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(the first American noir): STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR, Sat 7:45 AM


FredCDobbs
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(the first American noir): STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR, Sat 7:45 AM

 

*Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)*

 

A newspaperman serves as key witness in a circumstantial murder case, and then he gets blamed for the murder.

 

Dir: Boris Ingster Cast: Peter Lorre , John McGuire , Margaret Tallichet

 

---------------------

 

I usually call this the first official "film noir" movie made in the USA. Other people might disagree, but this is one of the earliest I can find that has Dutch Tilts, old German-style impressionistic photography, lots of side-lighting, back-lighting, and shadows. An innocent guy accused of a murder. A French-noir type of hopeless/futile plot that the hero is stuck in. One of the best nightmare dream sequences ever filmed. A crazy killer on the loose. And lots of other stuff that we usually associate with American noir films of the 1940s and 50s.

 

Yes, there were earlier norish type films, such as some of the French murder films and German films like M and Crime and Punishment, but STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR gets my vote for being the first American noir that has everything we like in a noir. :)

 

lorre-lg.jpg

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You raise tons of great points about this flick, Fred!!! It's been a while since I've seen it, so I'm totally looking forward to it! And highly recommended for anyone who may not have seen it, it pretty much rocks out! Though it does have many of these qualities Fred mentioned, it also has a feel of a B flick in a way due to the screenplay, dialogue and cast (other than Peter Lorre, of course!). But that's ok, and doesn't detract at all (in fact, contributes, I'd say!) from making it a totally groovy film experience!!

 

 

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Thanks.

 

Here's a review of the film:

 

"Among noir geeks there is an eternal debate about the exact beginnings of the genre. Some people finger Huston's The Maltese Falcon as the culprit that started the ball rolling in 1941. Others say that it all started as late as 1944 when McMurray meet Stanwyck in Wilder's Double Indemnity. A more likely candidate, however, is a little 63-minute RKO film from 1940 called Stranger On The Third Floor."

 

The Blog of Jake Hinkson--novelist and film scholar

http://thenighteditor.blogspot.com/2009/06/stranger-on-third-floor-1940.html

 

Edited by: FredCDobbs on Nov 2, 2012 5:12 PM

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Why "P.U."? I quite like *Stanger on the Third Floor*. It's a little unsophisticated in its plot development, but the plot is secondary to the main character's psychology, his feelings of guilt about condemning the wrong man, and his fascination/revulsion for the Peter Lorre character.

Also, as mark said, the visuals are great in this, deliciously noirish, all dark shadows, crooked stairwells, and lines everywhere ! Feels very German Expressionist, and because of Lorre playing an angst-ridden killer on the run again, a little like a throwback to *M* .

And that dream sequence ! Love it! I tend to have a soft spot for any film with bizarre dream sequences.

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>Did you see it?

 

Yes, I watch it every time. I love it! :)

 

I think this would have been a more famous film if it had more famous cast members, but the ones it does have seem like real average people, and the cops in this film act like a lot of small town cops. They jump to conclusions about who they think is guilty, even though they have no real clues.

 

The dream sequence is the best I've ever seen in a noir film.

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I haven't seen this film and missed it when it was on TCM.

Something for Peter Lorre and Elisha Cook, Jr. fans, and worth a look for cinematography, if nothing else...

But as Dobbs and Hingston say, important film for beginning of "noir" genre...

 

Wiki article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stranger_on_the_Third_Floor

 

Panned by critics when first released, it's regarded a bit better now:

https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/stranger_on_the_third_floor/

 

Bosley Crowther review from "New York Times" (Sept. 2, 1940) here:

http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?_r=1&res=9A01E6D6133EE432A25751C0A96F9C946193D6CF&oref=slogin

 

"Variety" review from Dec. 31, 1939 here:

http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117795252?refcatid=31

 

Short review by Dave Kehr ("Chicago Reader") from 1996 here:

http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/stranger-on-the-third-floor/Film?oid=1059658

 

Wiki article on Film Noir that discusses "Stranger on the Third Floor" here (near start of "Classic Period" paragraph):

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Film_noir#Classic_period

 

Edited by: RMeingast on Nov 3, 2012 1:29 PM

Change link to correct it.

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It doesn't have to be good to be first. Peter Lorre stands out among the performers, even with his limited presence. Definitely an A-list player in B-movie territory.

 

For noir elements, add in the ambiguous morality of the main character, and the almost ubiquitous stair railings and venetian blinds, and their shadows. And the characters reflected in mirrors.

 

The noir look of the film certainly seems to have sprung into existence fully-formed. A key to its look may be found in Nicholas Musraca's cinematography, whose later credits everyone knows include Out of the Past, and many of Val Lewton's films.

 

The contributions of the director, Boris Ingster, are uncertain, but if I am not too influenced by Peter Lorre, it has the feeling of his being influenced by Fritz Lang.

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The review of "Stranger on the Third Floor" in the "Chicago Reader" below in another post of mine,

mentions the "forgotten John McGuire":

http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/stranger-on-the-third-floor/Film?oid=1059658

 

There's not much about him at Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_McGuire_%28actor%29

 

Did he deserve to be "forgotten"?

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willbefree, if you don't care for film noir, or the visuals of noir ( and half of what it's all about is the visuals), that's fine. A lot ( but not all) of noir is about the shadows, and yup, that includes venetian blinds, along with window panes, stair railings, street lamps, and all sorts of other objects in the scene ( on a set or on location).One of the reasons *Stranger on the Third Floor* is celebrated is because of those beautiful mysterious shadows, reflecting the "dark" aspects of the character's inner psyche ( as opposed to his outer psyche, I suppose :| .)

