Tuesday, July 19, 2011


This is the first time I’ve ever done a trailer alert on this blog, but hey, this is the brand new film from my favourite director, Martin Scorsese (ok, I’ve actually got three favourite directors, with Brian De Palma and David Lynch rounding out the other spots), and because of that, I feel the need to promote it.

However before I talk about the trailer, I just want to mention this disturbing new trend of dumbing down the titles of films to their lowest common denominator.  This is a practice becoming much more frequent in the U.S and it is driving me insane.  The original title for this film was “The Invention Of Hugo Cabret”, which is a great title not just because it is the title of the book that the film is based, but because it has a sense of magic to it.  However during production it was revealed that the title would be shortened to “Hugo Cabret”, which made me irate.  Imagine how I felt about a week ago when it was announced that the new title was just “Hugo”.  What the hell?!?  That is the dumbest, most generic title they could have thought of.  I’m still holding out hope that European countries may still use the full title, but I just do not know yet.  Unfortunately, “Hugo” isn’t the only victim to this practice with other new films suffering similar fates: Francis Ford Coppola’s “Twixt Now And Sunrise” is now called “Twixt”, Roman Polanski’s “God Of Carnage” has been changed to “Carnage”, and “John Carter Of Mars” is now simply “John Carter”.  This is ludicrous and it has to stop.

Anyway, let’s briefly talk about this trailer.  This is Scorsese’s new film and it is something completely different from him because “Hugo” is his first family film.  Now on first impressions you may think that this looks nothing like a Scorsese film, however I have now watched this trailer many, many times and it is very easy to distinguish Scorsese’s strong visual style throughout.  There are a number of shots that are similar from a variety of his films.  The shot with the paper flying around the room looks almost identical to one from “Shutter Island”, Hugo looking through the robot is like a shot from “The Aviator”, the sweeping shot of Paris that begins the trailer is very similar to the beginning of “Gangs Of New York”, just to name a few.  My favourite thing that Scorsese has done is, like in the first half of “The Aviator”, he is emulating the look of 2-strip Technicolor for this film.  I’m a huge fan of the look of 2-strip, with its strange blues and reds, which is evident throughout this trailer.  Like “The Aviator” the film is set in the time period (the 1930’s) when 2-strip was used, and also like the previous film, “Hugo” has a connection to cinema past (in the story Hugo meets Georges Melies, who was the godfather of all cinema, especially of special effects).

The film was also shot in 3D and from the looks of the tracking shot through the station, it appears that Scorsese is using the technique to create depths to his images (which is when 3D is at its best), rather than just having things come out of the screen (although there are some of those too, see the end of the trailer).  I have not read the book the film is based on, but from what I hear it is about, this trailer does not represent the film properly, making it look more like a silly slapstick comedy.  I also do not think the music from the trailer really fits with the kind of film this is and the images that are on display (still, I am warming to it).  So while I am still excited to see this film, I do not think that this is a great trailer for it.  Anyway, check it out yourself and make up your own mind.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Right up front I want to be honest and admit that I may not be intelligent enough to do this film justice, so I apologize if my account of the film barely touches the surface of what “The Tree Of Life” is all about.

Terrence Malick is an amazing director, he is incredibly intelligent and makes films like no other.  He is also not very prolific, in the four decades he has been making films, “The Tree Of Life” is only his fifth film.  However they are all of such incredibly high quality that, amongst cinephiles, it is always an event when a new Malick film is released.  My own relationship with the films of Terrence Malick are as follows, I adore both “Badlands” and “The Thin Red Line”, but I am embarrassed to say I found “The New World” (as beautiful as it was) a bore (and I only watched the shorter theatrical cut).  Amazingly I still have not gotten around to seeing “Days Of Heaven” yet, but I will be rectifying that very soon, as in a couple of months time, The Astor cinema is doing a season dedicated to Malick where they will be screening all of his film in 35mm.  Anyway, due to the way I reacted to his previous film, “The New World”, and what I had read about “The Tree Of Life” beforehand, I was actually a little scared that this film was going to be a two hour and fifteen minute borefest.  The fact that the film had been polarizing audiences wherever it played (including Cannes, where it premiered) certainly didn’t help my fears, but this was Malick, and I was always going to see the film, so what was my reaction?

