Sog.: dal romanzo The Lodger (1913) di Marie Belloc Lowndes. Scen.: Robert Presnell Jr., Barré Lyndon. F.: Leo Tover. M.: Marjorie Fowler. Scgf.: Lyle Wheeler, Leland Fuller. Int.: Jack Palance (Slade), Constance Smith (Lily Bonner), Byron Palmer (ispettore Paul Warwick), Frances Bavier (Helen Harley), Rhys Williams (William Harley), Sean McClory (poliziotto), Leslie Bradley (poliziotto), Tita Phillips (Daisy), Lester Matthews (ispettore capo Melville). Prod.: Robert L. Jacks per Panoramic Productions, Inc. 35mm. D.: 86’.
Hugo Fregonese was fascinated by the idea of the rambler who lives under the shadow of the noose (“I don’t care if they hang me,” is a key line in Blowing Wild, also made in 1953). In this retelling of the Jack the Ripper story, as fallen women are preyed upon, an entire city in a state of frenzy holds the noose in its collective hands, looking for a culprit. In Fregonese’s world, the hunter and the haunted become one and the same.
The novel on which the film is based, Marie Belloc Lowndes’s The Lodger (1913), was also the source material for Alfred Hitchcock’s 1926 breakthrough of the same name. When Fox acquired the rights it was John Brahm who first gave it a moody treatment, in 1944. Determined to exploit the exclusive control the studio had over the newly invented CinemaScope, Fox left the production of ten, non-Scope and cheaply produced films to independent producer Leonard Goldstein’s Panoramic Productions. With Fox’s roster of talents at his disposal (including fine art directors Lyle Wheeler and Leland Fuller, and cinematographer Leo Tover) Fregonese’s film adaptation turned out to be richer than most of Fox’s colour and Scope productions – an endorsement of his genius for turning smaller vehicles into studies of the darkness within.
Played with tortured pathos by Jack Palance, Fregonese’s take on pathologist-turned-murderer Slade is heavily Freudian, fatalist and self-conscious. The eloquent, well-mannered criminal is well aware of the mother complex that lies behind his compulsion to kill women who resemble her. “In reality there are no criminals,” Slade proclaims, “there are only people doing what they must do because they are who they are.”
More than ever, Fregonese employs highand low-angle shots to express both normality and terror, stasis and escape. With the exception of the musical numbers, which are efficiently executed but grossly incongruous with the story and its epoch, this is one of Fregonese’s most satisfying excursions into the theme of loneliness. The film’s ambiguous ending, which sees the killer simply vanish into the Thames, is glorious – “flowing peacefully out to infinity”, as Slade says.