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Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

Approved | | Crime, Drama, Film-Noir | 16 August 1940 (USA)
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.


Boris Ingster


Frank Partos (story by), Frank Partos (screen play by)




Complete credited cast:
Peter Lorre ... The Stranger
John McGuire ... Michael Ward
Margaret Tallichet ... Jane
Charles Waldron Charles Waldron ... District Attorney
Elisha Cook Jr. ... Joe Briggs
Charles Halton ... Albert Meng
Ethel Griffies ... Mrs. Kane
Cliff Clark Cliff Clark ... Martin
Oscar O'Shea ... The Judge
Alec Craig ... Defense Attorney
Otto Hoffman ... Police Surgeon


Rising reporter Michael Ward is the key witness in the murder trial of young Joe Briggs, who is convicted on circumstantial evidence while swearing innocence. Michael's girl Jane believes in Joe and blames Michael, 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 | Plot Synopsis


MURDER ...in a nightmare that comes TRUE ...to haunt an innocent man... Mystery thriller to baffle you. See more »


Crime | Drama | Film-Noir


Approved | See all certifications »

Did You Know?


Composer Roy Webb would later rework some of his themes from this film for Murder, My Sweet (1944). See more »


When Mike joins Jane at the luncheon counter; Jane is holding a piece of toast in her left hand. But on the next cut which is a shot of the mirror showing the reflection of Jane holding the toast and Mike pointing; the image shown in the mirror of Jane holding the toast is reversed of how a reflection should appear. Then when it cuts back to the real them; Jane is no longer holding a piece of toast. See more »


The Judge: [noticing a sleeping juror] Juror number two! The jury will pay strict attention to the evidence.
Juror #2: [sheepishly] I'm sorry, your honor. I was up all night with a terrible toothache.
The Judge: Well, that's too bad. But it's your duty to stay awake. And try and follow the evidence with as much intelligence as you've got!
[the spectators snicker]
See more »


Referenced in Adjust Your Tracking (2013) See more »

User Reviews

Herald of a New Wave
8 January 2008 | by dougdoepkeSee all my reviews

The Film Noir Encyclopeia lists Stranger as the first true film noir. It's not hard to see why. The lengthy interior dialog, the grotesque dream sequence, and the expressionist lighting, all bespeak the arrival of a noir universe. Over the next ten or so years, this European style would encompass a number of film genres, seeping even into that most American of all, the Western ("Blood on the Moon", "Roughshod", et al.). I can only imagine how 1940's audiences greeted this abrupt departure on first showing.

Except for Lorre, it's a no-name cast, although Tallichet makes for a charming leading lady with a captivating smile. The absence of a familiar face (John McGuire) in the male lead actually helps. Instead of seeing a celebrity in a starring role, we see an unknown that might even be us. And so, both he and we are drawn deeper into a nightmarish web of guilt. Notice how the lighting becomes steadily darker as McGuire's anguish deepens, with shadows that are almost all appropriately angular and threatening. Also, note director Ingster's very real feel for the ethnic vibrancy of a New York street even though it's recreated on an RKO sound stage. This sense of a community life outside the third floor makes for an interesting contrast with McGuire's growing inward turn.

Too bad the script fails to match the visuals in imagination and stylishness. It's really pretty conventional, except for the nicely ironical twist of having the jury-trial deficiencies turned back upon McGuire in the dream sequence. Good thing they had Lorre outfitted with buck teeth and doing an exquisitely loony menace, because the climax itself is very unimaginatively staged. It could have come from a thousand other more ordinary films. Anyway, for fans of noir and movie historians, this obscure little production remains essential and entertaining viewing.

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Release Date:

16 August 1940 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Stranger on the Third Floor See more »


Box Office


$171,200 (estimated)
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Company Credits

Production Co:

RKO Radio Pictures See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Recording System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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