The Stranger on the Third Floor, 1940, Boris Ingster

Double Feature

The Stranger on the Third Floor (1940)

Studio: RKO; Regie: Boris Ingster; Drehbuch: Frank Partos, Nathanael West; Kamera: Nicholas Musuraca; Musik: Roy Webb; Darsteller: Peter Lorre, John McGuire, Margaret Tallichet, Charles Waldron, Elisha Cook, Jr., Charles Halton, Ethel Griffies. 35mm, sw, 64 min*

Mr. Moto's Last Warning (1939)

Studio: Fox; Regie: Norman Foster; Drehbuch: Philip McDonald, Norman Foster, John P. Marquand; Kamera: Virgil Miller; Musik: David Raksin; Darsteller: Peter Lorre, Ricardo Cortez, Virginia Field, John Carradine, George Sanders, Joan Carroll, Robert Coote. 35mm, sw, 71 min
 
Ein Reporter in der Gewissenskrise: Seine Aussage hat einen Mann in die Todeszelle gebracht. Während dessen Frau den wahren Mörder sucht, wird der Journalist von seinem neugierigen Nachbarn zur Mordlust getrieben. Stranger on the Third Floor ist ein unter schwerem Einfluss des deutschen Expressionismus inszeniertes B-Picture, von RKO als Horrorfilm vermarktet, später als die Geburtsstunde des Film noir wiederentdeckt. Barockes Jalousienschatten-Chiaroscuro, Entgleiten der Zeit, Klaustrophobie und Schuldgefühle – und Peter Lorre, der als Verkörperung des absolut Bösen durch die Ränder dieses unheimlichen, artifiziellen Nachtmahrs gleitet. Die Mr. Moto-Reihe hebt sich wohltuend von allen anderen B-Detektivserien ab. Allein schon die exotischen Settings der Schauplätze erlaubten dem Art Department, seinen kreativen Einfallsreichtum zu zeigen. Mr. Moto's Last Warning spielt in Port Said, wobei Dekorationen und Lichteffekte verwendet wurden, die auch Josef von Sternberg gefallen hätten. Wie so oft gelingt es Peter Lorre, den anderen Darsteller/innen die Szenen zu stehlen. Norman Foster, der die meisten Moto-Filme inszenierte, erregte damit die Aufmerksamkeit von Orson Welles, der ihn für gemeinsame Produktionen engagierte. (C. H./C. F.)
 
*Print courtesy of British Film Institute


Aus dem Katalog zur Retrospektive:

Shadows come cheap, so low-budget movies can afford to use them lavishly. In The Stranger on the Third Floor cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca weaves cages, webs, fractured mazes and looming silhouettes out of nothing but light and shade –  an embrace of German Expressionism that led first-timer director Boris Ingster's radically stylish B thriller to be anointed the first American film noir. What starts as a conventional crime drama about a fresh-faced young reporter who witnesses a murder becomes a nightmare of mounting uncertainty, guilt and paranoia that shatters the seamless, wellbalanced style of classical Hollywood. Upstaging the nondescript leads are noir icons who cemented their status soon after in The Maltese Falcon: Elisha Cook Jr., whose single scene of pop-eyed hysteria launched his reign as king of the small-time losers; and Peter Lorre who injects pathos and grotesquerie into a role that asks him to do little besides scuttle around looking sinister in a telltale white scarf. It is tempting to find the hand of Nathanael West, who contributed uncredited screenplay revisions, in the film's abandonment of the whodunit's comforting clarity for the diffused guilt of noir. (Imogen Smith)

The Mr. Moto series at 20th Century-Fox (1937–1939) has qualities that lift it above all other B detective series. The exotic settings of the plots allow the Fox art department to show off their imagination and resourcefulness (Last Warning takes place in a chiaroscuro Port Said as it might have been imagined by Josef von Sternberg). In most of his other films, Peter Lorre steals scenes from the lead actors; starring as an international secret agent of Japanese origins, Lorre steals scenes from himself, appearing in various disguises and cheerfully throwing away his lines. An expert in martial arts, Moto takes part in fights-to-the-death whose brutality anticipates the postwar boom in espionage cinema. The Moto films have excellent supporting casts; Last Warning boasts the formidable trio of Ricardo Cortez, John Carradine, and George Sanders (cast, perhaps in punishment for some transgression against the studio, as a subordinate villain under Cortez). Norman Foster, who directed most of the Motos, was responsible for assembling all these elements harmoniously. Foster's work attracted notice from Orson Welles, who chose him to direct a section of It's All True and the quasi-totality of Journey Into Fear under his supervision and, years later, used him as an actor in The Other Side of the Wind. (Chris Fujiwara)
 

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