First , the story.  There are three distinct parts to “The Tree Of Life”, but the heart of the film takes place in the 1950’s in Waco, Texas, where we follow the O’Brien family which consists of three boys and their parents.  Right at the start of the film, we are witness to the news that the middle boy, R. L, has died (we never find out how).  Upon hearing the news, we see Mrs. O’Brien (Jessica Chastain) and Mr. O’Brien (Brad Pitt) break down and via voice-over narration we hear Mrs. O’Brien questioning God, asking Him where He was when her son died.

This question sets in motion the now infamous “creation” sequence.  For the next twenty minutes we are witness to the creation of the world, and eventually of the life that inhabits it.  From the first signs of life (a jellyfish) to the dinosaurs, to the ice-age that made them extinct, all the way through evolution, until it ends in the birth of Jack (the oldest O’Brien boy) who symbolizes the birth of all humanity.  Immediately after this we see a few brief glimpses of Jack as an adult (played by Sean Penn), which are set in the present.  The reason for this, is to indicate to the audience that what we are about to see, the small flashes in the lives of the O’Brien family, are actually memories from the adult Jack.  It is the anniversary of his brother’s death and he is still struggling with his passing, as well as his troubled relationship with his father.

This brings me to the final part of the film which doesn’t belong in reality rather it is more of a visual representation of the spiritual catharsis that Jack goes through to be at peace with himself and to set him on the path of grace, which is something he is searching for throughout the film.  It would be wise of me to mention at this point that “The Tree Of Life” does not follow a normal narrative structure.  We are fed little bits and pieces of Jack’s life very quickly and then it moves onto the next piece.  You have to remember that the film is full of Jack’s memories, fantasies and dreams.

The film opens with a quote from the Book Of Job, and he is mentioned again in a sermon later in the film, where the point is made that from the beginning of time, bad things can happen to good people.  You cannot outrun your fate rather your life is determined by how you deal with these obstacles.  The other point labored on is the fact that people have to choose between two paths in life, they can either follow the path of grace or the path of nature.  Each of the parents represents one of the paths with Jack’s mother portraying “grace” and his father, “nature”.  While there is religion present in the film, I would never call this a religious film, it is a spiritual one.

And it is beautiful!  I have just re-read what I have written so far, and it depresses me that my flat writing style so far hasn’t expressed just how beautiful a film “The Tree Of Life” is.  I’m not just talking visually (although it is stunning to look at), but rather all the emotions present within.  For me this was an amazingly emotional journey for me, in fact, I was surprised at just how much I was feeling during the watching of this film.

From the above paragraph it is obvious to see that I loved this film, but I will try and talk about it a little more in depth.  The highlight of the film is the Waco, Texas scenes, which are the main body of the film.  Malick successfully recreates what it is like to be a child in this section.  Little things like playing with your friends, wondering the streets, even just throwing a stick, it all feels so real.  He even captures moments like when Jack first starts to become aware of his awakened sexuality, but probably the most important thing that Malick does, is he doesn’t shy away from showing that being a child is not always fun, in fact it can be downright painful.  The boy, Hunter McCracken, who plays Jack, is outstanding and he does not put a foot wrong throughout the entire film.  The way he deals with his relationship with his father is amazing to watch because it is so complex.  His father is a hard man, and treats him harshly, but only in an attempt to get the best out of Jack.  Jack is forever frustrated by this and we see him struggle at times with loving and hating his father, and there is even a point in the film where he contemplates killing his dad (which mirrors an earlier scene involving the dinosaurs during the “creation” segment).  When he does not perform the deed, he then begins to pray to God asking Him to take away his father.  Even though Jack adores his mum and would love to be more like her, he is troubled by the fact that he is more alike to his father in terms of his behavior.

