Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Passing of the Third Floor Back, The

UK movie (1935). Gaumont-British Picture Corp. Dir Berthold Viertel. Screenplay Michael Hogan, Alma Reville. Based on The Passing of the Third Floor Back (play 1908; 1910) by Jerome K Jerome. Starring Sara Allgood (Miss de Hooley), Frank Cellier (Wright), Mary Clare (Mrs Sharpe), Anna Lee (Vivian Tomkin), Beatrix Lehmann (Miss Kite), Jack Livesey (Larkcom), Catherine Nesbitt (Mrs Tomkin), René Ray (Stasia), Alexander Sarner (Gramophone Man), John Turnbull (Major George Tomkin), Conrad Veidt (Stranger), Ronald Ward (Chris Penny). 90 mins. B/w.

In a seedy boarding house everyone lives behind (metaphorical) Masks donned to disguise their own inadequacies; all are compromising their Souls in order to cope with "reality" ... all except Stasia the maid, on probation from the reformatory, and Wright the wealthy jerry-builder, who has effectively already lost his soul. Into their midst comes a new lodger, renting the third-floor room at the back. Through quiet suggestion he makes the rest draw their own virtues to the surface. But Wright remains impervious; seeing the effects the Stranger has achieved, he deliberately counters them, so that once more the lodgers plunge back into spite and meanness. As Wright is on the verge of seducing Stasia with the promise of "presents" he encounters a burglar and has a fatal heart attack. When the lodgers discover, amid a hail of accusations, that neither Stasia nor the Stranger – both virtuous, and thus natural scapegoats – is guilty of the crime, they realize the error of their ways; decency and happiness once more prevail. Meanwhile the Stranger slips away unseen by all but Stasia, in whom he confides that he came in answer to her prayers.

TPOTTFB is generally discussed in terms of the Stranger being a manifestation of Christ, but it is more profitable to interpret him as an Angel, a view supported by two short, powerful scenes in which Wright adopts the role of the Devil, setting out explicitly the battle between the two of them for the lodgers' souls. Curiously, the movie's appeal was at the time judged to rest on Veidt's star qualities, but in fact he is of necessity cypher-like. [JG]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.