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Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

Approved  |   |  Crime, Drama, Film-Noir  |  16 August 1940 (USA)
6.9
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Ratings: 6.9/10 from 2,317 users  
Reviews: 67 user | 34 critic

An aspiring reporter is the key witness at the murder trial of a young man accused of cutting a café owner's throat and is soon accused of a similar crime himself.

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Title: Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
John McGuire ...
Margaret Tallichet ...
Jane
Charles Waldron ...
District Attorney
...
Joe Briggs
Charles Halton ...
Albert Meng
...
Mrs. Kane, Michael's Landlady
Cliff Clark ...
Martin
Oscar O'Shea ...
The Judge
Alec Craig ...
Briggs' Defense Attorney
Otto Hoffman ...
Charles Evans, the Police Surgeon
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Storyline

Rising reporter Michael Ward is a key witness in the murder trial of young Joe Briggs, who is convicted on circumstantial evidence while swearing innocence. Mike's girl Jane believes in Joe and blames Mike, who (in a remarkable sequence) dreams he is himself convicted of murdering his nosy neighbor. Will his dream come true before Jane can find the real murderer? Written by Rod Crawford <puffinus@u.washington.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Crime | Drama | Film-Noir

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

16 August 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El desconegut del tercer pis  »

Box Office

Budget:

$171,200 (estimated)
 »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Peter Lorre owed RKO two days on his contract and was given this role with few scenes and few lines, but received top billing. See more »

Goofs

When Jane leaves the coffee shop to follow the Stranger, the shades on the doors are shown to be higher from the outside than they were from the inside. See more »

Quotes

Albert Meng: [Objecting to Ward's typing] If you have to write, write with a pencil!
See more »

Connections

Featured in The Rules of Film Noir (2009) See more »

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User Reviews

A B-Movie that transcends its lowly production status
25 August 2004 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This is a classic B (not a quality-judgment, but a well-defined production level that existed before the legal consent-decree that ended studio ownership of movie theaters in the early 1950's. B-movies were lower-budget features, between 55 and 70 minutes, using second tier talent - rising actors or ex-stars on their way down - designed to play the bottom half of a double-feature with an A-picture. The studios needed to produce a certain number of these pictures to keep their theaters supplied, and the quality was only of second importance.) Very often, the low budget gave the filmmakers a certain freedom, because the studio wouldn't keep very tight control on a production of such relative unimportance. B- movies sometimes served as the canvases for highly innovative directors and photographers. (Note that the talent behind the camera includes both the (uncredited) work on the script by no less than Nathaniel West, author of DAY OF THE LOCUST, and cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca, who went on to shoot such atmospheric classics as CAT PEOPLE, CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE, OUT OF THE PAST, and the vastly under-appreciated psychological thriller THE LOCKET.)

The late William K. Everson, a fanatical private film collector and one of the greatest film historians, used to show this picture in his B-movie class at NYU as an example of "Films made on one set." The one set in this case is the street scene, although the staircase of the apartment building is also prominently featured. The street was, of course, a standing set that appeared in many films. But if you watch the film carefully, you'll realize that many of the other settings are hardly more than lighting effects on a bare sound-stage. The so- called "surrealism" of the film is a triumph of turning low-budget necessity into an effective style.

As to the claim that it's the first film noir, that's pretty questionable. Film noir really was born in France in the late 30's (there's a reason why the term is French). "Le Jour Se Leve" is probably the best-known example. It was characterized by the dark settings as well as the dark pessimism of its mood, using shadows to separate people, and to fragment the image of the individual. This is certainly an early American film noir, once again because of the spareness of budget forced the use of shadows to hide the lack sets.

This is a very enjoyable, effective thriller, taking us from a rather mundane, plausible reality into a wild nightmare. Lorre's brief appearances become the engine of the fears, that frightening presence you expect to find in every shadow.


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