It really is obvious just how much Jack (and Malick himself) adores his mother because she is portrayed in the film to have an almost angel-like quality to her, and the way she is filmed throughout the film is always stunningly gorgeous.  Whenever she is onscreen, the film just lights up.  Jessica Chastain plays Mrs. O’Brien and boy, is she something special.  I could not take my eyes off of her and although she has little to do dialogue-wise, the amount she expresses just through her eyes is amazing.  I adored every moment she was on-screen (with most of the memorable images of the film involving her).  Mr. O’Brien is played by Brad Pitt and this is one of the best performances that I have ever seen from him, he just disappears into the role of this tough father.  He is not always an easy character to love, but he is never a bad man.  He is tough and treats his boys roughly, but he wants nothing but the best for his boys, and perhaps more importantly he wants to make sure that they do not make the same mistakes in life that he made.  Near the end of the Waco segment there is actually a very sad moment when Mr. O’Brien realizes just what he has (in regards to his family) and how much he has missed out on while focusing on his work.  It is during this scene that Jack and his dad have a small but important moment which I found quite touching.

Again I want to point out just how great the Waco, Texas scenes are.  They are perfection.  Everyone is perfectly cast, it is all superbly acted and importantly the truth of those scenes always came through (and need to, for the film to work).  Amazingly though, these are not edited in the normal Malick fashion.  Normally we get these long, languid shots of long grass blowing in the breeze with a hand passing through it, or sunlight pouring through the branches of trees, etc, and while these images still exist in “The Tree Of Life”, they are edited here in a rapid way (representing Jack’s mind as he remembers things), but it is no less effective.

It’s time to talk about the other two parts of the film.  I will admit that I was most worried about the “creation” sequence, however I was absolutely mesmerized throughout the whole thing.  This, however, was definitely not the case with everyone at the screening I attended.  It was during this sequence that we had the most walkouts and you could just feel that a lot of people were uncomfortable throughout this scene, people were restless and making a lot of noise and some were beginning to get vocal (“I don’t know how much more of this I can take”).  As I mentioned though, I found it to be exhilarating and extremely bold cinema.  The effects shots in this sequence were all amazing and the time flew by.  I have read a lot of negative comments about the CGI of the dinosaurs, but I just didn’t see it, they looked fine to me.  Now whether or not the sequence works in conjunction with the rest of the film is interesting and probably up to the individual viewer, but personally I liked it and found it affecting.  This is probably because it ends with the birth of Jack (thus tying it in to the rest of the film, not just with its themes), but I could see a lot of people having a problem as to whether or not there was any relation at all to the rest of the film.

The same problems could arise with the final sequences with Sean Penn, but as opposed to the “creation” sequence, it is definitely anchored in what has come before it.  If I was pressed to find a negative in “The Tree Of Life”, I would have to say that it is in this segment.  Again, it is gorgeous to look at, and although I like the sequence, I do not feel it is strong as the rest of the film.  I think the main problem is that Jack’s motivations as an adult are never fully explained or expanded on.  Although we know it is the anniversary of his brother’s death and it appears as though he is having a crisis of spirituality, we never really know why Jack is like this or for how long.  Is this just brought on by the timing of the anniversary or has he always been like this?  I must admit, that these questions although valid, don’t really mean that much to me.  We understand that he is trying to change the path that he is on towards grace, and what we see is the visual journey.  However from listening to other people’s reactions after the screening, a lot wished for more explanation in the finale.  Another problem in this section is that I think that Sean Penn has been miscast as the adult Jack. 

Due to the fact that Terrence Malick is a recluse, very little is known about the man.  He is such a mystery because he never does promotions for his films, he never does interviews, it is even rare to find a photograph of the man.  He would rather let his films talk for themselves, but it has come to light that a lot of “The Tree Of Life” is auto-biographical.  He lived in Waco as a boy, his brother died in 1968 (sadly of a suicide, which gives credence to the theory that R.L died the same way) and he apparently had a rough relationship with his own father.  Although I have nothing concrete to back this up, from the way that she is portrayed in the film, it is safe to assume that he adored his mother too.  Obviously this makes “The Tree Of Life” and incredibly personal project and is probably the reason it has taken so long to reach cinema screens (it was originally meant to screen at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, but Malick still wasn’t finished tinkering with it).  Interestingly, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki has revealed that Malick is currently working on putting together a version of “The Tree Of Life” that will run close to six hours long.  Whoa!  Now that will be interesting.

