The Lodger (1944) Blu-ray Review

Gorgeous, atmospheric Gothic thriller from the Golden Age 4 Stars

One of the great Gothic thrillers of Hollywood’s Golden Age, John Brahm’s The Lodger offers a gorgeous production, scintillating performances, and effective, sustained suspense in its story of the Ripper on the loose in Victorian London.

The Lodger (1944)
Released: 19 Jan 1944
Rated: APPROVED
Runtime: 84 min
Director: John Brahm
Genre: Crime, Horror, Mystery
Cast: Merle Oberon, George Sanders, Laird Cregar, Cedric Hardwicke
Writer(s): Barré Lyndon (screen play), Marie Belloc Lowndes (from the novel by)
Plot: A landlady suspects her new lodger is Jack the Ripper.
IMDB rating: 7.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Fox
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 24 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD25 (single layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 12/13/2016
MSRP: $29.95

The Production: 4.5/5

One of the great Gothic thrillers of Hollywood’s Golden Age, John Brahm’s The Lodger offers a gorgeous production, scintillating performances, and effective, sustained suspense in its story of the Ripper on the loose in Victorian London. A wonderful cast and expert, unheralded direction make this one of the best films ever made on the subject of the Whitechapel Murderer, and the lead performance by Laird Cregar is so memorable in its madness and searing pathos that it’s almost unbearable to watch, especially poignant knowing the actor’s tragic life which was about to come to an end.

A string of actresses have been murdered in the Whitechapel district of late, and Scotland Yard Detective Inspector John Warwick (George Sanders) is busy on the trail of the killer, a madman who seems to kill and then wait for the desire to kill to build within him again. Meanwhile, Robert Bonting (Sir Cedric Hardwicke)) and his wife Ellen (Sara Allgood) have hit hard times and must take in a lodger to earn some extra cash. The soft-spoken gentleman who calls himself Mr. Slade (Laird Cregar) and has been let the room keeps odd hours, has a litany of phobias and prejudices (especially against actresses), and conducts experiments in the attic room between sneaking out of the house’s back door and returning in the middle of the night. Bonting’s niece Kitty Langley (Merle Oberon) who also lives in the house is a music hall entertainer who fascinates Slade, but despite his odd behaviors, Robert refuses to believe he’s the man the police are so diligently searching for.

Barre Lyndon’s screenplay based on the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes wasn’t the first version of the book to make it to the screen (Alfred Hitchcock directed a famous silent version of the book in 1927), but its focus on the title character in all his driven manias complete with an incestuous fixation on his dead brother ruined by the love of a flirtatious actress allows the viewer to watch this version of the Ripper up close with attention to his strengths and weaknesses, his furies and his fears with a fascination few movies about the killer have ever offered. Director John Brahm has magnificently captured an expressionistic London filled with swirling fog and deep, heavy shadows (one of the greatest shots in the picture involves Slade running for his life while shadows of scaffolding fly across his face illuminating his madness and amplifying his sense of entrapment) and shot by master cinematographer Lucien Ballard from a variety of interesting angles which sometimes magnifies Slade’s menace and at other times dwarfs him amid the superb backlot London at Fox. Owing to the Production Code, the many murders occur off screen with screams and scurrying passersby providing ample atmosphere for the crimes though the Ripper’s attempt on Kitty’s life is milked for all it’s worth at the climax to the movie, followed by a chase through a shadow-enriched theater that is reminiscent of The Phantom of the Opera.

It’s Laird Cregar’s finest on-screen performance here, exciting and pitiful and threatening and heartbreaking in turn as the maniacal Slade, the actor using his huge frame, expressive eyes, and soft but capably assertive voice to achieve this superb, memorable performance. Merle Oberon is effective, too, as Kitty Langley: beautiful, coquettish, and appealing in a role that’s top-billed but far less important than that of the Ripper. As a music hall performer, Oberon performs two on-screen numbers (vocals dubbed by Lorraine Elliot): “C’est Chic” and “The Parisian Trot” while doing some high stepping while the ensemble does the real dancing behind her. George Sanders as the inspector is more straightforward here than in his usual more sardonic guise and thus less interesting. Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Sara Allgood as the Bontings are excellent: he willing to give Slade the benefit of the doubt as suspicions build against him and she more maternal and understanding as Slade pours his heart out to her about his dead brother. Queenie Leonard as the maid Daisy, Doris Lloyd as a busker named Jennie, and Helena Pickard as one of the tragic victims, failed actress Annie Rowley, all offer solid support.

