The Lodger: From Page to Stage to Screen

Alfred Hitchcock, Ivor Novello, Jack the Ripper, London, Marie Belloc Lowndes, The Lodger, Uncategorized, silent motion pictures, stage and screen, theater Add comments

 Marie Belloc Lowndes


Marie Belloc Lowndes (1868–1947)

Marie Belloc Lowndes published her first version of The Lodger
about a Ripper-like killer named “The Avenger”,  as a short story in
McClure’s Magazine in 1911. By 1913 she made it a full-length novel.
It  is clear that the ’orrible murders were taking place in Whitechapel;
the link to the Ripper is unmistakeable.

Mr and Mrs Bunting suspect that their lodger, Mr Sleuth, is “The Avenger.” 
But whether Sleuth really is the murderer is unclear: the story focuses
on the Buntings’ possibly unfounded terror rather than the crimes.   

The novel was adapted for the stage as a comedy entitled Who Is He? by
by prolific writer Horace Annesley Vachell (1861–1955). It played at the
Haymarket Theatre in London in 1916 with Howard Ainley in the title role. 

In January 1917, the play was done in New York with Lionel Atwill as
the lead. It received mixed reviews when it opened on 8 January 1917 at
the Maxine Elliott Theatre. The critic in the New York Times felt that
Atwill played the role in a “hammer-and-tongs” fashion little suited for
what he termed “such slight stuff” as The Lodger.

Overall, the critic declared the show to be “highly amusing” and that
Beryl Mercer as Mrs Bunting outshone the lead actor.  He said she was
“enormously laughable as the tender-hearted but suspicious landlady.”
It closed after 56 performances. Atwill would go on to enjoy a long
career playing roles in B-movies.

Ten years later, the play was brought to the big screen by Alfred Hitchock
in his first major film, using the same title as Belloc Lowndes’ novel, The
Lodger: A Story of the London Fog
. The significance of the subtitle is that
it gives the notion that the crimes were committed in London’s notorious fog,
which Ripperologists know is nonsense, don’t we?  In any case, the idea of
London’s stereotypical fog only added to the myth of Jack the Ripper.

Hitchcock’s version of The Lodger was the 1927 silent classic starring Ivor
Novello. He played the role in enigmatic fashion, alarming the Buntings
while charming their blond daughter, Daisy. As with Hitchcock’s handling
of Cary Grant later in Suspicion and To Catch a Thief, the director toyed
with the audience and hinted at a dark side to the character, although
Novello’s character would turn out a good guy on the trail of the killer.

Hitchcock said, “I had seen a play called Who Is He? based on Mrs. Belloc
Lowndes’ novel The Lodger. The action was set in a house that took in
roomers and the landlady wondered whether her new boarder was Jack the
Ripper or not. I treated it very simply, purely from her point of view.”
He disliked the later talkie versions of The Lodger made by other
directors, because they made the story too complicated. 


Marie Belloc Lowndes, “The Lodger,” in McClure’s Magazine, Volume 36, January 1911, pp. 266–77.

Marie Belloc Lowndes, The Lodger. London: Methuen, 1913. 

Mark Whitehead and Miriam Rivett, Jack the Ripper. Harpenden, Hertfordshire: Pocket Essentials, 2006, p. 67

Denis Meikle, Jack the Ripper: The Murders and the Movies. Richmond, Surrey: Reynolds and Hearn Ltd., 2002, pp. 44–49.

Gary Coville and Patrick Lucanio, Jack the Ripper: His Life and Crimes in Popular Entertainment. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland, 1999, p. 24.

 “‘The Lodger’ Proves Highly Amusing,” New York Times, January 9, 1917.Ivor Novello in Hitchcock’s silent classic film The Lodger (1927) Ivor Novello in Hitchcock's The Lodger

3 Responses to “The Lodger: From Page to Stage to Screen”

  1. Jeff Bloomfield Says:

    I seem to recall that the Hitchcock version had at least one neat trick (for a silent film anyway): while the characters are downstairs talking about the lodger and the murders, they hear pacing up-stairs. The camera turns up to the ceiling, and we see the booted feet of Novello pacing back and forth. The film ends with a mob about to lynch him, when a police whistle in the distance tips them off that there has been another killing, and Novello could not have done it. Ivor Novello was a very popular actor, singer, dancer, and man of the theater in his heyday from 1910-1940. I don’t think he made many movies.

    As for the remakes, I still favor the 1944 version with Laird Cregar with it’s vague type of incestuous and homosexual background to the Ripper’s crimes (similar to the “Dr. Stanley” story in that Cregar is avenging his lost brother). His death by drowning in the Thames, while fleeing the police, may have a hint in the rumors linked to Druitt. The third version, MAN IN THE ATTICK, has a nice performance by Jack Palance that is almost sympthetic.


  2. admin Says:

    Hi Jeff

    There was an interesting presentation by David Sterritt at the Drexel University JtR Conference on “The Ripper, the Avenger, the Outsider” in which he discussed the differences between the different movies based on The Lodger. You can see the presentation at


  3. Says:

    I’m usually running a blog and I really appreciate your content.

Leave a Reply

WP Theme & Icons by N.Design Studio
Entries RSS Comments RSS Login