Jack the Ripper was a man accredited with killing five women, though some might suspect that he had innumerable kills to his name. He could have been a doctor or a pauper or he could have been royalty. There are numerous theories about nearly every aspect of the Whitechapel killer and almost all of them have made it to the big screen in one form or another. One of those is Man in the Attic, a film starring Jack Palance and based upon the famous novel The Lodger, released in 1913. It would not be the first time The Lodger was adapted to film, this particular version being the fourth go round for the book, but it would be one of the best.
The story finds a man named Slade in need of a place to stay and he discovers one with an elderly couple. His comings and goings often at strange times and because of the murders that are currently taking place on the streets of Whitechapel, Mrs. Harley suspects her new lodger of being the infamous Ripper. Also staying at the house is Lily Bonner, the Harley’s niece, and she finds Slade to be a fascinating man. The clues start to add up though, and things are not looking too good for the man who just may indeed be the killer that everyone is searching for.
While the film plods along for the most part, the performances of the cast draw the viewer in completely, most especially that of Palance who plays the lead. He is spot-on in his portrayal of the unassuming Slade, a man who is probably the killer but who is so sincere and polite that it causes doubt in both the viewer and those around him. Palance does a masterful job and it is easy to see why he was cast, the man being talented, handsome and perfectly suited to don the shroud of a would-be murderer. Starring opposite him would be Constance Smith, a woman who had all the talent in the world but was often overlooked by studios leading to a life harder than most. Here she would play the object of Slade’s affection and he of hers, perform a couple of musical numbers which seemed a little odd due to the subject matter, and generally do a fine job as the leading lady. While at first it seems like things might turn out well for the two, the evidence against Slade starts to become proof more than not and as such, the ending is not necessarily a happy one.
Additionally, Frances Bavier lends some whit to her performance of Mrs. Harley while Rhys Williams is the thoughtful voice of reason as the woman’s husband and when taken with everything else including some good tension, very moody cinematography and strong direction from Hugo Fregonese, this would make for one of the better pictures to deal with the Jack the Ripper mythology. One might say that there is a lack of horror present within the film, but it is there, subtle and understated, present in the attitudes of those that surround Slade, in the mood of the city and the people that inhabit it and it permeates the story, an undercurrent that is always there, in each and every scene. Altogether, Man in the Attic is a very engaging film to say the least.
4 out of 5