrives at his destination, a native female awaits - his lover. She dotes on him like a slave upon a master.
Hugh asks Levet about Jill but learns about her engagement to Prince Ivan via a newspaper article - he is distraught!

Patsy is depressed back home having not heard from her husband for weeks. Eventually a letter arrives. Levet's excuse is a bad fever. He tries to ward her off by stating '...this is an unhealthy spot, and not very suitable for Europeans...'
However, his plan to keep her at bay fails and she decides she needs to go out there to see him.
Not being financially stable, she tries to ask Jill for some money - Jill refuses saying she needs all her money to marry the prince. Patsy plucks up the courage to ask about the engagement ring Hugh bought for Jill. Astonished at this audacious statement and bids her farewell.
Patsy returns home in tears. Her landlords understand her plight and kindly offer her their savings.

Eventually, Patsy arrives at the plantation only to find her husband in a drunken, feverish state with the native woman in his arms. Appalled and distressed, she flees. Levet chases after her and struggles with her, but a powerful looking man arrives on horseback just in time. He takes Patsy away to another house where Hugh lies with a fever.
Levet is angry and blames his lover. He then drowns her in the ocean. Rather unfair.

Hugh is so feverish, he thinks Patsy is Jill and he kisses her. Levet catches them and becomes furious. Patsy agrees to go back with him, but upon their return to his hut, Levet is delirious and haunted by the ghost of his lover, triggered by the booze, fever and guilt, one can only imagine. He believes the ghost is telling him to kill Patsy with a sword. He chases after her and just as she cowers before him awaiting her demise, a shot rings out. Levet stands in shock as he notices the blood spill on his shirt, then he crumples to the floor. It is the same man who rescued Patsy before. He takes her back to Hugh.

Patsy feels the loss of her husband by death and her friend by fame, but Hugh comforts her saying she is the only woman for him and they return to her lodgings in Brixton, England.

They are welcomed back with open arms. It appears Patsy should have noticed the dog's intuition. He didn't like Jill or Levet, but never barked at Hugh - it seems he knew all along! Cuddles then chews through the wires of the Landlord's radio, giving comment on his opinion of the wireless.
The End.

Great lines
(Obviously, in these silent days, these are all captioned or onscreen in some form)
Prince Ivan to Jill; "It is a rare pleasure to watch you perform, and I intend to indulge myself often."
If this were a Carry On film, you can expect to hear a Kenneth Williams retort at this point.
Jill's bitchy letter to Patsy reads; " will realise that I couldn't stay in cheap lodgings now I am nearly a star."
Jill even goes so far as to say to Prince Ivan in front of Patsy; " of my casual friends from the chorus is trying to run my life!"

Firstly, may I say how I love the opening shot. A horde of chorus girls clattering down a spiral staircase. This is a superb image of 'beauty meets chaos'. Could it also represent a descent into bawdy mischief as happens to Jill and Levet?

This was Hitchcock's official directorial debut. He was granted the role by producer Michael Balcon. Hitchcock's assistant director was Alma Reville, the woman who not only became his wife, but who also would become a critical force in his career. (Behind every great man...)
Despite a troubled production including customs worries, theft and financial concerns (Hitch had to borrow money from the star, Valli!) the movie was a relative success.

There are a number of Hitchcock motifs making an early debut including his love of voyeurism, shadows, blondes and dogs.

I have watched The Pleasure Garden only twice in my life at this point, but I am bemused how a couple of other sources totally misunderstand the simple story. I guess the two lead characters look awfully similar, but I don't think that warrants such glaring errors in these other synopses. Even the blurb on the back of the DVD seems to be telling a completely different story!

My Verdict
Obviously, as an early piece, we are yet to witness the true genius of Hitchcock's mind - he was 25 years old when he directed The Pleasure Garden and he proves himself to be more than adept at telling a story. The plot is a basic melodrama highlighting the selfishness of humans when lured by temptation, be it sex or fame (or both!) but beneath the drama is a hint of hope and a dash of comedy.
The best is yet to come, but I still give this 6/10 for sheer bravado.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Introduction & Bibliography

I have been a fan of Alfred Hitchcock's work for an awfully long time. I am saddened to say that I cannot remember which was the very first Hitchcock film I saw. I have a sneaking suspicion it was either Psycho or The Birds. The latter is now one of my Top Ten films of all-time along with another Hitchcock classic, Strangers on a Train.

Over the past ten years, I have slowly been accumulating every movie Hitchcock directed on the glorious format of DVD. It has taken me a while, but I have finally achieved my goal. Admittedly, there are some of his movies which are simply unavailable due to the unfortunate fact that they no longer exist.

This blog will chronicle my project in which I attempt to watch each and every film in chronological order (and maybe a few of his directorial jobs on his own TV series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents).
I will give a brief synopsis (trying to avoid major spoilers) and offer comment and critique to the best of my ability. I will also throw in a few interesting facts if I stumble across any.

So, join me! Picture me all snug in my comfies on the settee with a big mug of tea in one hand and a notepad in the other as I take the journey watching a master at work. It will be a sporadic trip, I'm afraid, so don't expect a daily update. It's more of a leisurely stroll.

Below is a list of books that may be of interest. I may use some as a guide whilst I stealthily venture into the dark mind of the genius.

Hitchcock on Hitchcock, Edited by Sidney Gottlieb, 1995
ISBN 0571191363

The complete Hitchcock, Paul Dondon & Jim Sangster, 1999
ISBN 075350362X

The Dark Side of Genius: The Life of Alfred Hitchcock, Donald Spoto, 1983
ISBN 0859652130

Alma Hitchcock: The Woman Behind the Man, Pat Hitchcock O'Connell & Laurent Bouzereau, 2003
ISBN 0425190056

Hitchcock at Work, Bill Krohn, 2000
ISBN 0714843334

The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, Neil Sinyard, 1986
ISBN 0831732210