Friday, August 28, 2020
Man in the Attic (1953)
In London, the Jack the Ripper murders have rocked the community. Th public is turned against the police for not catching him, and everyone suspects each-other. In all of this, American coroner Slade moves into an old couple's leased rooms, choosing to stay in the attic to carry out some experiments.
The Lodger had had a fairly healthy existence for a novel that's otherwise been forgotten by most people. Its Jack the Ripper themed story has been adapted to the silver screen a few times, most notably in The Lodger: A Tale of the London Fog. That film was one of the earliest by Alfred Hitchcock, and is considered by many to be the first true Hitch picture, featuring many of the themes that would make him world famous (such as intrigue, =, an innocent man on the run, and a heavy dose of suspense). One of the 'lesser grade' adaptions (only bearing such a = by not being made by Hitchcock) is Man in the Attic...
Man in the Attic is a pretty standard affair, with quite a bit to enjoy. For a lower budgeted 'cheapie', it really captures the look and feel of 19th century Britain, and the clash of Victorian values, and burlesque dancing girls. It also has a pretty non-judgemental tone towards such workers too, as the lovely and sweet Lily is very casually a sexy go-go dancer (or at least the 19th century equivalent)!
A problem I tend to have with Jack the Ripper movies is how fictional they have to be by design if they're really delving into the killer's identity, which is of course completely unknown in real life despite all the best guessing. Man in the Attic manages to sidestep this problem partially with ambiguity at first, but also by being...I dunno, low-key enough that it never really feels like it's trying to be a tell-all expose on the REAL Jack the Ripper.
The movie gets off to a decently strong start, though kinda falters a bit as it goes on, not through any big/large faults, but just a few little problems that added up for me. The movie's just a little
However, he doesn't totally convince, and I don't mean that as a sleight against Palance, but rather the writing and/or direction. Lily falls so head over heels for this guy, ignoring all other men, and the guy's freaky! He goes on long tangents, he has intense stares, broods to high heaven, and speaks like he's one step away from killing someone. This is not helped by such scenes as him burning an overcoat covered in blood, and when she asks what happened, he very suspiciously wards her away, saying it's an experiment gone wrong and could be contagious, so she instantly believes him and lets him destroy the evidence!
The acting here is one of the best qualities. A surprisingly young (but still chiselled) Jack Palance plays the main character, who is also the villain! He does a good job portraying an eccentric and off-putting individual, with enough nuance that he's not 1 dimensionally evil, but also containing enough = that you wonder if he really is the Ripper. And he is. He totally is. Took me the whole movie to realise it wasn't meant to be ambiguous! I'm used to the Hitchcock version where the lodger actually is innocent!
Constance Smith is sweet, Byron Palmer is good as the sharp and duty-minded cop, Frances Bavier and Rhys Williams are amusing and nice as the old couple, with Tita Phillips being a cute maid. Not really any bad performances in the lot.
Among other things, Man in the Attic is also somewhat of a musical! Going in I was expecting it to be full of this, thanks to some comments I'd read, but actually I found the movie quite reasonable. The first number is a burlesque act, and besides being sexy (in a fun and [tasteful] way), which fits well and does a good job =. The second is from a random Irish lady the cops escort home, who decides to burst into song, complete with a magical orchestra and backing singers! That's a little more tenuous, but I didn't mind it, as it's short and nice.
Overall, Man in the Attic isn't perfect, but it's a nice enough horror/thriller/mystery, and gives enough for you to enjoy if you're a fan of any of those genres. Plus, it makes a good companion piece with other films about this killer, or others based on the same work, too.