Approved, but it is a story about Jack the Ripper that somehow gets creepier than the legend today. There's talk about cutting the evil out of women to save their beauty. It gets really disturbing, especially the closer the movie gets to the end. Think about it. This is a story about a serial killer that preys on women. It's The Silence of the Lambs for 1944. Okay, he isn't making a skin suit, but that's probably just because he hasn't thought about it.
DIRECTOR: John Brahm
I thought I was watching Hitchcock's remake of his original, okay? I thought he pulled a The Man Who Knew Too Much and that he remade his own movie. Occasionally, I have a lot of dishes and I have a Google Home. So I put on a public domain movie. I thought that maybe some of Hitchcock's earlier films could have been on YouTube because they're public domain. This showed up on a Hitchcock playlist. I was looking away when the director's name came up and now I'm just listing excuses for why I watched a whole movie thinking that someone else directed it.
Which may be giving John Brahm the best applause I could have given. I had seen The Lodger: Story of the London Fog years ago. It was a terrible print and, as much as I appreciate silent film, I have to be in the right headspace for it. Also, silent film and doing dishes doesn't really work because you really have to focus on that screen the entire time. But I was watching the 1944 remake of The Lodger and I was kind of wrapped up in it. Story of the London Fog, Hitchcock's entry, is good. It is a fine film full of suspense. But it is also Hitchcock's early days. He's a guy who lives around the concept of gesamkunstwerk, or total art. (Okay, I realize that no film is total art, but he plays around with that a bit.) As cool as his silent stuff is, a lot of his suspense comes from dialogue and music. Brahm has a bit of an advantage telling the story of The Lodger with the advent of sound. Like Hitchcock, Brahm uses sound and the absence of sound to tell a richer story than what could have been done in Story of the London Fog.
The Lodger does the smart thing and makes the murderer something greater than the conflict. Mr. Slade is, well he's crazy. But he's also a real character in the story. Listen, I knew that he was the killer. I think we all knew. I'm going beyond the "he's acting crazy" element of the story. It's not like there's gonna be a curveball that exonerates him as he kills the actual Jack the Ripper. But he is this guy who doesn't want to be the Ripper. He's not mustache twirling. He's a dude who misses his brother. He seems to actually like the family he's with. It seems like this is commonplace for today's storytelling, but I can't deny that there's something really impressive about this movie coming out in 1944. Really, much of the movie, despite being a fairly simple plot, is fabulous because it is a movie outside of time. The scariest villains are the ones that we consider to be in places of security. Yeah, I'm not advocating for fearing our neighbor. But The Lodger touches on the concept that anyone could be a serial killer. I will admit that Laird Cregar as Mr. Slade looks like a killer and has a name that sounds like a killer, both in character and in real life. But the film keeps reminding us that everyone looks like a killer if you only look at elements of a personality.
Kyle Kinane has this great bit about Jack the Ripper. I recommend you check it out and check Kyle Kinane out because he's the best. But he's got this bit about how Jack the Ripper only killed five people. Now, I'm sure a lot of the movie comes from artistic license, but the film feels like Jack the Ripper was this unstoppable force. It's absolutely terrifying. I think I have been broken by knowing too much about the Golden State Killer and all the many many horrible people on our planet that don't happen to be the president. But there is a certain sense of terror. Part of it is that Jack the Ripper doesn't simply relegate himself to the part of history or as a statistic. We start to bond with the family.
That bonding with the family is something that I see in Hitchcock films, again reaffirming that I thought this was a Hitchcock movie. The movie is about a guy who carves up women. Check. But the family involved in the story is this quirky mess, something out of Arsenic and Old Lace. Okay, maybe not that far. But there's a loving feeling that contrasts the evil of Mr. Slade. They are relatable and adorable. Kitty and the inspector, while being a bit of a convenient situation for the Jack the Ripper murder, seem to honestly like each other. There's this family dynamic. That's why the suspense is so good. We instantly love these characters for all of their foibles. While it is unlikely that the movie made in 1944 would murder these characters off in a grizzly fashion, we all hold onto that lie that we cherish that these people are in danger. They act as avatars for our real families. They may be exaggerated versions of reality, but I love that they are fully developed characters.
Here's the thing that really sells me on the Hitchcock directing insanity I'm running with: that ending. I keep flashing to moments like The Man Who Knew Too Much and Strangers on a Train. There's this moment that is filled with people that compounds the climax to levels unseen in other films. With The Man Who Knew Too Much, there were two scenes like that. There's the assassination at the Royal Albert Hall, followed by the "Que Sera Sera" sequence at the embassy. Strangers on a Train had the tennis match. With The Lodger, there's Kitty's performance where she's on stage. It's this mass of chaos. There are so many places where things could go wrong and they do. It's this insanely choreographed mass of confusion and it parallels Slade's obsessive and paranoid choices. We get to see Slade for all his insane glory and the world around him is trampling each other at every opportunity. It's this great ending.
I don't know if it's the fact that I didn't know that this wasn't directed by Hitch, but the movie held up for me amazingly. It's very very British, but I'm cool with that. It seems like a movie out of time, full of characters that I care about. It works more than it should. Regardless, I may go back for a Story of the London Fog rewatch sometime.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.