Speaking of Lubezki, I cannot fail to mention his outstanding work in the creation of Malick’s imagery.  I’ve always loved his work, but since he has worked with Malick (he lensed “The New World” previous), Lubezki’s style has changed.  He used to create very flashy and theatrical lighting, but now relies more on very natural lighting.  His work is still stunningly gorgeous though.  There are some images in “The Tree Of Life” that will never leave my mind: Jessica Chastain floating next to a tree, Jack’s “birth” via a flooded house, a wave breaking which is shot from underneath the wave, and there is a scene when Mrs. O’Brien pushes a see-through curtain on R.L’s face that is simply beautiful.  There are many, many more (oh, the mother in the glass coffin shot), but I couldn’t possibly name them all.

Finally, I must talk about the score.  You may have noticed that I rarely talk about the music from the films I review, and truthfully I am not really sure why that is, however the work done here by Alexandre Desplat just has to be mentioned.  It is simply outstanding.  As the majority of the film has very little dialogue, the music is massively important in helping drive the story and make us feel certain emotions (but not in an overly manipulative way).  To say he succeeds in his task is a massive understatement.  Right from the get-go, the music just swept me up and carried my along this amazing journey.

Overall I was amazed by this stunning film.  While it is definitely not an easy film, I found it to be a hugely rewarding experience.  It was one of the most emotional times I’ve ever had in a cinema.  As I’ve stated earlier, though, this film does polarize viewers, but to me it was almost perfection.  Amazingly before this film was even released, Terrence Malick had already finished filming his next film, which is being tentatively called “The Burial” (only by the media as people close to the film say that this is definitely not the title).  He once again worked with Emmanuel Lubezki as his cinematographer on the project, and Lubezki has stated that the new film is even more experimental than “The Tree Of Life”.  The new one stars Ben Affleck and Rachel McAdams and should be released next year.  Not only that, but apparently Malick has told his crew that he also wants to shoot another film before the end of the year.  This is amazing, we could get three new Terrence Malick films in consecutive years.  I cannot wait, but until then, lets enjoy and celebrate the magnificence that is Malick’s fifth film, “The Tree Of Life”.  It has been my favourite cinema experience of the year so far.

4 ½ Stars.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


“Sleeping Beauty” is the brand new Australian film by first time director Julia Leigh.  It recently had the honour of playing at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where its reception there was, lets say, mixed.  Actually this film really rubbed some people the wrong way entirely.  Still, the trailer for the film intrigued me and it certainly looked interesting, and now that it has been released locally, I decided to check it out.

In the film we follow Lucy (Emily Browning), a university student, struggling to make ends meet financially.  She shares a house with two other students, but she is constantly falling short on her share of the rent.  To try and rectify the situation, she does a lot of low paying jobs such as being a waitress, filing, and even being a guinea pig in the experiments of a scientist.  It appears that Lucy doesn’t have many friends and her family life is not a happy one either (due to her mother’s alcoholism).  When Lucy isn’t clubbing, working or studying, she visits her only friend, Birdmann (Ewen Leslie).  From the strange conversations the two share, it is obvious that they have been friends for quite a long time, but it appears that something has happened to Birdmann causing him to be agoraphobic.  In fact it seems he lives his life just waiting for these visits from Lucy.

In an attempt to make significant more money, Lucy answers an advertisement in a paper and organises an interview for a high-paying but mysterious job.  After her body has been thoroughly examined, she is told by Clara (Rachael Blake) that she is to be hired to perform silver service at exclusive dinner parties held by the very rich.  The catch is that she will only be dressed in lingerie.  After hearing how much she will be paid, Lucy accepts the position, and Clara proceeds to explain that discretion and privacy is of the outmost importance, and if she does her job well, there is room for a “promotion”.

Lucy does very well at the dinner parties and becomes a favourite of the men and women who attend them, and soon enough, a “promotion” is offered to her.  The promotion is a strange one, she is to be voluntarily drugged unconscious and then placed in a bed completely naked.  From here, the paying guest may do what he wants to the young girl, with one exception, Lucy can never be sexually penetrated.  Lucy is initially taken aback by the offer, but again once she hears the amount she will be paid, along with the assurance that she would wake with no memory of what has happened to her while she is asleep, she agrees to the job.

