I Wake Up Dreaming 2014: Boris Ingster’s “Stranger on the Third Floor”

111212-StrangerThird-PostThe “I Wake up Dreaming” film festival has officially begun, and for the first time in its history I was finally in attendance. Why I waited so long to see this series of noir classics and forgotten B pictures is beyond me. Let’s face it, I have no excuse. Heck, and if you’re reading this and you too have yet to attend this week-long celebration of noir, well, you too my friend have no excuse, especially if you live in the Bay Area.

The festival is happening at The Roxie Theatre from now until May 25th, so depending on when you’re reading this, chances are you still have plenty of time to head out to the oldest operating movie theatre in America and be transported back in time into a slew of fantastic dark dramatic crime worlds inhabiting shadows, gangsters, journalists, private dicks, and dames.

Now, on to my two cents of the Opening Night film, Stranger on the Third Floor

Our host for the evening was also the festival’s lone programmer, Elliot Levine. He assured us before the film began that even though the running time was a mere 64 minutes that when all was said and done we’d all feel as if we experienced 12 hours worth of material. And while I did feel like I absorbed a lot of plot, plot twists, and enough caffeine induced paranoid flashbacks to make me never drink coffee before I go to bed for the rest of my life, the truth is, the film did not at all feel like 64 minutes. It felt shorter, much shorter. File this movie under the category of time flies when you’re having fun.

Aside from addressing the dangers of drinking too much caffeine and living too close to your noisy and nosey neighbors, the film is also very much about guilt and the paranoia that accompanies it. After stumbling across a murder, a newspaper journalist (John McGuire) winds up giving testimony – based only on circumstantial evidence, mind you – that is strong enough to send the accused (Elisha Cook Jr.) to a death sentence. In typical voiceover noir style, our journalist questions his decision as to whether he made the right choice to testify only to come home, see a strange man on his floor exit his neighbor’s room (the great Peter Lorre), down a cup of coffee, and then start to bug the fuck out in a bout of paranoia usually reserved for those who smoke meth.


It is during these paranoid delusions and dream state flashbacks that director Boris Ingster‘s hammy B movie transforms itself into some top notch black & white shadowy noir settings, complete with caged shadows, camera tilts and spinning dissolves. As soon as one flashback is over, another begins. And with each flashback came a newer, wider smile. A smile that would eventually have my face looking like the crazed face plastered on Lorre’s character of The Stranger. I guess it would only make sense that it would take a director who was born in Latvia and had previously worked with Sergei Eisenstein to come to the United States and pioneer motifs (like the one pictured directly above) that would shortly thereafter become staples in the world of noir.

Now, I admit it; there is a lot of cheese to wade through – including the acting (not these notable character actors’ finest moments) – and while wading through cheese is mostly only fun when you’re doing it in a packed theatre setting, there are also more substantial moments in the film to look forward to. Moments where you can just float and ride the currents of the moving pictures without a care in the world, just, as I would imagine, the good cinema Gods have always intended us to do. It is these moments that make watching Stranger on the Third Floor worth while.

So, next time you find yourself in a room with a couple hundred people or so wand have an hour to kill, throw this film on and have yourself a hell of a good time.


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Categories: I Wake Up Dreaming, Reviews

One Comment on “I Wake Up Dreaming 2014: Boris Ingster’s “Stranger on the Third Floor””

  1. May 17, 2014 at 11:43 am #

    Once again you have found a gem in the history of cinema and brought it to our attention. You are my go to on film.
    Thank you!

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