Archive for Stranger on the Third Floor

Gertie Getting Guttered

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on April 2, 2016 by dcairns

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A full study of expressionist dream sequences in 40s movies (a trend seemingly begun by Charles Vidor’s BLIND ALLEY, 1939) would be fun to research. I’m particularly interested by those in comedy films, where the nightmarish imagery is often more disturbing and less funny than in the dark thrillers. Vincente Minnelli’s FATHER OF THE BRIDE would be a good example — ALL Minnelli’s comedies have a feeling of inexorable nightmare about them — and this one employs imagery later recycled with a straight face in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (the floor turning to quicksand).

GETTING GERTIE’S GARTER is a vigorous, unfunny farce made by Allan Dwan during a brief phase in his long, long career when he was working as a farceur — UP IN MABEL’S ROOM has the same plot and some of the same cast, and there’s BREWSTER’S MILLIONS too. Sex farces where the hero is a love rat trying not to get caught suffer from a lack of sympathy (and would get banned in the 40s), and those where the hero is innocent tend to be silly and undermotivated. (George Axelrod complained that THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH became rather trivial once it became a film and the hero could no longer screw the Girl upstairs and feel guilty about it.) Joe Orton could bypass the problem by highlighting it — unsympathetic protagonists make a satirical point in his work — he’s making a case for what he believes humanity and society are really like. And he makes it funny. The other farces I’ve enjoyed are mainly every single episode of Fawlty Towers, where the character’s neurotic confabulations are true to character.

GGG, typical of many stage farces, distorts character and has people doing things they would not, or could not, ever do, for the sake of plot. Having introduced the hero as a professor who’s absent-minded to the point of dementia, having him then turn out to be a quick-thinking, sociopathic yarn-spinner, and everyone he knows be incredibly dense and willing to accept absurd explanations for absurd actions, is problematic since it’s unbelievable not in real-world terms but on its own terms.

But the nightmare scene is eye-catching. Hard to believe it was made BEFORE Lang’s SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR… but it was. I guess STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR’s extended legal nightmare scene was an inspiration. I include these images without the narrative points which explain them, because they’re better unexplained.

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Quote of the Day — Your Stars, Today

Posted in FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , on February 8, 2008 by dcairns

are the stars out tonight?

‘Darker, tonight, without the moon, but lots of high tiny white pinpoints of stars in clusters and lines and patterns all across the black sky, looking as though they really ought to mean something. If only the thousands of white dots were numbered, you could connect them, and then you’d know it all. The secret of the universe. But nobody even knows which dot is number one.’ ~ Donald E. Westlake, Drowned Hopes.

starry starry night

(Images from STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR and THE ELEPHANT MAN.)

A Noir is Born

Posted in Comics, FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2008 by dcairns

 Front row centre

STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR, 1940, seems to be one of the earliest pure films noir. Peter Lorre plays a deranged killer, Elisha Cook is a fall guy. There is a slightly awkward plot, driven by coincidence and tearing loose from logic, structurally odd, peppered with flashbacks and fantasies and capable of swift turns into unexpected territory. The photography by Nicholas Musuraca (CAT PEOPLE, OUT OF THE PAST) delivers all the expected noir tropes, and a lot more.

This is a year before THE MALTESE FALCON and far more of the expected genre elements are in place than in that film, and the style has a dreamlike expressionist hyperintensity — especially in the expressionist dream sequence.

The Patsy

The story isn’t up to much, perhaps, but it ticks so many boxes, boxes that don’t officially exist yet: it’s driven by irrationality and paranoia, like Cornell Woolrich’s pulp fever-dreams. The IMDb lists Nathaniel West as an uncredited script contributor, perhaps gathering Hollywood material for Day of the Locust.

Director Boris Ingster hardly directed anything else, being more active as a screenwriter and TV producer (THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.). I’m inclined to assign the best qualities of this film to the great Nicholas “I think we all use too many lights” Musuraca. His dream sequence is like a Will Eisner comic strip: the shots are nearly all static and the actors strike poses, freezing in creepy tableaux vivants as soon as they have found the best dramatic effect:

The Prisoner

Only me.

I love these crazy cut-out images! Musuraca was a true shadowplayer. Few noir films have shots as exciting and stylised, it’s just a shame this one doesn’t create more compelling drama from its disjointed narrative. The two best actors in the film, noir icons Lorre and Cook, playing lunatic and patsy, have little screen time and never share a scene, so we have to make do with interacting with duller characters, and the plot moves in fits and starts, making no particular point, squandering its delirium. But at 64 minutes the thing is over before you know it, and its zigzag shadowshow hangs around your head like a haunted hat. It’s a twitchy little pulp that DREAMS of being a great noir thriller.

if the headline is big enough it MAKEs the news big enough

I read the news today oh boy

“Pope Killed by Inferior Wine!”