Movie: Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

Synopsis: An aspiring newspaper reporter, Michael Ward, is the key witness in a murder trial and his testimony helps convict Joe Briggs on mostly circumstantial evidence. As he begins to second guess what he saw, his neighbor is murdered, and the police make him the primary suspect for both murders. His only hope is his girlfriend, Jane, who needs to find a mysterious stranger that may be connected to the crimes.

Who's in it? The movie stars John McGuire, Margaret Tallichet, Peter Lorre, Charles Halton and Elisha Cook, Jr.

Review: I'm not a huge film noir fan and, under normal circumstances, might have passed this movie up. However, I do like Peter Lorre and, after seeing he was in this film, decided to give it a try. Unfortunately, while the premise was an interesting one, I just didn't enjoy this film as much as I was hoping I would.

My biggest problem with this movie was, for a film that is only about an hour in length, there sure was an awful lot of filler. This includes a dream sequence that seemed to go on for an eternity, to the point I was beginning to wonder if the entire film would consist of Michael (McGuire) imagining he was being accused of his neighbor's murder rather than actually facing the electric chair.

This, in turn, detracted from what I thought had the potential to be a decent murder mystery. While his neighbor (Halton), seemed like a guy who would make a lot of enemies, it was unclear if or how he was connected to the first murder. If executed better, it could have been a very entertaining story. Instead, by the time the movie got past Michael's overreaction to his neighbor's death, there just wasn't enough movie left to make it as good as it could have been.

Even Lorre couldn't save my opinion of this movie, largely because, despite receiving top billing, he has barely any screen time. Michael sees him on the stairs of his apartment building then he isn't seen again (not counting in the dream sequence) until there are only about 9 minutes left in the movie.  He was pretty awesome (as he always is), providing just the right amount of creepiness to his character, I just wish it was in a larger dose.

One thing I did find I liked about this movie was the ending. Even though it was a bit rushed (as was a good chunk of the second half of the film), there was quite a bit of suspense as Jane (Tallichet) found her life in danger with no sign of anyone willing to step in to help her. I was momentarily on the edge of my seat as a result and just wish more of the movie made me do that.

Final Opinion: Peter Lorre was definitely worth watching in this film. It's just too bad the rest of the movie spent more time on dream sequences than trying to feature the best character.

My Grade: C


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