Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Another lodger

One of the movies that's had a lot of showings on FXM Retro lately is Man in the Attic. It's getting another airing tomorrow morning (or overnight tonight) at 3:30 AM, and is certainly worth a watch.

The movie starts off with wstablishing scenes of Victorian London at night. An intoxicated woman walks out of a bar, and is escorted back to her apartment by a pair of police officers because it's not safe for women to be out alont what with Jack the Ripper having committed a couple of murders already. The woman tricks teh bobbies, telling them she's home when she really isn't, and goes back outside, at which point a shadow comes up, a woman screams, and Jack has committed another murder.

Cut to a slightly more fashionable part of London. An older couple, Helen and William Harley (Frances Bavier and Rhys Williams, respectively) are sitting around doing whatever it is that older couples do in the evening in Victorian London. This being Victorian London, she doesn't work, while he's suffered some "business reverses", so they've had to take the humiliating step of offering a room to let to a lodger. There's a knock on the door, and the person at the door at this late hour is Slade (Jack Palance). He's interested in renting the room. Furthermore, he claims to be a pathologist, so he could use the attic to do his experiments, and his work will have him in and out of the house at very odd hours. Obviously, however, the juxtaposition of these two scenes sets up the dramatic essence of our movie: is Slade actually Jack the Ripper, or is he an innocent man whom people are going to accuse of being Jack the Ripper?

Enter into the story the Harleys' niece Lily Bonner (Constance Smith). She's about to have her big breakthrough, although it's a bit of a plot hole in that she seems more suited to the music hall based on what we see of her performance, while royalty is supposed to show up to this big premiere. There's also another actress who's clearly fallen on hard times who shows up in Lily's dressing room to wish her luck and to tell Lily of her certitude that Lily won't suffer the same fate she has. Oh, her fate isn't fully written yet you can guess that the only reason for this déclassé actress to be in the dressing room is so that when she leaves, she can get bumped off by Jack the Ripper.

Along the way, Lily begins to fall in love with Slade; Helen suspects that he's Jack the Ripper; and William believs Slade is just a victim of suspicion. When Jack the Ripper is spotted supposedly carrying a black bag, we cut to a scene of Slade trying to destroy his bag. William then shows Helen that he too has a black back, and has hidden it lest anybody suspect him of being Jack the Ripper. There's also a Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Warwick (Byron Palmer) on the case and since he has to interview Lily after the death of that other actress, he meets her and falls in love with her despite that being thoroughly unprofessional.

Man in the Attic is territory that's quite familiar, even if you haven't seen the first two Lodger movies, from Alfred Hitchcock in 1927 and the Laird Cregar version from Fox in 1944. Still, Jack Palance is well-cast as the difficult to get along with Slade character; this was the part of Palance's career when he was playing the heavies. The rest of the cast is serviceable if not great. The end result is a movie that's satisfying enough, if not up to the standards of either of the first two versions of the movie called The Lodger. Apparently it's been released to DVD in the past but now our of print. Amazon Prime members, however, can apparently watch it on streaming video.

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