Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Monday, August 18, 2008


STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR (1940). Director: Boris Ingster.
Mike Ward, a reporter (John McGuire), is the chief witness against a man, Joe Briggs (Elisha Cook Jr.), who is on trial for the murder of a restaurant owner. His girlfriend, Jane (Margaret Tallichet), is haunted by her feeling that Briggs is innocent. In a striking dream sequence, Ward imagines how he, too, could be convicted of murder due to circumstance. When his neighbor is killed, he becomes convinced that the killer is an odd stranger (Peter Lorre) hanging around the building and that he probably killed the restaurateur as well. Jane sets out to find the mysterious stranger and bring him to the police. Lorre manages to make the odd and creepy stranger somewhat sympathetic, McGuire is an effective leading man, and Tallichet is lovely and capable as Jane. Although the film has clumsy moments and is a mite slow at times, and the script a bit ragged, Stranger holds the attention and is a credible enough, fairly stylish "B" movie. The ending is charming. Elisha Cook Jr. is a little overwrought even considering the situation he's in.

Margaret Tallichet had been married to William Wyler for two years -- the marriage lasted until his death in 1981 -- when she made this picture; she retired from the screen after the birth of their second of four children. Despite his good looks and obvious acting ability, John McGuire appeared chiefly as an uncredited extra in the many films he made after Stranger. Boris Ingster directed only two more films and later became a producer of such shows as The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Verdict: Another fine performance from Lorre. ***.

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