CaveGirl

Seminal Noir

31 posts in this topic

Hey, no cracks!

This is serious business. TCM is showing what could be the cornerstone of noirish origins on this coming Tuesday, September the 18th with the showing of the Boris Ingster flick, "Stranger on the Third Floor" from 1940.

Starring erstwhile man of mystery, Peter Lorre the theme is about a newspaperman who is a witness in a murder case. Also with Elisha Cook, Junior, what more need be said? With German Expressionistic tendencies and a dark, foreboding atmosphere, this film commands respect. Also a fine musical accompaniment by Roy Webb adds to its allure.

Filmed at RKO, and lensed by master cinematographer, the fabulous Nicholas Musaraca, this winner was taken from work by writer Frank Partos, who left Hungary in the 1920's to work in Hollywood, later working with screenwriter, Charles Brackett. "The Stranger on the Third Floor" had some uncredited assistance on the script by Nathanael West, who wrote the really most downbeat take on Hollywood in "The Day of the Locust".

Some say this could be the first noir, but if you disagree, please give us your choice for the title.



 

 

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13 minutes ago, CaveGirl said:

Hey, no cracks!

This is serious business. TCM is showing what could be the cornerstone of noirish origins on this coming Tuesday, September the 18th with the showing of the Boris Ingster flick, "Stranger on the Third Floor" from 1940.

Starring erstwhile man of mystery, Peter Lorre the theme is about a newspaperman who is a witness in a murder case. Also with Elisha Cook, Junior, what more need be said? With German Expressionistic tendencies and a dark, foreboding atmosphere, this film commands respect. Also a fine musical accompaniment by Roy Webb adds to its allure.

Filmed at RKO, and lensed by master cinematographer, the fabulous Nicholas Musaraca, this winner was taken from work by writer Frank Partos, who left Hungary in the 1920's to work in Hollywood, later working with screenwriter, Charles Brackett. "The Stranger on the Third Floor" had some uncredited assistance on the script by Nathanael West, who wrote the really most downbeat take on Hollywood in "The Day of the Locust".

Some say this could be the first noir, but if you disagree, please give us your choice for the title.

The term I've seen used for STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR is proto-noir. 

Some silent films are considered proto-noir. Like THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK (1928).

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16 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

The term I've seen used for STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR is proto-noir. 

Some silent films are considered proto-noir. Like THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK (1928).

Yes, I've seen "The Docks of New York" and it really does have many noir elements and your classification is exacting. 

Speaking of protos, I always enjoyed the talents of actor, Bruno VeProto who starred as the rich man in the classic, "Daughter of Horror" [aka "Dementia"].

Thanks for your as always erudite thoughts, TB!

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This is an interesting point of debate - Can some of the precodes be considered noir? Docks of New York is certainly an example of one that might be thought to be noir. I've always put all of the films that talked about the seedy side of life from 1928-1934 in the same basket - precodes. Then there is the production code era in which good films can be found - Dodsworth for example - but so many films of the time period 1935-1941 are very saccharine in quality. Then you have the war era films, 1942-1945, and then I consider the noir era to be the period stretching from 1945 to 1960, although some films made during the war era were noirs also. People just couldn't go back exclusively to The Hardys, Jeanette and Nelson crooning to one another, and other such films after the real world had seen such destruction during the war years. Things weren't always wholesome and didn't always turn out OK, and there was no sense in pretending that they did.

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7 minutes ago, calvinnme said:

This is an interesting point of debate - Can some of the precodes be considered noir? Docks of New York is certainly an example of one that might be thought to be noir. I've always put all of the films that talked about the seedy side of life from 1928-1934 in the same basket - precodes. Then there is the production code era in which good films can be found - Dodsworth for example - but so many films of the time period 1935-1941 are very saccharine in quality. Then you have the war era films, 1942-1945, and then I consider the noir era to be the period stretching from 1945 to 1960, although some films made during the war era were noirs also. People just couldn't go back exclusively to The Hardys, Jeanette and Nelson crooning to one another, and other such films after the real world had seen such destruction during the war years. Things weren't always wholesome and didn't alway turn out OK, and there was no sense in pretending that they did.

Agreed, Calvin!

So many literary tales were noirish in tone, way back before movies even came into existence. I don't think this type of way of looking at life, just appeared in full bloom in films, but evolved little by little, and then began to be noticed. You make good cases about all the periods and why the disenchantment with forced and prim reality began to become noxious. I will say upon my first viewing of TSOTTF, I was mightily impressed though with its novel lighting and framing of shots, by Musaraca which do influence later noir films I feel. Thanks for your fine post!

