Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Man in the Attic (1953)

Jack the Ripper roams the streets of Whitechapel, murdering women.  At the same time, a certain Mr and Mrs Harley, after suffering some financial reversals, decide to take in a lodger.  The applicant is a Dr Slade, who rents not just the room in question but also the attic, as he needs a space to conduct experiments.

From here, events go as you might expect, given the coincidence of events.  The Ripper murders continue, and the Harleys become uncomfortably aware that their new tenant spends an awful lot of time out at night, and has a bag and coat just like the one the Ripper was reported to be seen wearing, and ... well, you get the idea.  Lots of circumstantial but inconclusive evidence that their tenant has homicidal tendencies.  Which would be worrisome enough by itself, but in addition their beloved niece seems quite taken with the doctor.  Still, it could all just be coincidence, and Slade always seems to have a logical explanation for his sometimes odd habits, so probably it's nothing to worry about ...

This is for the most part a pretty solidly made little film.  The cast is all competent, and the plot moves along briskly enough.  But then we get to the ending.  And well: spoilers ahead.

So the film is based on 1913 novel The Lodger, in which a landlady becomes aware that her tenant is a serial killer known as "the Avenger", but - in dire need of the rental income and with a cultural resentment of the police - does not reveal who he is until it is almost too late.  In changing the focus to "is he the killer or isn't he?", the film basically decides to make the twist that there isn't a twist, and the obvious suspect is in fact the killer.  I guess if this was executed really well I could go with it, but it doesn't gel here for me.

I also think making the film about the very real Jack the Ripper, rather than a fictionalised version of him, was a mistake.  The Ripper's identity remains unresolved to this day, and to have him revealed and chased through the streets before apparently drowning in the Thames feels false and hollow because we know it is false and hollow.

A mostly enjoyable little film that goes sadly awry in the last act.

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