It must be at least five minutes since I last complained about ill-advised remakes, so it’s past time I returned to the subject. It was recently brought to my attention that yet another remake of The Lodger is in the works. The trailer is up on YouTube for those of you with a masochistic bent to examine. Now, far be it from me to prejudge a film based solely on the trailer, but I’m going to do it anyway.
The first version of The Lodger was an early Hitchcock effort from 1927. Lead Ivor Novello would return to the part five years later for the first sound version of the story, but the most prominent incarnation is the John Brahm take from 1944, with Laird Cregar as the titular lodger. Said character is, for those unfamiliar with the tale, Jack the Ripper, who rents a room in a middle-class neighbourhood, and subsequently develops an unhealthy interest in the daughter of the household, even as she, like a moth to a flame, is fascinated by him. Cregar gives us a man driven by his suppressed by raging sexual conflicts to terrible violence, and creates a monster who is nevertheless recognizably human. The audience actually comes very close to sympathizing with the murderer, and we KNOW he’s the killer. Thus, Merle Oberon’s interest in him (which, in the 1944 film at least, stops short of becoming romantic interest, since police detective George Sanders is on hand to provide that) is all the more understandable, since she doesn’t know (though she might suspect) what we do.
At any rate, take a moment now to go check out the trailer.
Are you back? Good. How many of you, based on that clip, are more than ready to step in and strangle the heroine yourselves? I’m counting quite a few hands. Here’s what the new film seems to be promising us: a contemporary setting, with a killer who mimics the Ripper’s crimes (ooohhhh, there’s an original idea that can’t have been done more than a mere three dozen times before). The female lead, who, from all available evidence, knows damn well that her tenant is a serial killer, nevertheless falls for the guy and proceeds to deliberately stymie the investigation.
I hardly need to point out how wrongheaded all of this is, but I will anyway. Setting aside such issues as the quality of the performances, there are a couple of very serious problems with the concept itself. Firstly, one can yammer on about the parallels between the Ripper killings and the current ones, but the fact remains that the killer is not, barring an unexpected supernatural development, Jack the Ripper himself. What this means is that the enormous mystery, menace and dread that the name carries is lost here. Jack the Ripper is a figure who has been an indelible part of our collective mythology (a very dark part, it is true) from the moment those letters first started arriving in the hands of the London police. Moving the story up to the present means we are dealing simply with yet another unoriginal, run-of-the-mill serial killer. Yawn. Boring.
Secondly, there’s the issue of our heroine. If she knows exactly who the lodger is, then most of the suspense flies out the window. And I’m not simply talking about the suspense built on the question of whether or not the protagonist is going to find out the truth in time. More importantly, the audience loses any reason to care whether about this person. Knowingly harboring a psychopathic misogynist is just going to get an audience mad at you. Does anyone really spare more than a passing moment of contempt for those pathetic individuals who send marriage proposals to incarcerated murderers? I thought not.
These are problems inherent to the very concept of the film, problems that it would take a filmmaker of considerable talent to surmount. Unfortunately, it is very unlikely that a talented filmmaker would have used such boneheaded ideas in the first place. Now, maybe I’ve misread the trailer. Maybe I’m being completely unfair. Maybe I will be forced to eat my words when the film is released. But it sure looks like this effort is doing everything in its power to stack the deck against itself.