Wierd Science…

The Red Menace (1948)

Tomorrow evening the University of Maryland will host a debate headlined The Un-Americaness of Film Noir. The background provided by the University is certainly interesting:

Jonathan Auerbach’s book in progress Dark Borders offers a political reading of American film noir as a Cold War genre centrally concerned with redefining citizenship. It begins with questions of affect and aesthetics–the strange tone of disenfranchisement or non-belonging that haunts so many of these mid-century crime movies. Freud’s notion of the unheimliche links the uncanny mood of these important films with fears that “Un-Americans” and un-American values might overtake or undermine the homeland. These anxieties surface during a series of wartime and post war emergency measures, beginning with the anti-sedition Smith Act (1940), the Mexican migrant worker Bracero Program (1942), the domestic internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry (1942), and the HUAC hearings in 1947 that sought to criminalize native-born communists (the CPUSA). This talk will be discussing one key scene in the anti-communist film The Red Scare (1949) in conjunction with a little-known but very striking movie (arguably the first film noir) Stranger on The Third Floor (1940), starring Peter Lorre, that imagines the rule of fascist law in the USA and that conceives of madness as a foreign country.

Wild stuff!  More info here.

15 thoughts on “Wierd Science…”

  1. Tony said,”Here we have the strongest evidence supporting the thesis set out in the seminal book on film noir, A Panorama of American Film Noir, published in France in 1955, by authors Borde and Chaumeton, that films noir appeared with the emergence of a wider awareness of psychoanalysis and its motifs in America in the early 1940’s….
    Ironically, Stranger on the Third Floor is not even mentioned by Borde and Chaumeton.”

    Btw, I “purchased” and “received as gifts” several copies of their (Borde and Chaumeton) book (“A Panorama of American Film Noir,” published in France in 1955, by authors Borde and Chaumeton,) and I do find that extremely “odd” that they “omitted” the film that is considered by “some” film noir “fanatics” to be the “first film noir” from their book.

    D’Ambra, Typo Alert! ;O {Wierd} e+i = Weird
    dcd 😉


  2. I once owned STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR on an RKO laserdisc, but I’m not sure whether it has released on DVD. I can check on this easy enough. Needless to say this forum is a dream for film noir fans (yourself included) but it’s a bit of a long walk from Sydney. We’ve been exposed to the Cold War argument in a number of other treatments, and it’s always a fascinating theme. I’m sure this will be quite a discussion.


  3. Hi! Sam Juliano,
    As far as I know the 1940 film Stranger on the Third Floor isn’t available in the dvd format yet, but there is a (S)panish version (in the dvd format and of course, duplicates) out there on the market with (E)nglish subtitles?!? Of course, it has been released on vhs, but the price for it on vhs fluctuate(s). (For instance, The price range can be anywhere between 34.00 (used) to 105.00 (brand new and unopened)

    dcd 😉


  4. Wow DCD, that is quite a price for VHS tape. I gave up buying tapes years ago for the obvious reasons, and wouldn’t invest in this title at that price. But I bet if we search e bay we will be able to find a seller with a bootie. The Spanish copy though would be a final resort. I wonder if Mr. McCall has a copy. I ordered two other titles from him this week, which I will be sure to make copies of for you.


  5. Sam said,”I gave up buying tapes years ago for the obvious reasons, and wouldn’t invest in this title at that price.”
    I agree with you Sam, and the only people I know that would “invest” that kind of money in order to own the film Strangers on the Third Floor in a “pristine” condition (on vhs) are collectors of rare or hard to find movie titles.(This comparison maybe too “extreme,” but just think of…Degas, Van Gogh, Picasso, Manet and Monet paintings.

    Because their painting are so “rare” and very beautiful, people are willing to pay almost any price to own their paintings.)

    Btw, I recently, purchased a used copy of Strangers on the Third Floor on eBay when the price leveled off!…now the price is “slightly” back up on used copies on ebay.
    Hence,the reason that I mentioned the fluctuating price for the film “Strangers on the Third Floor” on vhs on ebay and Amazon.com.

    dcd 😉


  6. LOL DVD, on that ‘alien perception’ of the laserdisc player!!! Well I still have my LD player (Sony) but I only have about 20 discs now. I once owned over 1,400! But when DVD came around I sold the collection off and used the $$$ to buy DVDs, many of the titles previously owned on LD. Sadly, STRANGER was sold off, but I see there are copies on e bay floating around at fairly expensive prices. I was preparing to e mail Gerry as per this title, but I see Tony has collared it from Magpie (Yammering Magpie has shot down). I am seriously thinking about getting it from them along with THE LAST FLIGHT and ALIAS NICK BEAL, the last of which I have from a tape to DVD transfer. But it’s not quick good enough in quality.


  7. Hi! Sam Juliano,
    I am quite sure that G.McC, do own a copy of “Stranger on the Third” on dvd, but don’t order it yet!…(But,I will email you later and tell you why I don’t want you to order it(Stranger on the Third Floor from him yet!)

    Sam said,”I once owned STRANGER ON THE THIRD FLOOR on an RKO laserdisc” Wow!…try to locate that RKO laserdisc Sam Juliano, because it can one day be a collector item!…Because I am in the process of helping a friend and his wife move and he gave me his laserdisc player.. I must admit I was just staring at that laserdisc player (and between 14-20 laserdisc) as if it were an “alien” from the planet Mars, but after he explained to me what it’s and how the laserdisc (especially, the laserdisc with beautiful illustration/or beautiful cover art work ) may one day become collector items and guess what?!?… now I am constantly on ebay in search of illustrated laserdisc. (Among the laserdisc, that he gave me with beautiful cover art, are copy of the film The Day the Earth Stood Still, Designing Woman, Funny Face and The Man Who Came to Dinner.)

    Take Care!
    dcd 😉


  8. To return to the subject of my talk on “The Un-Americaness of Film Noir,” I want to thank Yammering Magpie (Yammering Magpie has shut down) for providing me with the DVD of STRANGER that I screened for my presentation. For another section of my book in progress, please see the essay on Anthony Mann’s BORDER INCIDENT and Noir Citizenship that I recently published in Cinema Journal (summer, 2008)


  9. Hi –
    I could provide you with many film noir DVDs, some subtitled in English, at a reasonable price, excluding mail costs.


  10. Unfortunately, Yammering Magpie Cinema has shut down. This is very recent, as they were up and running only a few weeks ago. Their email address is no longer valid.


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