The Passing Of The Third Floor Back

Berthold Viertel

Sog.: dall’opera di Jerome K. Jerome; Scen.: Alma Reville, Michael Hogan; F.: Curt Courant; Mo.: Derek N. Twist; Scgf.: Oscar Friedrich Werndorff; Su.: Frank McNally; Mu.: Hubert Bath, Louis Levy; Int.: Conrad Veidt (lo straniero), Anna Lee (Vivian), René Ray (Stasia), Frank Cellier (Wright), John Turnbull (Major Tomkin), Cathleen Nesbitt (Sig.ra Tomkin), Ronal Ward (Chris Penny); Prod.: Ivor Montagu per Gaumont-British Picture Corporation; Pri. pro.: 21 ottobre 1935. 35mm. D.: 90’.

T. it.: Italian title. T. int.: International title. T. alt.: Alternative title. Sog.: Story. Scen.: Screenplay. F.: Cinematography. M.: Editing. Scgf.: Set Design. Mus.: Music. Int.: Cast. Prod.: Production Company. L.: Length. D.: Running Time. f/s: Frames per second. Bn.: Black e White. Col.: Color. Da: Print source

Film Notes

Some of Britain’s multi-storied films place a firm emphasis on entertainment. Others weave moral teaching into the characters’ crisscrossing lives. That’s the case with The Passing of the Third Floor Back, derived from a popular play of 1908 by the writer and humorist Jerome J. Jerome. The setting is the Hotel Belle Vue, a London boarding house containing an unusually high number of miserable, stunted people – ideal candidates for moral reform. Enter, topped by heavenly light, Conrad Veidt’s Christ-like Stranger. He’s the new lodger in the back room on the landlady’s third floor, and he aims to repair these damaged souls with hypnotic eyes, a whispering smile, and a physique enhanced by lighting and framing to suggest immense height. The German influence is strong, stemming not only from Veidt, but from director Berthold Viertel, cameraman Curt Courant, and the settings of Oscar Werndorff. Alongside their minimalist gestures and clever games with light and shade, the film offers Britain’s usual social  caricatures of the time, but displayed with a sharper edge than usual. Frank Cellier’s monied brute and Mary Clare’s spiteful landlady take the prize for odiousness, while Beatrix Lehmann’s Miss Kite, a secretary on the wrong side of 30, snakes through the drama with nice caustic wit. But the film’s heart lies with Rene Ray’s servant girl Stasia, painfully desperate for happiness – a character one can easily believe in, unlike Anna Lee’s Vivian. The film’s middle act whisks them all onto a Thames river steamer, bound for Margate. Novelist Graham Greene, reviewing the film in 1935, thought the steamer’s décor far too ritzy. And he’s right; but even Veidt’s Stranger couldn’t solve this fascinating film’s stylistic confusions.

Geoff Brown

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