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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Lodger (1944) (Blu-ray)
The Lodger (1944) (Blu-ray)
Kino // Unrated // December 13, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Randy Miller III | posted December 12, 2016 | E-mail the Author

As the third of five films based on Marie Lowndes' 1913 Jack the Ripper novel---and arriving 18 years after Hitchcock's 1926 silent version, all but confirmed on Blu-ray from Criterion next year---John Brahm's The Lodger (1944) remains a standout chiller with great direction, stylish cinematography, and memorable performances by its three leads. The best of the bunch is from Laird Cregar ("Mr. Slade"), just 30 years old during production, who lost a lot of weight for his role and died from a heart attack 11 months after its release. Still imposing at well over six feet and 250 pounds, the wide-eyed Cregar steals almost every scene as a man who we immediately recognize as prime suspect in the ongoing Ripper murders. Unfortunately, The Lodger's other characters don't catch on as quickly.

Mr. Slade is the newly-arrived paying guest of Robert and Ellen Bonting (Sir Cedric Hardwicke and Sara Allgood), who were looking to rent a few rooms and recoup financial losses. Slade offers five generous pounds a week for use of their second and third floors, ensuring that he'll be an unobtrusive and respectful guest despite keeping odd hours. His pleasant, charming demeanor intensifies with the arrival of the Bontings' attractive niece Kitty Langley (Merle Oberon, with dubbed singing vocals from Lorraine Elliott), recently back from Paris working on her cheeky cabaret act. Her London debut is fast approaching, and that's about the only thing locals are looking forward to; otherwise, paranoia and fear run absolutely rampant with each new report of another grisly Ripper murder. It's obvious from the early going that Slade's infatuation with Kitty will turn ugly before the credits roll...but like all great suspense films, it's the slow and steady build-up that gives The Lodger most of its considerable staying power.

Not surprisingly, the delicate balance between "charming outsider" and "unhinged monster" is what makes Cregar's performance the film's most memorable highlight...and though it doesn't contain many surprises for first-time viewers, The Lodger still manages to create and maintain extremely effective suspense with such a strong anchor. Not far behind is the striking cinematography by Lucien Ballard (True Grit, The Wild Bunch, and Stanley Kubrick's The Killing); this late 19th-century tale all but demands endless shadows and fog-soaked cobblestone landscapes, with creative lighting techniques and camera angles catching us off guard at all the right moments.

Equally impressive is John Brahm's tight direction: based on a screenplay by Barré Lyndon (pseudonym of playwright Alfred Edgar, who also wrote Cregar's final film Hangover Square), The Lodger wastes little time during its 84 minute lifespan. Our attention is shifted between Slade's sneaky exploits, the mounting suspicion of his housemates, and the eventual investigation of Scotland Yard Inspector John Warwick (George Sanders), who seems more in tune with audience expectations than anyone else. Though everyone but the latter seems far too trusting for far too long---which undoubtedly keeps the film from reaching even greater heights---The Lodger remains a gripping adaptation of durable source material that was perhaps only bested by Hitchcock's version. It's so sleek and stylish that die-hard fans can enjoy picking it apart as much as curious newcomers will love soaking in the gas-lit atmosphere.

Last released on home video as part of Fox's Horror Classics DVD Collection in 2008 (alongside The Undying Monster and Hangover Square, both also directed by Brahm), The Lodger earns a third life on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber. Unfortunately, the drawbacks---or at least mild disappointments---outweigh the highlights here: it's sourced from the same slightly underwhelming restoration as Fox's DVD and the extras are all recycled, aside from an excellent new audio commentary. So while we don't quite get a definitive high-def release of this overlooked gem, The Lodger is still a terrific film worth discovering---or revisiting---more than seven decades after its original release.

Video & Audio Quality

Presented in its original 1.37:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of The Lodger only represents a courtesy bump from Fox's 2008 DVD, as it makes use of the same restoration that's almost a decade old at this point. This is more than a little disappointing: though generally free from dirt and debris, The Lodger's foggy exterior shots and dimly-lit indoor scenes tend to be problematic with clumpy grain that often looks more messy than mysterious. Shadow detail and black levels are also uneven, although the rare daytime shots and many close-ups fare much better in comparison. One wonders whether or not The Lodger will ever look much better on home video: this was obviously difficult source material to work with and, to an extent, its slightly rough appearance occasionally adds to the suspense. But a fresh new scan certainly couldn't have hurt, as this Blu-ray rarely impresses from start to finish.


DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.

The DTS-HD 1.0 Master audio track is equally underwhelming, if not slightly more so. Although dialogue and music are generally clear (or at least intelligible), the track as a whole sounds somewhat muffled and gauzy; this may or may not be as good as it gets for The Lodger, but I've heard dozens of better-sounding films from this era. The only real highlight here is a lack of surround gimmickry, as at least this straight mono mix is an accurate representation of the film's one-channel roots. Optional English subtitles have been included during the main feature only.

Menu Design & Packaging

Kino's presentation is great, with a vintage illustration used for the menu background and eye-catching poster art for the front cover. The 84-minute film is divided into a modest eight chapters, with other sub-menus for subtitle setup and extras. This one-disc package arrives in a standard keepcase with plain gray disc art and no inserts.

.

Bonus Features

There's one new extra of note on Kino's disc: a feature-length Audio Commentary with Gregory William Mank, author of the forthcoming Hollywood Ripper: The Rise and Fall of Laird Cregar and other film-related books. Topics include Cregar's unusual fan mail (and lots more trivia about the actor, not surprisingly), the foggy set design, lighting and effects, historical accuracy, Barré Lyndon's screenplay, British censorship, the film's $869,300 budget (larger than Citizen Kane), the supporting cast, differences from other adaptations of the story, John Brahm's direction, inventive camera angles, Cregar's final year of life, lots of quotes, and more. It's an informative and organized track with very little dead air, and fans unfamiliar with Mank's work will definitely appreciate it even more.

Everything from Fox's 2008 boxed set is carried over as well, which is appreciated. Recycled extras include an Audio Commentary with film historians Alain Silver & James Ursini, the short but enjoyable "Man in the Attic: The Making of The Lodger" featurette (15:37), a Vintage Radio Production of The Lodger performed by Vincent Price and Cathy Lewis (29:58), an outdated and underwhelming Restoration Comparison (16:17), an Image Gallery (5:21), the film's rough-looking Theatrical Trailer (2:16), and two more for The Undying Monster and I Wake Up Screaming.

There's very little mystery surrounding John Brahm's The Lodger; we know where the real danger lies within minutes, if not sooner. But that doesn't stop it from maintaining plenty of suspense courtesy of Brahm's strong direction, Lucien Ballard's stunning cinematography, and an extremely memorable performance by Laird Cregar in one of his last film appearances. It's quite chilling and a decade or two ahead of its time; not surprisingly, The Lodger holds up perfectly more than 70 years later and remains a career highlight for almost everyone involved. Kino's Blu-ray is a welcome upgrade from Fox's 2008 boxed set, though not overwhelmingly so: it's sourced from an older restoration and the extras are mostly recycled, although Gregory Mank's excellent new commentary is appreciated. Overall, this is a welcome package that comes firmly Recommended to die-hard fans and curious newcomers alike.


Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.
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