Man in the Attic (1953)
Directed by Hugo Fregonese
Produced by Robert L. Jacks
Screenplay by Barré Lyndon (Alfred Edgar), Robert Presnell Jr.
Based on The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes
Cinematography by Leo Tover
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
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By the time Man in the Attic premiered on the last day of the year in 1953, the Jack the Ripper story based on the novel The Lodger had already been filmed three times: in 1927 as The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and productions in 1932 and 1944 (both titled simply The Lodger), directed by Maurice Elvey and John Brahm respectively. Other Jack the Ripper films not specifically based on the novel also appeared during these years. So what makes Man in the Attic special?
It’s London, 1888, and the Jack the Ripper killings have been going on for three consecutive nights. The police have few clues and the entire city is in a near-panic. But even during a panic, you have to have money coming in, so middle-aged couple William (Rhys Williams) and Helen Harley (Frances Bavier, aka Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show) take in a lodger named Mr. Slade (Jack Palance). Mr. Slade - a research pathologist who needs privacy in order to conduct experiments - is eager to rent out the Harley’s attic. The Harleys think Slade a bit odd, but hey, the money’s coming in, right? Their concern grows, however, when Mrs. Harley’s niece Lily Bonner (Constance Smith) becomes interested in Slade.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with Man in the Attic, but it seems rather unnecessary. Both The Lodger (1944) and Hangover Square (1945), both directed by John Brahm (who must’ve had a thing for Jack the Ripper stories), are far better films, especially Hangover Square. (Both films also star Laird Cregar.) Palance provides some interesting touches and Smith is good as the actress who gains Slade’s attention, but much of the film is rather routine. If you’re just beginning to explore Jack the Ripper films, this is probably not the best place to start.
Next time: a powerful British noir (featuring an American lead actor) that you really should discover.
Photos: DVD Beaver, Park Circus