Picked up the Legends of Horror 50 Movie Pack (here is the link to the Amazon.com listing for it, though it is cheaper by an order of eight or so dollars to get it from Best Buy or BestBuy.com). For those not in the know of how these things work, Mill Creek Entertainment takes a collection of public domain and non-PD but generally uncontested movies and boxes them up in rough thematic boxsets that ignore the theme half the time. You see them as 50-movie, or 20-movie, or 100-movie, or similar denominations. The modus operandi seems to be putting the disks inside of paper sleeves inside of the box, which protects more than you think (and are easier to manipulate than the stiffer cardboard sleeves, but you might want to slap these into a jewel case if you are of the sort). The overall set seems to be a "best of" sampling from some of its other sets, with a dozen or so new movies and, what's more, a dozen or so early Alfred Hitchcock movies. Best-of being in quotes because these are, excepting the Hitchcock movies, generally ranked from about 1.5-6.0 on IMDB, and are more often than not referred to as "fodder for an MST3k theme night with the friends!". I really like the kind of weird schlocky stuff that most people toss into the waste-bin, or, more importantly, I am fascinated with the act of seeing what was once made with care and love and is now disposable, so I have bought a couple of sets like this.
This is not a review of the set, though, but a shout out to one of the gems of the set: The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog (IMDB.com, Wikipedia). This is a 1927 (some sources say 1928) silent movie by Hitchcock involving a serial killer—"The Avenger"—who has been preying (every Tuesday night) on young, blonde women. In the midst of this, a young, attractive, strange lodger comes to stay at a house of a couple whose daughter fits the standard victim type: attractive, young blonde. Her current beau is a police officer, who is assigned to work the case shortly into the film, but she begins to fall for the fidgety, secretive lodger. As the story progresses, the cop (now ex-) boyfriend begins to suspect the lodger, as do the parents, and the script starts asking the question: are they right to suspect him, or are they just manipulating the daughter into going back to her more respectable boyfriend? Towards the end, the movie whips back and forth, first settling on "he IS the Avenger" and then whipping back around to "he is NOT the Avenger" before coming to the ending, a moderately happy one that may or may not be ambigious depending on who you talk to. I am of the sort that says the ending is a little ambigious, but not enough so.
The film is fascinating for a few reasons. First off, this is Hitchcock's first real foray into the genre that he later became the grand-master of: suspense thrillers. It is often, by his mind, his first film. His earlier films were lost, or incomplete, or disrupted by troubles to a degree that he more or less considered them well and gone. Secondly, Hitchcock did some interesting stuff with intertitles, eschewing them in places and having whole scenes without them (the conversations implied through action, through some obvious lipreading moments, and through signs or cues in the background) and in other places using cues that serve double meaning. There are some double exposure shots, and a scene with a glass ceiling to show the lodger pacing in his upstairs room that is worth some merit. Third, and finally, this movie is a product of the production cycle. The lodger was originally supposed to be more unambigiously a bad guy, a dangerous recluse. Apparently when Ivor Novello (looking so much like Crispin Glover that it is unnerving in scenes) came on board, the producers felt that he was too good looking, or too liked, to be made a bad guy. This lead to a classic shuffle to try and work out a more positive ending, which lead to a compromise in places to make it a little more workable. The 1927 version of the movie (there ended up being three or four remakes, including a recent one only a few years old) leaves out the real killer, now that Novello was not to be one. Leading to much speculation. Does this mean that Novello's lodger really is the killer afterall (did Hitchcock sneak it by?), either giving up his life of crime now that he has found a replacement for his sister he may or may not have killed or biding his time before he strikes again? Or was it really just a morality tale about suspecting others, to the point of mob violence, based merely on their being "strange"? Those who like the former point out that the sign used earlier in the movie—"TO-NIGHT GOLDEN CURLS, TO-NIGHT GOLDEN CURLS", to indicate a murder—is shown in the background in the last, "happy" scene. Potentially implying that he is about to kill again.
There are a few versions out there. If free is your schtick, then [Internet] Archive.org has a copy. Keep in mind that the music used on this one is atrocious. Well, atrociously chosen, anyhow. At least the first song chosen (watch it with sound to see what I mean, then turn off the sound and fire up some ambient or something). If you would rather a DVD, you have the aforementioned Legends of Horror and a quick glance on Amazon.com shows a couple of other DVD sets using the "pub-dom" (the movie is not in public domain, but the older, scratchier print is often traded around as though it was) version. Most charge about ten dollars for the scratchy, grainy one. There is an older box-set of Hitchcock early films, and a newer one that has a lot of reports of disk error. Looks like the best, prettiest, version to aim for is the MGM 2009 re-release (which confusingly lists the year of production as 1926, adding a third possible candidate to the year the movie was made). Not only is the quality better, but the score is more authentic (as in, I think it is the intended score) and the tinting is added back. Those who mostly watch silent movie clips don't often realize that many silent movies used mild to heavy tinting (swaths of color across the whole screen, usually) to imply moood, changes in light, or a rough background coloration (forest scenes might be green with desert scenes an amber color). You are looking at dropping from fifteen to twenty dollars for this, though, on the order of the Kino silent movie restorations, so probably watch the unrestored version first to see if you like the plot.
For those curious, the movie is based on a book, which is itself free. You can download a copy of Marie Adelaide Belloc Lowndes novel—also known as The Lodger&mdas;through Project Gutenberg. Note that the book is set in 19th century White Chapel. I'll let you guess who the lodger "really" is (at least was a stand in for) in the original novel.
Si Vales, Valeo
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Written by Doug Bolden
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