Stranger on the Third Floor


The Stranger on the Third Floor

Boris Ingster
USA, 1940
64min, OF

Bild: Sammlung Österreichisches Filmmuseum

The Stranger on the Third Floor

Boris Ingster
USA, 1940
, 64min, OF

Peter Lorre
John McGuire
Margaret Tallichet
Charles Waldron
Elisha Cook Jr
Charles Halton
Ethel Griffies
Frank Partos
Nathanael West
Nicholas Musuraca
Roy Webb

RKO Pictures
35 mm

Shadows come cheap, so low-budget movies can afford to use them lavishly. In STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca weaves cages, webs, fractured mazes and looming silhouettes out of nothing but light and shade— an embrace of German Expressionism that led first-timer director Boris Ingster’s radically stylish B thriller to be anointed the first American film noir. What starts as a conventional crime drama about a fresh-faced young reporter who witnesses a murder becomes a nightmare of mounting uncertainty, guilt and paranoia that shatters the seamless, well-balanced style of classical Hollywood. Upstaging the nondescript leads are noir icons who cemented their status soon after in THE MALTESE FALCON: Elisha Cook Jr., whose single scene of pop-eyed hysteria launched his reign as king of the small-time losers; and Peter Lorre who injects pathos and grotesquerie into a role that asks him to do little besides scuttle around looking sinister in a telltale white scarf. It is tempting to find the hand of Nathanael West, who contributed uncredited screenplay revisions, in the film’s abandonment of the whodunit’s comforting clarity for the diffused guilt of noir. (Imogen Smith)