At the beginning, it appears that Lucy is dealing with her strange new job very well, but as time goes on, she starts to worry more and more, and after waking up one time to find a burn mark on her neck, she begins to become very paranoid as to just what is being done to her while she sleeps.  She is determined to find out, and decides to buy a very tiny spy camera which she hides in the room before she falls asleep.  Just what will Lucy find out?

It is easy to see why “Sleeping Beauty” caused such extremely negative reviews when it screened at Cannes, and it all has to do with the ending.  There really is no satisfactory conclusion to the film, it just ends which is initially very frustrating.  It feels like a pointless exercise, we have been following Lucy on her journey that ends up leading to nowhere.  At the screening I was at, there was a strange silence as the credits began to roll.  You could just feel the disappointment in the room, with everyone thinking “C’mon, that can’t be it!”.  An ending stays with you, obviously because it is the last impression you take from a film, so when a film doesn’t end satisfactorily, you hold onto that negativity which is why I think the film reviewed poorly.  Personally, I was enjoying Lucy’s strange journey that she was on, but when the film finished, I was angry about the lack of a conclusion rather than focusing on the positives I had seen in the previous hour and a half.

Strangely, as I mentioned above, the ending is “initially” frustrating but after having some time to think about it and digest it some more, I now find it to be more rewarding.  The key to me is to compare the ending of the film with the ending of the original fairy tale.  In the fairy tale, the princess sleeps for 100 years after an evil fairy / witch puts a spell on her.  She is only awaken from her slumber and brought back to life by a kiss.  Referring this back to the film, Lucy appears to be “sleepwalking” through her life.  She has no ambition (that we know of) as she goes from job to job, while struggling to make ends meet.  She doesn’t appear to have a stable life and although there are times when she does show emotions, she still feels detached from life and from realizing the enormity of her situation (and some could say, her depression).  It is like she has bottled everything up from her life, so she feels no pain, and she is continually on the move, because she knows that when she stops, it will all come pouring out.  However, by doing all of this, she cannot fully embrace life (ie. She has stopped living).  What little of an ending there is in “Sleeping Beauty” I do not want to reveal, so I will be as vague as possible, but it is during the finale that Lucy finally wakes from her slumber, again like the fairy tale by a “kiss”, and we finally see her breakdown.  It has become too much for her and she has to let it all out, as she is forced to acknowledge the pain she is feeling.  Although it is obviously painful for Lucy, we can assume that this is the beginning of her catharsis, and that she is now finally awake and ready to face the world (ie. She is alive again).

“Sleeping Beauty” is a very cold film, both in the look of the film and emotionally.  There just is no warmth to be found here at all.  This is not a shock, because the trailer for the film accurately portrayed this.  In fact, it has a strange “Kubrickian” feel to it, especially an “Eyes Wide Shut” vibe to it (which I feel is a very cold film too).  The film is beautiful to look at (sorry, Tim), with some stunning cinematography from Geoffrey Simpson.  I especially liked the look of the room Lucy slept in when on the job.  The turquoise colour of the bedspread up against the creamy pale skin of Emily Browning just looked gorgeous.  Julia Leigh did not make her job easy because she decided to shoot the film in a style that relied on long single takes / shots.  She has shot no coverage which puts a lot of pressure on both, the actors and the director, because there is nowhere to hide, if it is not working there is nothing to cut away to.  It is a bold move (especially for a first time director), but I think it pays off handsomely because the visuals to “Sleeping Beauty” are its strongest element.

In terms of acting, this is Emily Browning’s film, as she is in every scene of the film.  Browning was last seen in the lead role of “Babydoll” in the embarrassing “Sucker Punch”.  She is much better in this (even though she was one of the strongest elements of “Sucker Punch”), but she is given much more to work with here in terms of an emotional arc.  In a recent interview I read with her, Browning stated that she was sick of people describing her nude scenes in the film as “brave”.  While I agree with her that her being nude is not really brave (and believe me, she is naked a lot in this film), it is the content within the scenes when she is nude that makes it “brave”.  Emily Browning was around the age of twenty when she shot this film and she has a couple of scenes while naked when she has a man aged 60+ also naked on top of her.  Personally I think this would be incredibly confronting for a young actress and because of this I would definitely describe her performance in these scenes as “brave”.  Aside from the nudity, Browning also has the tough job of making us feel something for Lucy, which isn’t an easy job because she is not the most likeable character due to the fact that she is so cold.  It actually makes you wonder what drew Browning to the material to want to make the film (interestingly, Mia Wasikowska was apparently originally cast as Lucy, but dropped out to do “Jane Eyre” instead).

