Hitchcock’s Silent Classic “The Lodger” on the Radio

25 06 2010

Since I am about to leave for a few days, we’ve got a special report from a guest-blogger, the Midwest Foreign Correspondent to Hitchcock and Me, one Keating DuGarm, who looks at the radio adaptation of  a silent movie classic!

Take it away, Keating…

Alfred Hitchcock proved to have a huge presence on the screens of movie theaters and television. But what about radio? Could the great visual suspense movie director make his mark there? Hollywood used radio in the 1940s and 1950s to promote their current movies as well as making people aware of movies they could see when they were re-released in the theaters or, eventually, on television.

Hitchcock had a role in creating one of radio’s best known mystery anthology shows, “Suspense.”  Forecast was a 1940 summer series designed to feature pilot shows to try before radio listeners. July 22, 1940 saw Aftred Hitchcock directing the first episode of “Suspense,” a 30-minute version of “The Lodger” by Marie Belloc Lowndes. Hitch had, of course, filmed an adaptation of this novel in 1926 as his first released feature. At the beginning of this program, Thomas Freebairn-Smith, the announcer, stated that “The Lodger” was the first choice for this program for both Mr. Hitchcock and for this show’s star and narrator, Herbert Marshall. Marshall had starred in Hitchcock’s 1930 film “Murder.”

This story seems truncated after one has seen the film. Set in 1888 London, it mainly takes place in the lodging house where Mr. Sleuth (Marshall) rents a room from Mr. and Mrs. Bunting (Noreen Gammill and Edmund Gwenn). Mrs. Bunting soon suspects that Mr. Sleuth is the serial killer the Avenger, a Jack-the-Ripper like murderer. Mrs. Bunting goes to an inquest that raises her suspicions and makes her fear for her step daughter’s life. Mrs. Bunting then rushes back to her rooming house to confront Mr. Sleuth. Rather than having an ending, like the movie has, this one ends up the the director stopping the action completely and then answering questions with other questions so that we, the audience, do not know if Mr. Sleuth is the Avenger or not.

Mr. Marshall does call this director “Hitch,” making us assume that the person speaking is Alfred Hitchcock. It is not. The director is played by Joseph Kearns doing an impersonation of Hitchcock. This would not have been noticed in 1940. Nowdays, after over fifty years of Hitchcock on television, we know quite well what the master of suspense sounds like. Joseph Kearns would later come to be the voice of the Man in Black, the mascot for “Suspense.”

The show ran from June 17, 1942 to September 30, 1962 as radio’s longest lived dramatic anthology show, although Hitchcock had nothing to do with this show after 1940.

Incidentally, Edmund Gwenn played the same role his brother Arthur Chesney had in Hitchcock’s original “The Lodger.” Also, Marshall and Gwenn were both stars in Hitchock’s then recent “Foreign Corrspondent” which was also promoted on this show.

“The Lodger” returned to radio form at least four more times in the 1940’s, including one promoting 20th Century Fox’s 1944 film remake.

Credits: Forecast presents Suspense 07/22/1940: “The Lodger” by Marie Belloc Lowndes. Alfred Hitchcock (director); Wilber Hatch (music); Thomas Freebairn-Smith (announcer). Starring Herbert Marshall (Mr. Sleuth, narrator); Noreen Gammill (Ellen Buning); Joseph Kearns (“Alfred Hitchcock.)

Sources: Radio Stars by Thomas DeLong Suspense: Twenty Years of Thrills and Chills by Martin Grams, Jr. On the Air: the Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio by John Dunning The Best of Old Time Radio: Alfred Hitchcock by Athony Tollin and William Nadel.

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