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The Passing of the Third Floor Back (1935)

The tenants of an old boarding house are terrorized by an evil slumlord. One day a strange man arrives at the house and begins to help them with their problems.

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Cast

Cast overview:
...
René Ray ...
Stasia (as Rene Ray)
Frank Cellier ...
Wright
...
John Turnbull ...
Major Tomkin
Cathleen Nesbitt ...
Mrs. Tomkin (as Catherine Nesbitt)
Ronald Ward ...
Chris Penny
Beatrix Lehmann ...
Miss Kite
Jack Livesey ...
Mr. Larkcom
...
Mrs. de Hooley
Mary Clare ...
Mrs. Sharpe
Barbara Everest ...
Cook
Alexander Sarner ...
The Gramophone Man
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Storyline

In a London boarding house, a number of lives exist precariously on the edge of disaster or despair. Stasia, the housemaid, hungers for happiness but is treated like a drudge and constantly threatened with a return to the punishments of her youth. Vivian, a beautiful young girl, loves the architect Chris, but must marry the repugnant Mr. Wright in order to erase her parents' debts. Miss Kite derides all around her out of fear of aging and loss of beauty, while her friend Mr. Larkcom sells mediocre phonograph records though he'd secretly love to be a concert pianist. Into the lives of these and other unhappy residents comes a mysterious stranger, under whose influence they each begin to see the possibility of happiness. But the cynical Mr. Wright prefers to see them in misery and plots to thwart the angelic stranger who lives in the back room of the third floor. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


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Details

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Release Date:

15 December 1935 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Hyvä ihminen  »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

(British Acoustic)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?

Connections

Remake of The Passing of the Third Floor Back (1918) See more »

Soundtracks

I Can't Give You Anything But Love
(uncredited)
Music by Jimmy McHugh
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
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User Reviews

Prime directive
18 June 2004 | by (Florida) – See all my reviews

This movie is very clearly a play turned into a film--all the action except one sequence takes place in a 3-story boarding house, and during three days. Each of the characters is very distinctive. The poor "reform school" girl Stasia working in the kitchen, on whom everyone else takes out their frustrations, is the main figure. Her boss, Mrs. Sharpe, is sharp--always happy to accuse Stasia of stealing, call her a slut, and tell her to work harder. Vivian is the lovely daughter of a retired military man and his wife; they haven't paid the rent in months, because Dad can't stand the idea of taking a job in sales, and their only capital is Vivian. Vivian however is in love with an idealistic architect, Chris, who wants to design hospitals. Mr. Wright is Vivian's prospective husband, an unlovable, self-made man. Miss Kite is a genteel, snobbish, catty working woman on the wrong side of thirty; Mr. Larkcom is a pianist who works playing jazz in a record store, but can play classical music if requested.

The story begins with preparations for the engagement party. Stasia is driven to consider suicide by the general cruelty, but running out the door she runs into a stranger. The stranger wants a room, even though the only one available is quite undesirable. His politeness, and promptness in paying in advance, calm everyone down instantly. However, as he watches Vivian and Chris in the speeches leading up to the engagement, he is the catalyst in her leaving the table without putting on the diamond ring.

The next day is a bank holiday, and the stranger invites everyone to take a ride on the steamer down to Margate. As he listens to the various characters talking, or simply touches their shoulders or arms, they find their sense of themselves changing. Suddenly love seems possible. The third day, however, is Mr. Wright's day. He plants suspicions and temptations in everyone's way, and by the end of the day is close to making everyone meaner and unhappier than they were when they began.

The stranger is, basically, an angel. Mr. Wright is Mr. Wrong; he is a mortal man, with an experience and appetites, but as he says he does not want to be happy, which he could only accomplish by being generous. He sneers at the stranger that the latter is "not allowed to interfere," to solve the various characters' problems by simply giving them money (which would indeed help Vivian and her parents, Chris, and Stasia). So it seems that angels, like the Star Trek travelers, must follow the Prime Directive: just to help what's already going on in each person. The last day is a struggle between Good and Evil.

The movie is full of wonderful goofy little roles and moments, played by charming actors and actresses. Conrad Veidt is the reason I bothered to get hold of the film and he does not disappoint in the role of the angelic stranger. He radiates goodness and a kind of healing sensuality as he walks among these disappointed people. One really feels that a man like this, by paying attention to people and speaking gently to them, could wake them up to their own better selves; he's a bit like an ideal psychotherapist. At the same time, he suffers to see them suffering. Apparently he himself was fond of this role, which exploits his magnetism in such a different way from his many romantic villains.

Mr. Wright makes a little speech explaining how he has made a fortune building housing for the poor--"and don't let anyone tell you you can't collect rents from the poor. You can! It just takes character." I must admit I find this definition of "character" helpful in following the rhetoric of presidential elections.


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