The other main role of Clara is portrayed by Rachael Blake.  I must admit that I have never been a fan of Blake’s work and she hasn’t done much to change my opinion here.  She is alright but at times I think she looks a little uncomfortable in the role.

Overall, “Sleeping Beauty” is a hard film to enjoy.  The emotional coldness of the characters makes it hard to empathize with them and the fact that the ending is so disappointing makes it a hard film to recommend.  That doesn’t mean that there is nothing to get out of “Sleeping Beauty” because as I mentioned earlier, until the end, I was enjoying Lucy’s strange Alice-like journey into darkness and desire.  Combined with the gorgeous cinematography, there are some positives, but not enough for it to be a positive cinema experience.

3 Stars.  

Thursday, July 7, 2011


There are two things that I am passionate about when it comes to cinema, and they are silent films and Alfred Hitchcock.  Recently I realized that I have not written a review for either on this blog, and thought that it was time to rectify the situation.  To make things easier, I decided to kill two birds with one stone, by reviewing one of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent films, his 1927 film “The Lodger: A Story Of The London Fog”.

The locals of London are terrorized by a serial killer, called “The Avenger”, who is killing blonde girls.  He has already killed seven girls and the police are not close to catching him.  Meanwhile, a stranger knocks on the door of a nearby house, looking to rent the room above.  Upon entering his room, he reacts strangely to the paintings of blonde women on his wall, and asks for them to be removed.  Living at the house, also, is the landlady’s daughter, Daisy, a blonde model who works in the neighbourhood.  Daisy and the lodger form a good friendship, which eventually becomes romantic.  This does not please Joe, a police detective and former boyfriend of Daisy.  Joe is assigned to “The Avenger” case and becomes increasing suspicious of the lodger.  Does he really believe the lodger to be “The Avenger” or is it his jealousy causing his suspicions?  The lodger is then seen sneaking out of the house very late at night by his landlady and sneaking back in about half an hour later.  The next morning news of “The Avenger’s” eighth victim hits the papers.  Is the lodger really “The Avenger”, and if so, is Daisy his next victim?

This is widely regarded as Alfred Hitchcock’s first film, even by Hitchcock himself.  Obviously, this is incorrect as it is actually his third film, but this is the first time in which he dealt with suspense and the crime thriller therefore it is usually considered the first “true” Hitchcock film.  Because of this, “The Lodger” is the most widely known and seen of Alfred Hitchcock’s silent films.  This is a good thing too because the film is fabulous.

The film is basically a “Jack The Ripper” story, except the murderer is named “The Avenger” in this story.  He is also Hitchcock’s first MacGuffin, because the character drives the story, but throughout the whole film he is never seen.  At the end of the film, you realize that it is not about “The Avenger” at all, but the characters living in fear because of the murderer.  “The Avenger” even gets captured off screen.  “The Lodger” also sees the birth of the Hitchcock blonde, as “The Avenger” only kills girls with golden locks.  Obviously, our main female character, Daisy, has to have blonde hair.

As the film is a silent film, it is told predominately with images.  The first image of the film is very in-your-face, as it depicts a young girl screaming just before she is killed by The Avenger.  The next ten minutes of the film we see the news filtering through to the public that The Avenger has killed his seventh victim.  We see it through gossipers, making its way to the newspapers, all the way until the paper hits the streets.  This time a witness at the scene describes a man whose lower half of his face is covered by a scarf.  This is important as it sets up the suspense for the next scene and the first time we see the lodger.  The introduction of the lodger is a great scary scene.  It is shot very much like the horror films made during the German Expressionist period.  In fact, most of the film is shot in this distinct style. Hitchcock worked on his first two films in Germany which, during this time, was at the height of its artistry in film-making.  Hitchcock paid close attention to what the German’s were achieving and then used what he could to the best of his advantage. When the lodger first knocks at the door, most of the lights in the house go out, causing these big dark shadows to fall on most of the rooms.  The mother of the house opens the door, and there stands the lodger, half his face covered by a scarf.  It is a really creepy image.  In fact, the way the lodger is standing in the scene, he looks like a cross between Count Orlok from “Nosferatu” and Bela Lugosi’s “Dracula”.

