The first shot is a remarkable advance on The Lodger, a high-angle panorama of a Victorian street that cranes up to a second-floor window, passes through it and becomes a POV shot in the midst of a murder. The killer is a composer (Laird Cregar), a tender soul with an aberrant side brought out by dissonant sounds, "black little moods" from which he rouses bloody and bewildered. He's positioned between the fair damsel (Faye Marlowe) who encourages classical gentility and the dark minx (Linda Darnell) who milks his talent for dance-hall hits. John Brahm tackles the gaslight drama straight, then uncorks a myriad of stylistic inventions as baroque romanticism pours into it. Distorting lens turn a cluster of clanging pipes into a tangled psyche externalized; the camera is placed ground-level as Cregar steps out of his flat in a trance and splashes a puddle, the image freezes and fades into a female scream. Bodies pile up, "police are at their ruddy wit's end as usual." Deceit sends violins crashing, Guy Fawkes Day is envisioned as a mountain of grimacing effigies that hides evidence of murder, Brahm tilts down from the top as the huge pyre is lit. A fable about monstrous artistry, dark and quivering -- Sondheim ingested it (Sweeney Todd), so did De Palma (Carrie). "You can't be blamed, but you're dangerous," declares inspector George Sanders, though the protagonist's gothic intensity won't be denied the release of the concerto macabre: Brahm circles and sweeps to Bernard Herrmann's luxurious beat, then proceeds to draw the film to the image at the close of the aesthete furiously at work, surrounded by flames. ("Art is born from what it burns," says Godard.) With Alan Napier. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce