Archive for Man in the Attic

Second Intertitle of the Week: A Tale of Two Ivors

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2009 by dcairns


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.


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