Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

Film starring Peter Lorre and John McGuire, about a reporter whose testimony looks set to send a murderer to his death.

This film was about an hour long and still managed to have adequate plot development to sustain it, and certainly could have worked as a full length film at least twice as long in duration. Peter Lorre was very eerie as the Stranger responsible for the murders, and John McGuire was distressingly the ‘Mr Normal’ which his characterization demanded. This perceived normalness made his slumps into mental anguish and turmoil all the more distressing.

The lack of sets was hidden by the strong use of dark shadows which adds to the eeriness of the scenes. You can feel the mental turmoil of Michael Ward through the liberal use of voiceover as he mentally tortures himself over the murder of his gossipy neighbour, and he is convinced he himself is the culprit.

Of course all of the loose ends had to be tied up rather neatly by the end of it but all the same the film was mentally tortuous and very stark. With nods to German Expressionism, this is a good film to watch even if you’re not a film student. I don’t know why, but I can’t bring myself to give this film a 5* rating. Something is certainly holding me back, but I’m not sure what. It just seems that the narrative was all too keen to have the loose ends tied up neatly with a nice marriage or else the narrative would have contained too much inner complexity for the film to handle with competence.

MY RATING: **.5 / *****


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