Stranger on the Third Floor was a crime noir
thriller from 1940 starring Peter Lorre. Thanks
to my friend Florida Greg for the suggestion
of this one. And you know, I just read that
this is apparently hashtag “noirvember”and,
hey, I’m totally good with the idea of spending
a month watching old crime noir classics,
and Stranger on the Third floor is a great
Well the film opens up with Michael Ward (actor
John McGuire) who is a reporter, and he meets
with fiancé Jane (Margaret Tallichet) prior
to heading to court. Things seem bright and
cozy at this point with the characters but
just hang on, dear viewer…
Cut to a court scene, where Ward testifies
regarding a crime he witnessed. Elisha Cook
Jr. is there as the nervous Joe Briggs character.
He’s been accused of murder and fleeing a
crime scene. They find him guilty, and he
freaks out, screaming to the judge. Ward doesn’t
take this well and has a moody walk home,
one with lots of shadows and strong contrast.
And oh man, this film gets good and deep with
the noir visual elements.
“Why can’t they put in a bigger lamp?”
Because it’s a crime noir film and we need
all these gloomy shadows!
Before going to
figure dart into the room across from him.
The mysterious character, actor Peter Lorre,
sneaks out, pursued by a curious Ward, but
he manages to get away. Ward heads back in,
and realizes that his annoying neighbor, Mr.
Meng (actor Charles Halton, who does a great
job as this nosy guy in the next apartment)
well, he’s no longer snoring loudly. Hmmm…
Ward, back in his room, has a series of dreams,
or flashbacks. One is the memory of inviting
Jane over to his place. Things are nice and
cozy as they talk but then mousy Mr. Meng
shows up with the Mrs. Kane (actress Ethel
Griffies), the one running the rental place,
and she’s not amused to find a woman there!
Wards is none to pleased with Mr. Meng, but
he’s happy to just leave with his sweetie
and talk about getting married.
Flashback ends, and he’s back to reality.
More voiceovers, including a trippy one with
lots of voices coming out of the shadows around
him. At one point, when he looks all sweaty
in a closeup, he reminded me of Harry Dean
Stanton before he was killed by a xenomorph,
Well, he has this vivid dream of being on
trial, of the jury ignoring him, with the
judge (played excellently by Oscar O’Shea)
asking for the verdict. Again, lots of crazy
dramatic contrast and weird angles going on.
Great stuff. He’s taken to the chair, when
Mr. Meng appears. “He’s alive!” shouts Ward,
as he finally wakes up. “Of course he’s alive”…
However, he goes next door and, shockingly,
finds Mr. Meng dead! So he heads back to his
room and starts packing up quickly and frantically.
He calls up Jane to meet her in the park,
and instead of running away, she talks him
into working with the police, to help the
little Joe Briggs character from earlier.
So he talks to the Lieutenant (Paul McVey
from the film Shane, here in an uncredited
role) as well as the police medical investigator
played by Otto Hoffman, who I caught recently
in Howard Hawks The Criminal Code (1931).
Well, they agree to bring this up with the
DA (Charles Waldron) where Ward shares his
premonition about Mr. Meng being dead, and
the mysterious character in the hall. The
DA seems suspicious and has Ward brought downtown
as a material witness.
Jane finds out Ward is in jail and goes to
do some investigating of her own, asking around
some of the locals if they’ve seen a guy who
“has big, bulging eyes and thick lips”, lol!
After travelling all around to find hi, it’s
no luck. But at a diner, who should randomly
show up but the mysterious stranger, Peter
Lorre, asking for 2 burgers, raw, with no
bun. He’s either a vampire, or on a keto diet
or something. No, Jane follows him, and sees
him feeding the burger to a stray dog. She
goes walking with him and, oh man, this guy
is crazy. Peter Lorre is at his best when
he plays the creepy weirdo. Well, he starts
to get suspicious of her and grabs her, but
no one is there to save her! What will happen?
Will he get away? Will Ward make it to save
her in time? Well, watch the film and find
Some closing thoughts:
This film, along with films like Maltese Falcon
(1941), is considered some of the earliest
film noir. I mean, this was an obscure RKO
B-movie directed by a fairly unknown director
at the time, Boris Ingster.
But it’s chock full of those classic noir
themes here: the wrong man accused, the suspicious
police, the creepy villain, and the trippy
dream sequence with long shadows and crazy
black and white bizarre lighting and angles.
Director Boris Ingster was best known for
this film, but he would eventually move on
to directing television, with many episodes
of programs like “Wagon Train” and “The Man
Peter Lorre was, of course, the big name of
this film, even though he’s barely in the
film. It reminded me of some of the old Universal
monster films where Bella Lugosi would get
top billing, even though he’s briefly in the
film as a butler. Things like that. Still,
those brief scenes with Peter Lorre are amazing.
I wasn’t really familiar with either of the
two stars here. John McGuire was in a handful
of roles, namely Invisible Ghost (1941) with
Bela Lugosi which I really need to review
Margaret Tallichet does a fine job here, particularly
the scenes when she steps up the investigation
on her own. Not many acting roles for her
online that I could find. Apparently she auditioned
for the role of Scarlett Ohara in Gone with
the Wind. And, goofy as this might sound,
I couldn’t help but think that Margaret Tallichet
resembled actress Robin Curtis from Star Trek
III and yeah, I’m just a big nerd
So that’s the Stranger on the Third floor,
an excellent crime noir classic from 1940
and one worth checking out.