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Since I view noir as more of a style than a genre,   to me the question is: What films before 1940 featured noir elements \ themes? 

The book Film Noir (Ward \ Silver) in the chronology of Film Noir appendix lists:  

Underworld - 1927,   The Racket -  28,  Thunderbolt - 29, City Streets (31),  Beast of the City and I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang - 32,  The Scoundrel - 35,  Fury - 36,  You Only Live Once - 37.

I have seen on TCM The Racket, City Streets,  Beast of the City and Fury.    

In 1940 The Letter and Strangers on the Third Floor are often sited as the films that launched the 'classic' noir era (with so called noir experts having different opinions on  how 'noir' The Letter  is,  and with common agreement with regards to Strangers on the Third Floor).  

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Fury and You Only Live Once could certainly pass for noir. There are also noir roots in German expressionism and French poetic realism. Port of Shadows has plenty of fog, dark streets, night, and doom--great writing, directing, acting, and cinematography, too.

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A lot of those early German expressionist films, not only the silents but some of the sound films from the '30s, clearly influenced noir directors; you can see the antecedents there in many ways. The dark shadows, including light and shadow bars across characters' faces, odd camera angles, seedy settings, and most of all, the conflicted and often pathological psychological state of the characters, all demonstrate noir tropes that future filmmakers would use.

Just a couple of examples:  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a German silent from 1920, features bizarre camera angles, dark, ominous corners, and most of all a  mentally unstable protagonist.  Then there's the original M, from 1931, a deeply affecting and disturbing work from noir stalwart-to-be, Fritz Lang. Interestingly, Peter Lorre also stars in this, and, like the pathetic and dangerous criminal he plays almost ten years later in Stranger on the Third Floor, Lorre gives us an unforgettable performance of a profoundly ill man, alienated from society, capable of unspeakable acts, and yet who somehow manages to elicit our compassion..

In fact, I believe it's Lorre's brief but intense portrayal of the frightened, violent yet oddly sympathetic sociopath in SOTTF that makes this seminal noir so memorable.

I also really enjoy the hero's dream, full of guilt and fear and those German expressionist graphics.

Also, I never realized before that the secret to great coffee is putting a raisin the the cup before you pour it.

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There are various film noir classifications that get used. There's neo noir and there's tech noir, for example.

But I would like to cite Strangers on the Third Floor as the first Dental Noir.

That's right. Take a look at those choppers in Peter Lorre's mouth. This is the first of the "Oh My Aching Teeth, They're Driving Me to Do Anti-Social Things" films.

A good dental plan and a little mouth wash might have done Peter's character wonders in the dating department. Instead he's cornering women in hallways like this and breathing all over them. And, based on the face of this woman here, they're less than thrilled with the experience.

strangerthird4big.jpg

Unfortunately it's a theme in noirs that never seemed to really catch on, guys who lurk in dark shadows with really bad teeth.

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3 hours ago, misswonderly3 said:

A lot of those early German expressionist films, not only the silents but some of the sound films from the '30s, clearly influenced noir directors; you can see the antecedents there in many ways. The dark shadows, including light and shadow bars across characters' faces, odd camera angles, seedy settings, and most of all, the conflicted and often pathological psychological state of the characters, all demonstrate noir tropes that future filmmakers would use.

Just a couple of examples:  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a German silent from 1920, features bizarre camera angles, dark, ominous corners, and most of all a  mentally unstable protagonist.  Then there's the original M, from 1931, a deeply affecting and disturbing work from noir stalwart-to-be, Fritz Lang. Interestingly, Peter Lorre also stars in this, and, like the pathetic and dangerous criminal he plays almost ten years later in Stranger on the Third Floor, Lorre gives us an unforgettable performance of a profoundly ill man, alienated from society, capable of unspeakable acts, and yet who somehow manages to elicit our compassion..

In fact, I believe it's Lorre's brief but intense portrayal of the frightened, violent yet oddly sympathetic sociopath in SOTTF that makes this seminal noir so memorable.

I also really enjoy the hero's dream, full of guilt and fear and those German expressionist graphics.

Also, I never realized before that the secret to great coffee is putting a raisin the the cup before you pour it.

Lang's Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler (1922) is quite noir-ish also and a lot of films of French poetic realism movement. French Noirs, Pierre Chenal’s Crime and Punishment (1935), Jean Renoir’s The Lower Depths (Les Bas-fonds) (1936), Julien Duvivier’s Pépé le Moko (1937), Jeff Musso’s The Puritan (1938), Marcel Carné’s Port of Shadows (Le Quai des brumes) (1938), Jean Renoir’s La Bête Humaine (1938), Marcel Carné’s Hôtel du Nord (1938), Marcel Carné’s Le Jour se lève (Daybreak) 1939, and Pierre Chenal’s Le Dernier Tournant (1939).

