The turning point in the narrative of Hitchcock’s career, at which he develops the blueprint for the modern thriller and establishes himself as a household name in Britain.
“A story of the London fog” is less visual a description than I anticipated. Sense therefore of harking back to Bleak House and The Secret Agent. Former in the interesting class dynamics. (the wealthy lodger under suspicion, from his working-class hosts, of preying on their impressionable daughter) Conrad intriguingly reverted: here a focus on the press (wheels turning in the opening sequences) which has the power to swell interest into a momentous mob that almost enacts frontier justice. Also inversion of the “domestic drama”: slow process of revelation rather than suppression and then eruption. L good on overlapping layers of dramatic irony.
Clear influence from Murnau as well as Lang creates striking visuals: the Caligari jagged light through windows onto the high walls; stalking behind a curved bannister; edgy closeups. The interiors are shot square like staged plate photographs, a Keaton flat world. Urban movement too: bobbies on the beat; reverse-shot escape from the crime-scene.
Ivor Novello is excellent as a sort of public-school Pinkie Brown, anaemic and unassuming, conflicted with his amorous attachment to victims. Emerging out of the ether like a spirit materialised from London’s thick atmosphere. (This must be where The Wrong Trousers comes from, surely) H does well to keep his biography to an absolute minimum. (until The Reveal)
On that ending: frustrating. (although admittedly I had a theory that was quashed) Twists and turns imply a payoff that doesn’t come, and the focus of the film accordingly takes a lurch as awkward as the alternate ending to I Am Legend. Abandons the patiently established creepiness of N; irony that the studio insisted N could not possibly be a villain, forcing H to rewrite the ending of a film that would project his popularity past that of N anyway. If he had to rewrite it, why change only the very ending? Interesting question of the legitimised, insidiously leering possessiveness of both main male characters too. (though this plays out over an especially hapless and credulous damsel)
(Note that I saw the 2012 remaster, which looks great [with sepia interiors and Conradian submerged blue streets] but sounds terrible. Nitin Sawhney’s new score for the BFI’s H retrospective is inconsistent in its visual application, tonally all over the place, erratically and ineffectually referential to later H work, and features two awful vocal pieces that are bad a) on their own terms, with vapid and irrelevant lyrics; b) in relation to the concurrent visuals; and c) in relation to the rest of the score. Avoid. [Score is for the film as total experience])