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The unsolved case of Jack the Ripper who terrorized the East End of London between the years of 1888-1891 has been the subject of countless movies, television programs, books and graphic novels. Undoubtedly one of the most popular accounts of the homicidal slasher was Marie Belloc Lowndes's best-seller The Lodger which was published in 1913. Despite the fact that this novel was not a fact-based account of the Ripper, it nevertheless inspired at least four movie versions starting with Alfred Hitchcock's silent 1927 version starring Ivor Novello as the chief suspect. The Lodger was remade as a sound film in 1932 by director Maurice Elvey with Novello once again playing the title character. What many consider to be the definitive version of Lowndes's novel appeared in 1944 with Laird Cregar as the hulking, paranoid boarder but Hollywood wasn't finished yet with this particular slant on the infamous killer. 1953 saw yet another remake of The Lodger; this one was titled Man in the Attic and it starred Jack Palance.
Unlike its immediate predecessor which was an "A" picture directed by John Brahm with a first rate cast including George Sanders, Merle Oberon, and Cedric Hardwicke, Man in the Attic was clearly a B-movie with Palance as the only high profile name in the cast. Still, the film is atmospheric, faithful to Lowndes's storyline, and an entertaining diversion for Palance fans who enjoy his particular brand of moody self-absorption and intensity. Here he plays a reclusive pathologist named Slade who is looking for lodgings where his privacy will be respected and he can come and go unobserved since he works irregular hours at a nearby university hospital. He finds exactly what he is looking for at the Harleys but his peculiar behavior is evident from the moment he moves into their attic apartment, noting the framed portraits of actresses on the wall: "These pictures...their eyes follow you wherever you walk. They watch. They get on my nerves. I don't like being watched."
Slade soon learns that he is not the only boarder in the home when he meets the Harleys' niece, Lily Bonner (Constance Smith), a visiting actress from France who is premiering her new stage revue at a local theatre. An attraction develops between the two and Slade begins to court Lily but his peculiar behavior becomes a cause of increasing concern for Mrs. Harley (Frances Bavier) who fears he might be Jack the Ripper. For instance, a witness to a recent murder saw the suspect fleeing the crime scene holding a black medical bag...just like the one Slade carries around. The clues begin to pile up, all of them pointing to Slade as the likely culprit, but is he really the man Scotland Yard is after?
[Spoiler Alert] In Alfred Hitchcock's 1927 version of The Lodger, he changed the ending of Lowndes's story, revealing that Jonathan Drew, the suspected killer, was innocent all along and that the real Jack the Ripper was someone else. Both the 1944 version and Man in the Attic opt for the original ending, however, in which the lodger turns out to be the fiendish killer. In some ways, it couldn't be more obvious but that predictability does add some much needed tension to the film since very few of the Ripper's murders occur on screen. When they do, they are remarkably subtle and discreet compared to the more explicit accounts that would follow in such films as Jack the Ripper (1959), A Study in Terror (1965), Hands of the Ripper (1971), Jess Franco's Jack the Ripper (1976) with Klaus Kinski and From Hell (2001).
The real Jack the Ripper, of course, was never apprehended and historians and crime writers continue to speculate on his true identity. At the top of the list of suspects are Michael Ostrog, a Russian-born criminal and previous mental patient, a poor Jewish resident from Poland named Kosminski, the barrister and school teacher Montague John Druitt, and a quack physician from America known as Dr. Francis J. Tumblety. Queen Victoria's heir and grandson, the Duke of Clarence, is also a favorite suspect and so is the painter Walter Sickert. Another popular rumor circulated about a suspect who died after the murder of Mary Kelly, the Ripper's seventh victim, and was reputedly a sickly young lodger who only went out at night and was overly obsessed with reading articles about the murders. This unidentified, possibly fictitious person, was said to have been the real inspiration for Marie Belloc Lowndes's novel.
Producer: Leonard Goldstein, Robert L. Jacks
Director: Hugo Fregonese
Screenplay: Barre Lyndon, Robert Presnell, Jr., Marie Belloc Lowndes (novel)
Cinematography: Leo Tover
Film Editing: Marjorie Fowler
Art Direction: Leland Fuller, Lyle Wheeler
Music: Eliot Daniel, Hugo Friedhofer
Cast: Jack Palance (Slade), Constance Smith (Lily Bonner), Byron Palmer (Insp. Paul Warwick), Frances Bavier (Helen Harley), Rhys Williams (William Harley), Sean McClory (Constable #1).
by Jeff Stafford