Jack Palance picks up the knife for this low budget version of The Lodger that had last been played by Laird Cregar in the superior 1944 version.
The Lodger is of course Jack the Ripper.
The film opens with another Ripper murder in the fog shrouded streets of Whitechapel. While the search for the famed killer is under way our leading man Jack Palance arrives at the door of an older couple looking to rent their extra room. The couple are played by long time character player Rhys Williams and Frances Bavier of Aunt Bee fame from Mayberry.
Palance sells himself to Bavier as a doctor of science who likes his privacy and doesn’t need any paintings of actresses hanging in his room. The faces disturb him.
Into his world comes the older couple’s niece played by Constance Smith. She’s breathtakingly beautiful and Jack takes notice. She in turn seems to take an interest in Palance’s shy nature and background story meant to give reason for the atrocities he commits. Could he be a possible suitor?
When another murder takes place our intrepid inspector played by Byron Palmer winds up questioning our leading lady about the victim. This in turn leads him to discover the strange Lodger that is staying with the family.
When lovable Aunt Bee begins to suspect something isn’t quite right with Palance’s movements she comes to believe she is harboring the man known as Jack the Ripper. Hubby Williams continually shoots her down with some amusing solutions concerning her suspicions.
When Jack begins to fence with Palmer over police procedures his world will no doubt come crashing down. Especially when Constance Smith shrugs aside his advances for a possible life together as after all she is a lady of the stage.
It won’t be long before the clues add up and the late night chase is on as Palance attempts to flee the police led by Palmer.
Jack Palance makes for a good on screen Ripper in a role that allowed him to play it low key and restrained where it could have been easy to go over the top.
With the amount of serial killers we have experienced on screen over the last couple of decades this role from Jack can be looked upon as one of the the screens earlier attempts at digging into the killers reasoning that we hear of all the time in our thrillers of today.
While this is a “B” film, it’s above average but in no way should be held up to the Cregar version. The Lodger story has been filmed a number of times including an early 1927 version from Alfred Hitchcock.
Beautiful Constance Smith who plays the object of Jack’s desires is a dead ringer for Hedy Lamarr. It’s no wonder she won her trip to stardom because of it. It seems she won a Hedy lookalike contest. Sadly she fell into obscurity in the late fifties and wound up another Hollywood tragedy.
This Palance effort was directed by Hugo Fregonese who in the early fifties worked with a number of name actors including Gary Cooper and Barbara Stanwyck on Blowing Wild before going overseas for the balance of his career.
Man in the Attic is an easy film to locate online or as part of the Midnight Movies collection on DVD from MGM.