Video: 4/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s aspect ratio of 1.33:1 is presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is quite striking in this transfer with plenty of details to be gained in close-ups of actors’ faces. Greyscale is good but with blacks that never go quite deep enough. Contrast has been well maintained, difficult for a film so fog-encased, but the encode handles it masterfully. There are some dust specks present, however, and numerous white scratches which have not been removed and sometimes distract. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.

Audio: 3.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is certainly typical of Golden Era Hollywood. Dialogue has been excellently recorded and has been combined with surety with Hugo Friedhofer’s atmospheric, effective score and the sound effects which punctuate the silence with appropriate noises. There is some variance with volume levels, most notably at a reel change when a reduction in volume is quite noticeable and distracting though other age-related problems with hiss or crackle are not present.

Special Features: 4/5

Audio Commentaries: there are two on the disc. The better by a wide margin is the outstanding commentary by Laird Cregar biographer Gregory William Mank who not only gives us background on the star but analyzes the movie’s direction and cinematography and identifies not only the stars but offers career highlights on even smaller featured players. The second commentary track by Alain Silver and James Ursini carried over from the DVD release is a very lacking off-the-cuff set of comments by the two noir historians who haven’t done much homework on the movie and don’t seem really to admire it very much.

The Man in the Attic: The Making of The Lodger (15:37, SD): historians Kim Newman, Dr. Drew Casper, Steve Haberman, Stephen Jones, Christopher Wicking, and Gregory Mank offer historical facts on the Ripper case and give background on the stars and production of the movie.

The Lodger Vintage Radio Show (29:58): a 1946 radio version of the film starring Vincent Price and Cathy Lewis.

Restoration Comparison (1:34, SD): split screen shots of three scenes from the film showing the 2007 restoration work done on the movie.

Theatrical Trailer (2:14, SD)

Image Gallery (5:21, HD): a handsome collection of publicity materials and stills shown in montage.

Promo Trailers: The Undying Monster, I Wake Up Screaming.

Overall: 4/5

A beautifully produced and expertly acted Gothic thriller, The Lodger is a masterful suspense picture from the Golden Age of Hollywood. While the Blu-ray doesn’t quite offer a pristine video and audio encode, the release still comes with a firm recommendation.

Published by

Matt Hough

author,editor

21 Comments

  1. One has to afford a (well-deserved) tip-of-the-hat to Kino-Lorber Studio Classics for making available blu-ray releases of genuinely prestigious screen horror masterpieces from the Golden Age of Cinema conspicuously exhibiting such outstanding consummate quality in production, performance and execution.

    Laird Cregar is a name that should be (well) remembered and respected to be sure.  It's unfortunate that his life was prematurely curtailed so short a span.

    His Mr. Slade elicits far more audience empathy and sympathy than the so-called forces-of-righteous good do in this compelling and hauntingly tragic and darkly grim drama.

    An excellent acquisition for those aesthetic appreciative fans who marvel at and are enamoured with such similarly accomplished works as THE CAT PEOPLE (1942) and CARNIVAL OF SOULS (1962).

    Thank you Kino for all the great work!

    Jeff T.

    😉

  2. This is one of those undiscovered gems I had never heard of until recently and I simply love it. I had never heard of Laird Cregar either, but he is quickly becoming one of my favorites of all time. Mank’s commentary is outstanding and worth the price of admission here. Love it when he says, “The marriage didn’t last” when discussing how Sanders treated his wife basically keeping her locked up as a slave. The print is a little underwhelming but I’m sure it was the best they could do with what they had. The cinematography and production design and every element of this film is top rate. Love the lighting on Cregar’s eyes!

