A few words about film antagonists. They say that a movie is only as good as its villain. Oftentimes, villains can be easily categorized into different types: the cold, calculating force of evil like Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lector; an unstoppable killing machine with a blank countenance like Michael Myers in Halloween; or a force of nature like the shark in Jaws. And then, there is Jack the Ripper as played by Laird Cregar who very well might be an amalgamation of all three.
The 1944 remake of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ novel holds an interesting distinction in the history of film: it is a remake of an Alfred Hitchcock original which actually surpasses the work of The Master. Skillfully directed with emphasis on a film noir aesthetic by John Braham, The Lodger is one of the most sumptuous-looking horror films of the 1940s. But, what truly makes The Lodger so unforgettable is the central performance by Cregar. His performance as the killer is one of the most haunting in the history of horror films. Cregar’s performance as the Ripper predates Psycho by sixteen years, but the parallels to the knife-wielding Norman Bates are obvious. And, at once, Cregar manages to create a character that is eerily like the unholy combination of both the soft-spoken intellectual Hannibal Lector and the crazed, maniac Buffalo Bill.
Afforded the budget of an A-level picture, The Lodger is in a class all of its own. Its supporting players from Merle Oberon’s music hall dancer to George Sanders’s stiff-upper-lipped police inspector to Sir Cedric Hardwicke’s dottery old man make The Lodger an absolute treat.
But, The Lodger is a study in evil; a showcase for one of the most original and devilish performances to ever emerge from 1940s Hollywood. It’s a movie still liable to give goosebumps.