Another amazing scene is when Daisy and her parents are in a room and they notice the chandelier above them shaking.  Hitchcock then dissolves the roof away to show the lodger pacing backwards and forwards.  He obviously shot this with a camera underneath a piece of glass, and the affect is amazing, and something you wouldn’t normally see in a silent film at this time.  Another great and famous shot is the scene when the lodger sneaks out in the middle of the night.  It is shot directly above the staircase and all we can see is the banister with a hand slowly going down.  Once again, it sets a mood full of dread and menace.

The main story is two fold.  It involves a love triangle between the lodger, Daisy, and a detective, Joe, who is already dating Daisy.  The other part of the story is whether or not the lodger is in fact “The Avenger”, as he is seen leaving the house in the middle of the night, the nights when coincidentally the girls have been murdered.  Unfortunately, due to casting, Alfred Hitchcock had to change the ending of the film.  In the book it is based on (written by Marie Belloc Lowndes) and the subsequent 1944 remake, the lodger does turn out to be the murderer.  However, because Hitchcock had chosen Ivor Novello to play the role of “The Lodger”, it was decided that the public would not like to see him in the role of a murderer.  At this time, Ivor Novello was a huge matinee idol in Great Britain, and because of this, his character turns out to be the brother of “The Avenger’s” first victim, trying to hunt him down and get revenge.  Personally, I do not mind the change, and I think it actually works well.  Incidentally, Hitchcock had the exact same problem occur some fourteen years later in “Suspicion”, when it was decided that the public wouldn’t buy Cary Grant as a murderer, and as such the finale was changed.

As far as Ivor Novello’s performance goes, it is pretty good.  He is happy and romantic in his scenes with Daisy, but when it turns night and he sneaks out of the house, he is very intimidating and scary.  When it is revealed that he is the brother of a past victim, you can really feel his pain.  Hitchcock must have thought his performance good, as Ivor Novello starred again in his next film, “Downfall”.  The rest of the cast also performs admirably.  Although he is originally used as a sort of comic relief, Malcolm Keen’s portrayal of police detective, Joe, gradually becomes more substantial especially at the end when he arrests the lodger on suspicion of being “The Avenger”.  The other standout is the mother played by Marie Ault, who increasingly fears for her daughter’s safety.  She is the one who notices the lodger sneaking out in the middle of the night, as well as him sneaking back in.  Her fear is what sells this scene, as well as her realization that the lodger may indeed by “The Avenger”.  An actress with the (strangely) singular name of June played the role of Daisy.  Her role mostly has to do with her looks as she has to have the two male leads fall in love with her, and be gorgeous enough for “The Avenger” to want to target her as his victim.  In this regard she fills the role perfectly, but above that, she is just serviceable.

The inter-titles are another great thing about “The Lodger”.  They are really artistically done and serve a narrative purpose, as opposed to just describing things or relaying dialogue.  This is also reminiscent of the inter-titles of the German silent films.

The only real downside to the film is that it is about ten minutes too long.  If some of the romance and comedy relief had been trimmed, making it a tighter more focused story, it would have been a better film.

Overall though, this is a great Hitchcock film, especially to see the beginning of his evolution in becoming “The Master Of Suspense”.  Most of his future trademarks are seen here first: the MacGuffin, the Hitchcock blonde, the wrongly accused man, his obsession with staircases, they are all here.  “The Lodger” was a very successful film, and it is ironic that Hitchcock did not return to the suspense genre until his last silent film “Blackmail” in 1929.  If you are not familiar with silent films, do not be put off, as this film is worth it (and would also be a great introduction to silent films).

4 Stars.