With all England horrified by the fiendish exploits of Jack the Ripper, a London family slowly becomes concerned by the strange habits of THE LODGER who has rented rooms upstairs...
Atmospheric & creepy, this is one of the great suspense films. Based on the celebrated 1913 horror novel of Marie Belloc Lowndes, the movie memorably captures the panic & paranoia which reigned in London during the Ripper crimes. Using the full palette of shades available to black & white cinematography, the movie creates a chilling, eerie, atmosphere in which one can walk Whitechapel's narrow streets with the murderer.
Laird Cregar mesmerizes in the title role, his great, strange eyes following the viewer like those in the portraits he detests. He is the very picture of obsession & madness. Although lovely Merle Oberon & stalwart George Sanders do very well as the romantic leads, it is Cregar, his tremendous bulk moving silently through the shadows, who will remain in viewers' imaginations.
As the landlords, Sara Allgood & Sir Cedric Hardwicke are exceptional, portraying basically quiet people who come to the alarming conclusion that all is not right in their household. A solid group of character actors - Queenie Leonard, Helena Pickard, Anita Sharp-Bolster, Lumsden Hare - also give vivid performances. Movie mavens will recognize uncredited turns by Billy Bevan as a bartender and, behind the mustache, little Charlie Hall, veteran of many a Laurel & Hardy comedy, as the music hall comedian whose song is interrupted by the Ripper's last attack.
Special mention should be made of British Doris Lloyd (1896-1968), an excellent actress usually seen only in tiny bit roles, often uncredited. Here, unforgettably, she gets to deliver a short, sharp lesson in utter terror as the last of the Ripper's victims. Arriving in Hollywood during the Silent Era, Miss Lloyd would continue to grace small movie moments for decades to come.
Laird Cregar is one of the great What Ifs? of American cinema. Arising out of obscurity, this young actor quickly showed a remarkable talent and was quite soon given featured & starring roles, of which THE LODGER is the most memorable. Alas, his star was to blink out as fast as it rose. Wishing to move into leading & romantic parts, he subjected his 300-pound frame to an extreme crash diet. His body responded with a massive heart attack, killing him only a few months after THE LODGER's release. He was 28 years old.
The film gives a somewhat fictionalized account of the depredations of Jack the Ripper, his identity & the true names of his victims being the most obvious changes. From August 7th to November 10th, 1888, a killer who would become known as Jack the Ripper horrifically butchered seven prostitutes in London's East End, committing acts of such barbaric savagery on the bodies as to be positively bestial. He was never caught, despite a huge public outcry and tremendous efforts from Scotland Yard. In the intervening years there have been numerous suggestive solutions to his identity put forward, some quite fanciful, but no proofs have ever been posited. Jack took his terrible secrets with him to the grave.