Budget: $12 thousand
Production compaines: Carlyle Blackwell Productions
Contactmusic.com: 5 / 5
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Producer: Michael Balcon, Carlyle Blackwell
Screenwriter: Eliot Stannard
As a killer who calls himself the Avenger preys on fair-haired women in London, Mr and Mrs Bunting (Chesney and Ault) begin to fear for their blonde daughter Daisy (June). Thankfully, she's being courted by cocky detective Joe (Keen), who's sure he can protect her and catch the Avenger. Then a shy, strikingly good-looking young man (Novello) rents a room in their home. As Daisy's affections quietly shift from Joe to this new lodger, her parents begin to worry about who he is. And Joe's jealousy makes him suspicious as well.
Based on a novel that set out a theory about Jack the Ripper, the film is a blackly comical exploration of events that would still have been in the communal consciousness. Hitchcock continually injects jarring images and raw emotions that undermine the central mystery, which results in much more heightened suspense as we begin to actually care about these people. And the way he builds a sense of city-wide panic, police incompetence and media hyperbole is eerily timeless.
Even if we're unsure if the lodger is innocent, Novello's sympathetic, haunted performance puts us on his side. And his tender scenes with June are tinged with a sense of impending heartbreak. We also fully understand the parental concern that oozes from Ault's pores as she spies on the lodger. By contrast, Keen's portrayal of Joe's increasing possessiveness and arrogance turn him into the true villain of the piece, even as we understand why he does this.
In other words, this silent film is far more textured and expressive than almost any police thriller in recent memory. And the BFI's restoration is simply gorgeous, refreshing the graphic title cards and re-introducing the original colour-tinting to emphasise Hitchcock's striking visual style. More controversially, Nitin Sawhney's new score includes a couple of vocal ballads that hauntingly echo the mood but feel jarring after the lush instrumentals.
Although this also beings out the film's resonant story and universal themes, which are powerfully relevant 85 years later.