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9 minutes ago, TomJH said:

...Unfortunately it's a theme in noirs that never seemed to really catch on, guys who lurk in shadows with really bad teeth.

LOL

Actually Tom, I believe "Dental Noir" DID catch on in the British cinema for a while.

(...and for obvious reasons)

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4 minutes ago, Dargo said:

LOL

Actually Tom, I believe "Dental Noir" DID catch on in the British cinema for a while.

(...and for obvious reasons)

Terry-Thomas-11x17-Mini-Poster-smiling-g

"You know, old boy, I really resent that comment."

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On the 18th, there is also the classic Out of The Past. So a good comparison can be made between Stranager and Out of the Past.

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Just watched Strange on the Third Floor.  Boring.  Had to force myself to watch it.  Not very well crafted and too many gimmicks.  Not the least of which is the heroine finding Peter Lorre and then him confessing just as he dies. Not my idea of Noir.

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5 minutes ago, TheCid said:

Just watched Strange on the Third Floor.  Boring.  Had to force myself to watch it.  Not very well crafted and too many gimmicks.  Not the least of which is the heroine finding Peter Lorre and then him confessing just as he dies. Not my idea of Noir.

So we can assume you didn't like it as much as OUT OF THE PAST. :) 

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2 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

So we can assume you didn't like it as much as OUT OF THE PAST. :) 

No.  Ironically Out of the Past is not one of my favorites.  Although it is very good and I can understand why so many think of it as the classic Noir movie.

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2 minutes ago, TheCid said:

No.  Ironically Out of the Past is not one of my favorites.  Although it is very good and I can understand why so many think of it as the classic Noir movie.

Okay, thanks for clarifying. Probably the reason STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR seems weaker is because noir was in its infancy, and they were still figuring out the "formula" for these kinds of stories.

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7 minutes ago, TheCid said:

Just watched Strange on the Third Floor.  Boring.  Had to force myself to watch it.  Not very well crafted and too many gimmicks.  Not the least of which is the heroine finding Peter Lorre and then him confessing just as he dies. Not my idea of Noir.

Really?  I've seen it two or three times, and have never found it boring. Now, if you're saying it's not up to the standards we usually see in later noirs, like the cinematography, acting, dialogue, etc., I'd have to agree that it's a bit lacking in sophistication compared to the later films we associate with the "classic noir era". But remember, the O.P was just saying she thinks Stranger on the Third Floor is a seminal noir, "seminal" meaning "influential", "formative".  (hey, I looked it up.)  It's not really fair to compare SOTTF to the later noirs.

What it does have in common with those later noirs, and where you can definitely see the influence on them ( er, the later noirs), is in the shadowy cinematography, the late night scenes ( diners, walking those slightly ominous city streets), the shabby walk-up where the hero lives, the very noirish dream/nightmare sequence, and the themes of misplaced guilt, isolation ( hey, who's more isolated than poor old Peter Lorre?), and paranoia.

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13 minutes ago, misswonderly3 said:

Really?  I've seen it two or three times, and have never found it boring. Now, if you're saying it's not up to the standards we usually see in later noirs, like the cinematography, acting, dialogue, etc., I'd have to agree that it's a bit lacking in sophistication compared to the later films we associate with the "classic noir era". But remember, the O.P was just saying she thinks Stranger on the Third Floor is a seminal noir, "seminal" meaning "influential", "formative".  (hey, I looked it up.)  It's not really fair to compare SOTTF to the later noirs.

What it does have in common with those later noirs, and where you can definitely see the influence on them ( er, the later noirs), is in the shadowy cinematography, the late night scenes ( diners, walking those slightly ominous city streets), the shabby walk-up where the hero lives, the very noirish dream/nightmare sequence, and the themes of misplaced guilt, isolation ( hey, who's more isolated than poor old Peter Lorre?), and paranoia.

I also had to look up seminal when I first came across this thread.  Agree that the cinematography, night scenes, etc. might be noirish, but I don't think this influenced later noir, but then again what do I know.  Couldn't you say the same thing about a lot of mystery and horro movies? 

It just did not seem to flow very well.

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4 minutes ago, TheCid said:

I also had to look up seminal when I first came across this thread.  Agree that the cinematography, night scenes, etc. might be noirish, but I don't think this influenced later noir, but then again what do I know.  Couldn't you say the same thing about a lot of mystery and horro movies? 

