Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)


Boris Ingster

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.

An interesting film noir with Peter Lorre in more of a cameo as the mysterious villain than a starring role. He appears briefly, lurking darkly as he attempts to avoid a confrontation with the hero, not saying a word until the final ten minutes of the film. With a fairly nondescript cast, Lorre received top billing for what must have been a fairly easy few days’ work. The film runs for just 64 minutes and is not unlike one of the Hitchcock tele plays in prime-time television in the 50s.


Boris Ingster includes some creative moments with the dream scenes impressive. I particularly liked the angular images of the prison bars with the gruesome shadow of the electric chair. The ending is a little glib for my liking and the plot fits into place just a little too easily resulting in a fairly banal ending to what could have been a more complex psychological thriller – I thought for a while the hero had actually committed the two murders and that may have been a more interesting development than the more obvious ending. This film was shown on ABC television as part of a series of Film Noir and I was impressed with the superb quality of the print. 2 stars out of 5.


Considered the First Film-Noir of the Cinema History

Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
4 June 2012

The reporter Michael ‘Mike’ Ward (John McGuire) is promoted in the newspaper when he becomes the key witness of the murder trial of Joe Briggs (Elisha Cook Jr.), a young man that he had seen threatening the victim Nick in his coffee shop and then leaving the place with Nick with sliced neck. Joe swears innocence and despite the circumstantial evidence, he is convicted and sentenced to the electric chair. Mike’s fiancée Jane (Margaret Tallichet) feels uncomfortable with the sentence and believes that Joe might be innocent. Mike loses his confidence and feels remorse for his testimony accusing Joe.


One night, Mike brings Jane to his room and his nosy neighbor Albert Meng (Charles Halton) brings the landlord that expels Jane from the boarding house. Mike threatens Meng and later he sees a stranger with bulging eyes (Peter Lorre) on his floor that runs away from him. He has a weird nightmare and when he wakes up, he finds that Meng is murdered with sliced neck similar to Nick. Mike calls the police and is arrested as prime suspect of both murders. Jane seeks out the stranger on the streets to save her fiancé.

“Stranger on the Third Floor” is considered the first film-noir of the cinema history. The story is engaging, supported by magnificent cinematography, and the sequence of Mike’s nightmare is fantastic. Peter Lorre is creepy and the conclusion is naive on the present days. My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): “O Homem dos Olhos Esbugalhados” (“The Man with Bulging Eyes”)


The Creepy Mr. Lorre

Author: Mike-764 ( from Flushing, NY
3 July 2005

Reporter Mike Ward’s testimony sends Briggs to the electric chair for the gruesome murder of a luncheonette owner. He feels remorse over the fact that the evidence was circumstantial and Briggs may have been innocent. Arriving home he sees a creepy looking stranger leave his next door neighbor’s apartment and then starts to wonder when he doesn’t hear his neighbor’s snoring. He suspects that his neighbor, Meng, may be dead and that he might be convicted of the crime. After a bizarre dream, he feels that he was just on edge and they everything is all right. This is all dashed when he finds his neighbor dead and then runs to his girlfriend, Jane, looking for answers. He returns to his apartment and thinks that Meng and the Briggs murder may be the work of the same man, but the police feel that Mike may be the killer.


Can Jane find the mysterious stranger in time to help Mike, before the stranger strikes again? Good movie with some great flashback sequences and one very surreal (and well done) dream sequence. Lorre was only fulfilling a contract with RKO and has little to do in the movie but is very effective as the stranger. The rest of the cast may be only Hollywood bit players, but are perfectly cast in their roles. Great ending. Rating, 8.


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