“The only person who ever was kind to me was a woman. She’s dead now.” Wait. What? Join this episode’s Grue-Crew – Chad Hunt, Daphne Monary-Ernsdorff, Jeff Mohr, and guest host Dirk Rogers – as they witness the brilliance of Peter Lorre highlighted by the dark stylings of cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca in Stranger on the Third Floor (1940).
Decades of Horror: The Classic Era
Episode 142 – Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)
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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.
- Director: Boris Ingster
- Writers: Frank Partos (story & screenplay by); Nathanael West (uncredited)
- Music by: Roy Webb
- Cinematography by: Nicholas Musuraca
- Art Direction by: Van Nest Polglase
- Wardrobe: Renié
- Special Effects by: Vernon L. Walker (special effects)
- Selected Cast:
- Peter Lorre as The Stranger
- John McGuire as Mike Ward
- Margaret Tallichet as Jane
- Charles Waldron as District Attorney
- Elisha Cook Jr. as Joe Briggs
- Charles Halton as Albert Meng
- Ethel Griffies as Mrs. Kane, Michael’s landlady
- Cliff Clark as Martin
- Oscar O’Shea as The Judge
- Alec Craig as Briggs’ Defense Attorney
- Otto Hoffman as Police Surgeon
- Emory Parnell as Grilling Detective in Dream Sequence (uncredited)
- Herb Vigran as Reporter Who Wins Cardgame (uncredited)
- Bobby Barber as Giuseppe (uncredited)
Stranger on the Third Floor inhabits the creepier side of, shall we say horror-adjacent, film noir. In fact, some experts argue that it is the first example of that dark genre, later to be labeled film noir. It’s a nightmare-influenced murder mystery featuring Peter Lorre chewing on all the scenery he can. Boris Ingster directs Stranger on the Third Floor with all the style that feels as if it could have been an early Val Lewton production. Yup, it’s Hollywood expressionism, RKO-style. This film is worth the watch, even if only for two 7-minute scenes: the nightmare sequence and the interaction between The Stranger (Lorre) and Jane (Margaret Tallichet).
If you have the urge to view this early example of noir filmmaking (or is it “proto-noir?”), and decide for yourself if it is truly horror-adjacent, Stranger on the Third Floor is, at the time of this writing, available to stream from archive.org or PPV from iTunes. There is also a Warner Brothers DVD available if physical media is your preference.
For more Peter Lorre goodness, check out these episodes of Decades of Horror: The Classic Era:
- M (1931) – Episode 113
- MAD LOVE (1935) – Episode 81
- TALES OF TERROR (1962) – Episode 92
- THE COMEDY OF TERRORS (1963) – Episode 75
Gruesome Magazine’s Decades of Horror: The Classic Era records a new episode every two weeks. Up next in their very flexible schedule, as chosen by Daphne, will be Diabolique (1940, Les Diaboliques), the French classic directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, based on a novel by Boileau-Narcejac.
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To each of you from each of them, “Thank you so much for listening!”