 

As for the acting, I'm probably the only person who posts on this website who doesn't really care that much if the acting is "bad". I even created a thread about it once. If I like the other aspects of the film enough, I just overlook bad acting. Anyway, half the time when people say someone can't act, or they can't watch an otherwise well-made film because of the actors' ineptness, I don't even notice it. I must have some "bad acting detection sense" missing, because it rarely bothers me. Ok, sometimes, but that's usually if I don't like the movie anyway.

 

I thought the acting in *Stranger on the Third Floor* was ok, certainly not "bad" enough to distract me from engaging in the film.

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ME not care about the visuals of film noir? It is my very favorite film genre. I live for the shadows from venetian blinds in noir movies!

 

If the amateur acting of the two leads, whatever their names were, appealed to you, that's fine.

 

Remember the 'happy happy joy joy' rule of this place, I am entitled to my opinion, and I was embarrassed for the two leads, whatever their names were, and when that happens, the hack actors take me OUT of the movie, and it ruins the movie for me. It happens in current day movies, and occasionally (e.g. John Wayne or Gary Cooper) it happened in black and white movies.

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This is the kind of film that really appeals to me. It's one that transcends its humble origins of just a B potboiler. Shot in about two weeks and using up the two days that Lorre owed RKO. This was just supposed to fill the bottom of the bill and here we are still studying it 70 years later.

 

Is it the first noir? Who cares, the whole subject of noir is too open to interpretation anyway. I might give a nod to Lang's 1937 YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE which also has some shots typical of noir, such as this one;

 

UK[iyou[/i]onlyliveoncelangfonda+4208.jpg]

 

While John McGuire may have slipped through the cracks, his leading lady Margaret Tallichet did OK for herself - she married William Wyler and thus neve had to worry about her next meal. Plus the film has plenty of character actors such as Charles Halton, Ethel Griffies, Cliff Clark and it has to be the youngest that I've ever seen Herb Vigran.

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Just my two cents on this one, everything was great except the ending seemed a bit too rosy for a noir. Much of the movie sort of compares to *Detour*, where the guy starts out straight and slowly goes nuts around a supposed crime. It is the endings that differ, and maybe 1940 was too early to put out a real noir ending but I could easily see the reporter killing the bad neighbor and letting Lorre take the rap for it.

 

Or the reporter kills Lorre and takes the rap for three murders as a lesson not to kill.

 

Nobody should really live happily ever after in the real noirs I think, at least they shouldn't. Maybe that is what makes them so different.

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Hah, good point.

 

However, and I have trouble finding the movie every single time I go to talk about - there is the wonderful noir with Brian Donlevy (boy I hope it's not Brian Aherne) where he is thrown off a road by his wife's luvah and he gets killed (cool, no?) by a truck on the road thereafter, and Brian A or D ends up in a town with no memory and gets a job as a mechanic and meets a nice girl....................and so on. That one ends happily, and boy is it a good movie.

 

So is Murder My Sweet and that ends happily.

 

SOTTF was just a stinker. IF the powers that be had auditioned other than the D- category actors, this COULD have been a very good movie. Cook and Lorre and the venetian blinds and their shadows and even the staircase were very good, but man, the leads stunk up the place.

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It's ok that you don't like the movie, willbefree25. I don't like any of The Saint movies and several other kinds of popular detective films.

 

I always thought the two lead actors in Stranger on the Third Floor were pretty good and should have been in more major movies. I think they act very much like average people, and since they are pretty much unknown, they seem more vulnerable to me.

 

I think the film was a bit "over the top", but I think we've all been involved in some things in our lifetime that have been "over the top". I know I have. :)

 

The director, Boris Ingster, directed only 3 films and this was his first one. He was mainly a screenwriter.I think he and his cameraman and lighting technicians set out to make an old-European-style, and maybe a German style artistic film, something like what M was. Or the weird Dr. Mabuse films.

 

There is a strong feeling about this film that makes me think the director had some top level meetings with the cameraman, lighting men, and screenwriter, in advance, so they would all be on board for the making of a memorable artistic film. I get the same feeling when I watch The Third Man.

 

And I'll bet that Stranger on the Third Floor was studied by other noir film makers, because everything changed AFTER this film, especially the noir lighting.

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Thanks Fred, for the free to be me...........remember when Marlo Thomas did that?

 

Speaking of remember when, anyone here besides Fred and myself remember the Great Gas Shortage of 1973? It's a horror here in New Yawk and danged if everyone is a pup and wasn't born in 1973. Add insult to depressing injury.

 

Anyway, OT, Fred, I may have to give this another look-see, since I've read the average people thingy about these two since I saw the film. Unlike the narration in DOA, I was put off by whatshisname's narration, and helllllllllllllo, lawyer, circumstantial evidence and reasonable doubt duh! and all KINDS of gaping holes in the evidence that should have never led to his conviction, and oh yeah, after you almost ended my life, I'll be your taxi driver, and oh yeah, I just got hit by a bus but I don't have a scratch on me and I can confess the truth and................I guess I should just wait to see it again.

 

Yes, it was artistic, you and many others here are right on the money there. Oh, and The Third Man annoyed me too, but heaven forbid, I won't go into that now.

 

But okay, if this film led to the venetian blind and sheer curtain and shadow craze of the noir films (I love you, Murder My Sweet), then I have to shake the hand of Stranger On The Third Floor. I bet they're relieved to know that. :)

 

And finally, like the Hayward Saint (ST, oh whatta goo sam I), I have to thank TCM for this film.

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> {quote:title=willbefree25 wrote:}{quote} ( amongst other things) ...

>

> If the amateur acting of the two leads, whatever their names were, appealed to you, that's fine.

>

Now, now, I did not say that the "amateur acting"..."appealed" to me. I just said it didn't bother me enough to mar my enjoyment of the film.

 

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