Stranger on the Third Floor (1940): First Film Noir?

Boris Ingster’s Stranger on the Third Floor is often mentioned as the first real film noir, though there are elements of noir in Fritz Lang’s first American movies in the late 1930s.

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1940’s Stranger on the Third Floor COURTESY EVERETT COLLECTION


The movie stars Peter Lorre, John McGuire, and Margaret Tallichet, and featuring Elisha Cook Jr.

The script was credited to Frank Partos. Nathanael West wrote the final version of the screenplay, but he was uncredited.

Other films that fit the genre, such as Hitchcock’s Rebecca and They Drive by Night, were also released earlier.

Nonetheless, it has many of the hallmarks of film noir: an urban setting, heavy shadows, diagonal lines, voice-over narration, a dream sequence, low camera angles shooting up multi-story staircases, and an innocent protagonist desperate to clear himself after being falsely accused of a crime.

Narrative Premise:
Reporter Michael Ward is the key witness in a murder trial. His evidence – that he saw the accused, Joe Briggs, standing over the body of a man in a diner – is instrumental in having Briggs found guilty.

Meanwhile, Ward’s fiancée Jane begins worrying that Ward may not have been correct in what he saw; eventually Ward himself becomes haunted by this question.