Second Intertitle of the Week: A Tale of Two Ivors

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Photographed off my TV set.

THE LODGER: A STORY OF THE LONDON FOG — titles written by Ivor Montagu, who was brought in to “rescue” the troubled production, and realised it didn’t need rescuing. So instead he concentrated on helping it fulfill its potential, rather than steering it into some safer direction, as his studio bosses had intended.

(Montagu’s short comedy BLUEBOTTLES, which stars Elsa Lanchester and is very amusing, plays exactly like a cross-breeding of Keaton’s COPS with Hitchcock’s THE LODGER. It’s well worth a look, if you can find the VHS BFI British Avant Garde collection tape it appears in.)

The description “a but queer” may seem slightly tittersome today, especially given what we may or may not know about star Ivor Novello’s proclivities* but in fact the joke may well be deliberate, a private chuckle between Hitch and Montagu — it’s highly likely that Hitch, always interested in what everybody was up to between the sheets, had sussed Novello’s same-sex inclination. Indeed, to a modern audience, Novello is so obviously camp the surprise is that he ever passed himself off as a straight romantic lead to a movie-going audience. But the public had a whole different psyche then.

(The casting of whispery Laird Cregar in the ’40s remake suggests that this role was somehow seen as inherently queer, though by the time of 1953’s MAN IN THE ATTIC, the part has gone to Jack Palance, about whose red-bloodedness there can be no doubt. The universe would surely splinter if the slightest aspersion were cast in that direction.)

As for “he is a gentleman,” there’s a fascinating class undercurrent to THE LODGER, with Novello’s apparent “difference” (social, sexual, behavioural) marking him out as suspect from the start, although to be fair to the lower-middle-class supporting cast, there IS a murderer stalking the streets. In casting Novello, Hitch had to concoct an ending where he turns out to be innocent, leading to a rather funny fantasy of class mobility, as leading lady June (no surname — just June, please) meets the hero in his frickin’ PALACE, while mum and dad discretely make themselves scarce in its Xanadu-like depths. When a happy ending is THIS happy, some slight authorial cynicism can fairly be suspected.

Titles designed by E. McKnight Kauffer, who combines the influences of German Expressionism and Russian Constructivism, I’d say. And it’s been argued many times that this is exactly what Hitch does too.

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*Lying naked in a glass coffin while road workers and other rough trade filed into the room and “mourned” him, sexually.

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9 Responses to “Second Intertitle of the Week: A Tale of Two Ivors”

  1. Ivor Novello was quite the deal, being, not only an actor, but a popular song composer. In fact, for a time, he was Noel Coward’s chief rival.

    In Lindsay Anderson’s If… Malcolm McDowell makes his entrance looking precisely like Ivor Novello in The Lodger . Novello is also one of the guests in Altman’s Gosford Park, with one of the servants in hot pursuit of his favors.

  2. I have a CD of Novello’s songs, they’re very nice. He wrote the songs for theatrical spectaculars that were immensely popluar even as the critics looked down at them.

    Apart from Novello’s gayness, Gosford Park gets everything about him quite wrong (which is fair enough, dramatic license and all that), ignoring his very strong Welsh accent (in talking pictures he always played Eastern Europeans to explain his strange speech!), showing him singing (Novello stopped when his voice broke) and strangest of all, suggesting that The Lodger was a flop (it was a smash hit). I like Jeremy Northam so much, and the film is very good, so I overlook all this.

  3. Arthur S. Says:

    Ivor Montagu was an interesting figure. A fascinating film of his life can be made. According to his Wikipedia page, he was a champion Table Tennis player, he played a major role in creating the Film Culture of the 20s which influenced the most creative figures of British Cinema(a bit like Langlois in the 50s) and he was also allegedly a Soviet Spy. He was friends with Eisenstein as well and the first British film critic for the Observer.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivor_Montagu

  4. Arthur S. Says:

    The famous Ivor Novello award comes from him.

    Interestingly according to the original novel, Novello was in fact the killer or implied to be the killer just like people allege that Jack The Ripper was and Hitchcock wanted the ending to be ambiguous but couldn’t go ahead because Novello was a big star. He faced the same issue with “Suspicion” where Cary Grant is barred from offing Joan Fontaine. In both cases the film manages to escape that and become a very fascinating complex film.

    In fact I wonder if Lang saw The Lodger and took notes for M?

  5. Hmm, the overhead view looking down the stairwell (which we noted also appears in Seventh Heaven) jumps from The Lodger into M… It’s a key Hitch shot, exploited with variations in Psycho and Vertigo.

    I’m just reading Bill Krohn’s awesome research over at the MacGuffin, into the various endings of Suspicion. That one seems to have caused far more trouble, whereas with The Lodger Hitch simply accepted that Novello would have to be innocent. He was able to explore a kind of domestic paranoia that was very pleasing to him, and Novello’s guilt wasn’t ultimately of central importance. But the happy ending is treated with some kind of contempt, I think.

    The bad talkie remake Novello made does actually come up with a good idea for the ending, where Novello actually kills the real murderer, thus fulfilling his vow and becoming the true “avenger”.

  6. Actually it’s Maggie Smith’s character who declares The Lodger “a flop” in Gosford Park, and it’s well established in the film that we have no reason to believe a word she says.

  7. Well, she’s not reliable, but she’s successfully catty, and I don’t think the line would work as an acid put-down if it’s not true: “Must be disappointing when something just… flops like that,” is a line Novello could too easily crush, by quoting the box office figures, which he’d surely have at his fingertips.

    I suspect screenwriter Julian Fellowes had heard something about the film’s post-production difficulties and misremembered the outcome.

  8. specterman Says:

    I know this is old but as Gosford Park is set in 1933, Maggie Smith is actually referring to the 1932 talkie remake which was a flop. I’m pretty sure I heard Altman mention this on the director’s commentary of Gosford.

    I only discovered your blog near the end of your Hitchocock year. What I did catch was pretty superb. I’m hoping given the time to work my way through the whole Hitchcock year from the start. Should be a treat.

  9. Ah-hah! I should have realised. I reviewed the talkie elsewhere here, under it’s US title The Phantom Fiend. Thanks for the info.

    Enjoy your own Hitchcock Year!

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