By REBECCA MCCALLUM
While the mythology surrounding serial murderer Jack the Ripper is a topic that attracts much fascination and speculation in horror, the women featured in the films which dissect this subject matter have been largely overlooked. Using four key Ripper-based film texts spanning a period of over seven decades: THE LODGER: A STORY OF THE LONDON FOG (Alfred Hitchcock, 1927), MAN IN THE ATTIC (Hugo Fregonese,1953), THE HANDS OF THE RIPPER (Peter Sasdy, 1971) and FROM HELL (Allen and Albert Hughes, 2001), this series will redirect the focus from the killer to the many women portrayed in these works through close reading and analysis of character, themes, and motifs.
Part 1 -THE LODGER: A STORY OF THE LONDON FOG (1927, Alfred Hitchcock)
Hitchcock’s silent film begins with the silhouette of a figure who (in a trilby and trench coat) bears a closer resemblance to Humphrey Bogart than to the classic top hat and capped uniform of the ripper. A close-up of a woman screaming fills the screen, and as this is a soundless film, the muted nature of the scream takes on a higher meaning – representing the cry of female victims everywhere. Crowds gather around a body as a woman talks to two policemen who have been unsuccessful in catching the perpetrator. She turns to the listening crowd to share her experiences and through the use of grandiose gestures, it is clear she is in distress. A document is transcribed onto a typewriter, and we learn that this is the seventh golden-haired victim of the mysterious Avenger murderer.
A chorus of women known as The Golden Curls gathers around a newspaper in a communal dressing room. One golden-curled girl looks fearfully into a mirror as her friend imitates the Avenger, who is known for wearing a scarf over the lower part of his face. The central female character Daisy is presented through a title card of her own, demonstrating her importance to the narrative. One of the performers decides that in order to protect herself from the Avenger, there will be “no more peroxide for yours truly” before pinning some dark curls to her blonde hair. “Safety first dearie,” she declares to a friend, proving herself to be both smart and resourceful.
News of the seventh victim reaches Daisy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bunting, who are the proprietors of a local boarding house. A lecherous policeman named Joe (who happens to be visiting) points to the newspaper, declaring that he too is keen on fair-haired girls, before cutting Daisy a love heart out of pastry – which she promptly throws back at him in rejection. A candle dims and the eponymous lodger appears at the boarding house amidst a backdrop of fog. The door is answered leaving Daisy alone with Joe who launches himself upon her in an unwanted act of physical affection. Mrs. Bunting is the first to come face to face with the lodger, greeting him with curiosity and politeness. When shown the room, the guest has an alarming reaction to the portraits of starlets on the walls and his request for them to be removed arouses suspicion in the landlady.
The tension between the lodger and an intrigued Daisy begins to grow as the pair play a game of chess in which she claims his pieces, proving herself a formidable opponent. Daisy is flirty by nature, but she is having fun on her own terms. As the game continues, they both look at one another secretively before their eyes meet directly and everything seems pleasant – until he compliments her golden hair. In the company of Daisy and the Buntings, Joe declares that his two aims are to put a rope around the Avengers’ neck and to put a ring on Daisy’s finger, a statement that links their relationship with strangulation. When his advances are not reciprocated he places her in handcuffs, a gesture that represents his claim over her.
Upon hearing the lodger sneak out in the dark one evening, Mrs. Bunting wakes, listening carefully, instinctively detecting that something is wrong. Outside, one of the Golden Curls is parted with her beau in the street following an altercation. Leaving him to go in the opposite direction, she steps down to tie her shoes and becomes the Avenger’s latest victim. Back at the boarding house, Mrs. Bunting looks through the lodger’s room in the hope of finding some implicating evidence but when this proves unsuccessful she returns to bed, lying awake watchfully as the lodger returns.
The following day, Mrs. Bunting experiences a deep physical pang of realization when it is revealed there has been another murder close to the boarding house. Suddenly, the screams of Daisy can be heard from the lodger’s room and policeman Joe dashes to save her. However, rather than finding her in danger, Daisy is embracing the lodger in a fit of laughter after being startled by a mouse. Joe assumes that as a woman Daisy is always in need of being rescued, but this scene proves that to be far from true. Downstairs, he embraces Daisy again but as she looks up at the ceiling (the floor of the lodger’s room) it is clear her mind is focused elsewhere.
In a rare social trip outside, the lodger attends a fashion show featuring Daisy where he is clearly interested in her, rather than the two brunettes flocking him on either side. Daisy returns home to find the dress she was wearing at the fashion show, a gift from the lodger. In another example of men trying to make choices for her, Mr. Bunting insists Daisy cannot accept the gift. While her parents remain worried, Daisy maintains her own opinion and always keeps an open mind, basing her judgments of people on her own experiences. After slipping out together, the lodger and Daisy find themselves alone at last and they have a wonderful time in one another’s company. However, Joe is stalking the couple and in an act of possession he remarks, “let go my girl’s hand would you,” prompting Daisy to declare she is tired of his interference and she wishes to be left alone.
Daisy and the lodger continue to explore their deep connection, yet in a passionate embrace he appears tormented, throwing her off. At the Buntings’, the police arrive to speak to the lodger and search his rooms where they find a bag containing a gun, a map, and press cuttings associated with the Avenger. Still, despite this damning evidence, Daisy continues to comfort her new acquaintance, even when they find a photograph of the Avenger’s first victim who is revealed to be the lodger’s sister. Wearing the same handcuffs that Daisy was locked in earlier, the lodger attempts to strangle the police officer as Daisy cries longingly, pushing her arms in front of him declaring his innocence. Daisy whispers to the lodger to meet her by the lamp and moments later he escapes.
Arriving at their rendezvous, Daisy finds out the truth about his past. Through flashbacks, the lodger tells of how while dancing with his sister at a ball one night, all the lights went out and she was found brutally murdered by the Avenger. In turn, this caused his mother to die from shock but not before imploring him on her death bed to seek out his sister’s killer. It is evident from the lodger’s account that the women in his life were incredibly dear to him, and it is worth noting that there is no mention of a father figure. Daisy responds to this news with humanity; kissing his hand tenderly, she reassures him and puts a cloak around his body. In a reversal of the male hero rescuing the woman, Daisy advises him to keep his handcuffs hidden so she can lead him to a bar to purchase a brandy to aid the shock.
Unable to withstand the suspicious questions of the customers in the bar, the lodger flees and is subjected to a prolonged attack from a furious mob. Meanwhile, the police discover that the real Avenger has been caught. Comforted by Daisy in hospital, we hear the lodger has suffered a serious nervous strain but that he will survive and with a subtle nod to his past trauma, a picture above him is shown facing the wall.
Throughout THE LODGER, whether it be through montages, newspapers, police reports, or dialogue it is evident that despite the women being the subjects of attack, it is the men who tell their stories. Yet, while the Avenger murderer might be terrorizing his victims, the women of the film prove themselves to be shrewd, independent, and adept at doing all they can to protect themselves. The importance of women and female figures is also highlighted through their absence as well as their presence, as evidenced through the lodger’s family history. Daisy demonstrates a confidence in challenging authority, and a compassionate spirit in being able to look beyond the surface of the lodger’s seemingly suspect character, recognizing his fragility. While extending a hand of humanity and support to the lodger, Daisy also deals with the repeated unwanted advances of Joe whom she refuses to be overpowered by. In the epilogue, a recovered lodger is shown to be living happily with Daisy, and the pair share a final embrace. Fittingly, Hitchcock gives the final parting shot to Daisy who now appears fulfilled and in an equal, loving relationship built upon her own terms.