  3. I have to offer the other opinion – first off, I love the movie itself, love Cregar and Oberon and Sanders and everyone else, the atmosphere and the Friedhofer score, but I’m really not certain how this could ever be thought of as a 4.5 out of 5 transfer – there are all the problems noted in the review so that right there should mean something, but it’s just not a good transfer at all – it has annoying contrast fluctuations, and while some of it is okay sharpness-wise, other parts almost border on out of focus. I don’t know what generation negative this is from but it’s not anywhere near the original and I believe it to be the same as what was used for the DVD. I’m happy to have it, in the same way I’m happy to have The Barefoot Contessa, but neither of those transfers are anywhere near what they should be.

  4. I have to offer the other opinion – first off, I love the movie itself, love Cregar and Oberon and Sanders and everyone else, the atmosphere and the Friedhofer score, but I'm really not certain how this could ever be thought of as a 4.5 out of 5 transfer – there are all the problems noted in the review so that right there should mean something, but it's just not a good transfer at all – it has annoying contrast fluctuations, and while some of it is okay sharpness-wise, other parts almost border on out of focus.  I don't know what generation negative this is from but it's not anywhere near the original and I believe it to be the same as what was used for the DVD.  I'm happy to have it, in the same way I'm happy to have The Barefoot Contessa, but neither of those transfers are anywhere near what they should be.

    He gave the movie a 4.5 out of 5 grade.  The video presentation is graded 4.0 out of 5 with his noted comments.  Now, you can argue that the grade should've been lower, but such differences of opinion are the norm with just about every review.  I hope to have this BD once the price drops a little more and I'll share my opinion of this disc at that time.

  5. Thanks for the fantastic review, Matt!

    I was interested in this because of loving the Hitchcock version, and the fact that it has two commentary tracks by fellas I usually enjoy listening to. Unfortunately, I have to agree with your assessment of the Silver and Ursini commentary. After loving their discussion on Twilight Time’s The Egyptian Blu-ray, I was really looking forward to this. I gave the Mank track a listen and it was fantastic. I started Googling folks like David Bacon after listening to it.

    I had never heard of Laird Cregar and now I defiantly want to check out his other films.

  6. Thanks, Mark.

    Any time a commentary offers information I wasn't aware of or privy to, I want to celebrate it, and, like you, go off to do research of my own. When commentators are obviously sitting there talking without having done any preparation or have nothing distinctive to say, I always feel like I've wasted my time.

  7. Thanks, Mark.

    Any time a commentary offers information I wasn't aware of or privy to, I want to celebrate it, and, like you, go off to do research of my own. When commentators are obviously sitting there talking without having done any preparation or have nothing distinctive to say, I always feel like I've wasted my time.

    I've listened to both commentaries and though the commentary you're referencing isn't ground-breaking with any new information, I can't agree with some of your harsh comments about it.  Furthermore, the Mank commentary was completed recently while the Silver and Ursini commentary is about 10 years old and perhaps they were out of their film noir expertise.  Mank, clearly had more information due to his recent Cregar biography.

  8. Sorry, Crawdaddy, we'll just have to agree to disagree about this one. The age of the original commentary has nothing to do with the amount of research (or lack thereof) that the two commentators put into their track. The character actors they failed to identify or give credence to were certainly researchable had they taken the time to do it. It's to me a slapdash effort.

  9. Sorry, Crawdaddy, we'll just have to agree to disagree about this one. The age of the original commentary has nothing to do with the amount of research (or lack thereof) that the two commentators put into their track. The character actors they failed to identify or give credence to were certainly researchable had they taken the time to do it. It's to me a slapdash effort.

    You got that right!  However, you still didn't address the example I noted as I read your review before I watched the commentary, thus, was looking at whether they gave enough praise to this film.  IMO, they certainly did and I just can't agree with your assertion that they didn't fully appreciate this film.

  10. Do they come out and say they dislike the movie? No, but the general intimation is that they have reservations about it that I don't think hold water. But my primary criticism was that their track didn't contain rudimentary research that usually goes into the commentaries they have done so well with in other releases. That was, and remains, my biggest reservation.

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