AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Stranger on the Third Floor
Director: Boris Ingster (Dir)
Release Date:   16 Aug 1940
Production Date:   completed 3 Jul 1940
Duration (in mins):   62, or 66-67
Duration (in feet):   5,740
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Cast:   Peter Lorre (The stranger)  
    John McGuire (Michael [Ward])  
    Margaret Tallichet (Jane)  
    Charles Waldron (District Attorney)  
    Elisha Cook Jr. (Joe Briggs)  
    Charles Halton (Meng)  
    Ethel Griffies (Mrs. Kane)  
    Cliff Clark (Martin)  
    Oscar O'Shea (The judge)  
    Alec Craig (Defense attorney)  
    Otto Hoffman (Police surgeon)  

Summary: Reporter Michael Ward sends Joe Briggs to the electric chair by testifying that he saw the unfortunate Briggs fleeing the scene of a murder. Shaken by the verdict and by his fiancĂ©e Jane's intuition about Briggs's innocence, Michael returns to his room, where he begins to brood about the events that led up to Briggs's arrest. Lost in his thoughts, Michael recalls his meeting with Meng, his loathsome neighbor, when he notices a sinister stranger in the hallway and chases him from the rooming house. After returning to his room, Michael detects that Meng's snoring has ceased, and begins to fantasize that his neighbor has been murdered and that he will be convicted of the crime on circumstantial evidence. Michael's paranoia continues in his dreams, and he awakens to find that his nightmare has come true and that Meng's throat has been slit. Jane convinces Michael to report the murder to the police, who find Michael's presence at the scene of both murders suspicious and arrest him. Realizing that the only way to prove Michael's innocence is to find the stranger, Jane begins to search for the man. She finds him feeding a stray dog and learns that he has escaped from an insane asylum. Thinking that Jane has come to take him back, the stranger begins to chase her across the street but is hit by an oncoming truck before he can harm her. Before dying, the stranger confesses to the murders, thus exonerating both Michael and Briggs of the crimes. 

Production Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.  
Director: Boris Ingster (Dir)
  James Casey (Asst dir)
Producer: Lee Marcus (Prod)
Writer: Frank Partos (Story and scr)
Photography: Nicholas Musuraca (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Van Nest Polglase (Art dir)
  Albert D'Agostino (Art dir assoc)
Film Editor: Harry Marker (Ed)
Costumes: Renie (Ward)
Music: Roy Webb (Mus dir)
Sound: Bailey Fesler (Rec)
Special Effects: Vernon L. Walker (Spec eff)
Country: United States

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. 16/8/1940 dd/mm/yyyy LP9935

PCA NO: 6407
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: RCA Recording System

 
Genre: Drama
 
Subjects (Major): Dreams
  False arrests
  Lunatics
  Murder
  Paranoia
  Reporters
 
Subjects (Minor): Automobile accidents
  Boardinghouses
  Confession (Law)
  Engagements
  Executions
  Neighbors
  Police
  Reporters
  Trials

Note: This picture marked writer Boris Ingster's directorial debut. Modern sources comment on the film's innovative use of low key lighting and credit Nathanael West with writing the final version of the screenplay. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Film Daily   3 Sep 40   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   3 Jul 40   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Aug 40   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   5 Sep 40   p. 4.
Motion Picture Herald   7 Sep 40   p. 40.
New York Times   2 Sep 40   p. 19.
Variety   4 Sep 40   p. 18.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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