“But when the evil is cut out of a beautiful thing, then only the beauty remains.”
There is a murderer in the Whitechapel section of London and he has just claimed his fourth victim. The papers call him Jack the Ripper. While the police are busy with the latest murder victim a tall man is walking along the dark streets. He stops at the home of Robert (Cedric Hardwicke) and Ellen (Sara Allgood) Bonting. The Bonting’s have a room to let. The man calls himself Mr. Slade (Laird Cregar). He rents the room and the attic. He says he is a pathologist and needs not only a place to sleep but a place for research and some experiments. The attic is perfect for his needs. He pays a month in advance. He says he prefers solitude and is prone to being out at odd hours of the night. There are pictures on the walls of actresses. He turns them to face the wall. He claims the eyes in the pictures follow him around the room. He is quiet but intensely odd.
When he meets the Bonting’s niece Kitty Langley (Merle Oberon) he stares at her. Kitty is an actress and she lives with the Bontings. The longer Mr. Slade stays at the Bontings the stranger he seems. Mrs. Bonting begins to get suspicious of her lodger but each time she expresses a concern her husband finds a reasonable answer for Slade’s behavior. Even so, Mrs. Bonting doesn’t want her niece to be alone with the eerie Slade. One day when Kitty is accidentally left alone in the house, Slade becomes sinister and talks to her about how his brother was destroyed by beauty and that a man can hate what is beautiful and destroy it. It’s then when Mr. Bonting returns home.
After that both Mr. and Mrs. Bonting are convinced their lodger is the one and only Jack the Ripper. Inspector John Warwick (George Sanders) is with Scotland Yard. While investigating one of the ripper murders he had the opportunity to meet the beautiful Kitty and the Bontings. After the scene between Slade and Kitty the Bontings call the Inspector and tell him of their suspicions. Without evidence there is nothing the Inspector can do except keep a watchful eye on Mr. Slade.
“The Lodger” was released in 1944 and was directed by John Brahm. This is the third of, so far, five movie adaptations of the story “The Lodger” by Marie Belloc Lowndes. There was also a comic stage adaptation titled “Who is He?” that had been done. The first film adaptation was a silent movie released in 1927 by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Ivor Novello and titled “The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog”. The movie was again redone in 1932 as a ‘talkie’. This time it was directed by Maurice Elvey and called “The Phantom Fiend”. It also starred Ivor Novello. After the 1944 adaptation the next version was done in 1953 and titled “The Man in the Attic” with Jack Palance and directed by Hugo Fregonese. The final re-make was in 2009. This version was titled “The Lodger”. It was directed by David Ondaatje and starred Alfred Molina. There was also a TV version done in 1965.
Since this movie was made in 1944 the Hayes Code was in full swing. The victims in the movie were changed from prostitutes to actresses. Apparently killing prostitutes was a no-no but brutally slicing actresses was OK. Since everyone knows this is Jack the Ripper and he killed prostitutes the change seems a little disingenuous.
This was the second to the last movie that Laird Cregar did before he died, his last being “Hangover Square”. His performance in “The Lodger” was chilling. Told, basically, in the view of Mr. Slade, the supposed ripper, it’s quite captivating and, although he is sufficiently creepy and haunting your never really know for sure if he is the actual ripper or not. There is just a twinge of doubt that can be raised in looking at all the facts. Yes, he is insane and, yes, he is obsessed over Kitty but is he the ripper?
This is one of my new favorite movies.