It just did not seem to flow very well.

I did already know what "seminal" meant, but for the purpose of the point I was trying to make in my post, I looked it up for a specific, hard definition that would apply to what I was saying.

For sure, a lot of those 30s  ( and even silent) mystery and horror movies were influential in the look and style of film noir. Nobody denies that they too, contributed to the development of the noir style.

Anyway, as for your not enjoying Stranger on the Third Floor, fair enough. We don't always like the same movies, not even us noir fans. I always like to say, "a chacun  son gout".

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6 minutes ago, TheCid said:

I also had to look up seminal when I first came across this thread.  Agree that the cinematography, night scenes, etc. might be noirish, but I don't think this influenced later noir, but then again what do I know.  Couldn't you say the same thing about a lot of mystery and horro movies? 

Good question. Horror films also influenced the look (visual motifs) of noir. Stylistically speaking noir seems derivative of a lot of what came before. This carries through into TV cop shows.

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2 hours ago, TheCid said:

I also had to look up seminal when I first came across this thread.  Agree that the cinematography, night scenes, etc. might be noirish, but I don't think this influenced later noir, but then again what do I know.  Couldn't you say the same thing about a lot of mystery and horro movies? 

It just did not seem to flow very well.

Just stick to 'what do I know' since it covers most situations. 

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if you think of early Seminal Noir, then, Barbara Stanwyck's BABY FACE from 1932 and Paul Muni's  seminal SCARFACE also from 1932 can be included as PROTO NOIR. Many of the PRE CODE FILMS , especially from WARNER BROTHERS, USED same type of lighting inspired by GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM to give them a shadowy tense atmosphere that would be used again in Noir in the late 1940s.  

Speaking of BABY FACE, no other character played by Barbara that could be as bad and rotten TO THE CORE  as any noir FEMME FATALE.  Books have been written about SCARFACE on how it influenced many, many future films.  There is the taboo INCEST angle with Muni obsessing about his sister played by ANN DVORAK. SCARFACE is more than a conventional GANGSTER MOVIE.  PERSONALLY, I LOVE the PUBLIC ENEMY and LITTLE CAESER. i am big fan of PRE COdE FILMS. I tape them whenever they are available.

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Here is a list of PROTO NOIR FILMS

Proto-Noir

Pulled from a combination of Film Noir by Andrew Spicer and Wikipedia.

  • The Musketeers of Pig Alley
  • Alias Jimmy Valentine
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
  • Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler
  • The Joyless Street
  • The Street
  • Metropolis
  • Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans
  • Underworld
  • The Docks of New York
  • The Racket
  • Asphalt
  • The Great Gabbo
  • Thunderbolt
  • The Blue Angel
  • Paid
  • La Chienne
  • M
  • The Big Gamble
  • Blonde Crazy
  • City Streets
  • Five Star Final
  • Little Caesar
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • Quick Millions
  • The Public Enemy
  • Looking for His Murderer
  • Stürme der Leidenschaft
  • The Beast of the City
  • I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang
  • Night Court
  • Payment Deferred
  • Scarface
  • Two Seconds
  • 20,000 Years in Sing Sing
  • Murders in the Rue Morgue
  • Blood Money
  • Private Detective 62
  • The Testament of Dr. Mabuse
  • Crime Without Passion
  • Midnight
  • The Black Cat
  • La Bandera
  • Bordertown
  • The Florentine Dagger
  • G-Men
  • The Glass Key
  • The Scoundrel
  • Bullets or Ballots
  • Fury
  • Great Guy
  • Muss 'em Up
  • The Petrified Forest
  • Satan Met a Lady
  • Black Legion
  • Dead End
  • Kid Galahad
  • Marked Woman
  • San Quentin
  • You Only Live Once
  • They Gave Him a Gun
  • They Won't Forget
  • The Green Cockatoo
  • Pépé le Moko
  • Algiers
  • The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse
  • Angels with Dirty Faces
  • La Bête Humaine
  • Hôtel du Nord
  • Port of Shadows
  • They Drive by Night
  • Blind Alley
  • Each Dawn I Die
  • Invisible Stripes
  • King of the Underworld
  • Let Us Live
  • Rio
  • The Roaring Twenties
  • They Made Me a Criminal
  • Le dernier tournant
  • Le Jour se Lève
  • On the Night of the Fire
  • Angels Over Broadway
  • City for Conquest
  • Johnny Apollo
  • The Shanghai Gesture
  • Cat People
  • The Leopard Man
  • The Seventh Victim

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