Saturday, March 3, 2018

THE FREE FOR ALL BLOGATHON: Laird Cregar's Swan Song, Hangover Square (1945)

Theresa, the one and only proprietor of CINEMAVEN'S ESSAYS FROM THE COUCH presents The Free for All Classic Film Blogathon.

When the instructions are to "write about anything your heart desires", a day of happy surprises is in store for one and all. Click HERE and be amazed.

This blogathon announcement coming on the heels of New Year's Eve indulgences, my mind went to Hangover Square, not just for the title, but for the tipsy feeling I get from this movie. We are inside and outside the mind of a man with a split personality; a musical genius and mad killer.

Hangover Square is filled with images of horror and pity, and insightful, stirring music. It is a minor masterpiece from director John Brahm, cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, and composer Bernard Herrmann. All this creativity supports a bravura performance, his final, from Laird Cregar. Mr. Cregar passed at the age of 30, following an ill-advised crash diet and surgery for a resultant stomach disorder. The movies lost a supreme talent; a natural "heavy" and versatile and charismatic actor.

The source for this 1945 film of Hangover Square was Patrick Hamilton's 1941 novel of the same name. Set in contemporary times, and a dark comedy of disparate characters in a time of rising fascism, the novel and film bear little resemblance to each other. 20th Century Fox hoped to replicate the previous year's release of the Jack-the-Ripper tale The Lodger, also starring Laird Cregar and directed by John Brahm by presenting them in similar material.

This post wrote itself in a spoilerish manner, but I believe foreknowledge will not ruin the movie experience if you have yet to see the film.

Faye Marlowe as Barbara Chapman, George Sanders as Dr. Allan Middleton
Laird Cregar as George Harvey Bone

George Harvey Bone is a young composer of classical music. Perhaps due to the pressures associated with the premiere of his upcoming concerto, which should assure his standing in his career, George has been plagued with headaches and blackouts. These blackouts coincide with mayhem and murder in London.

Barbara is George's music student and dear friend. She and her father, conductor Sir Henry Chapman played by Alan Napier live in a lavish mansion opposite George's abode, on the other side of Hangover Square. Barbara's admiration and affection for George runs deep and she arranges for George to discuss his headaches and fears with Dr. Middleton, who is also a consultant for Scotland Yard.

Laird Cregar as George Harvey Bone

Dr. Middleton, despite his sense that something is dreadfully wrong, could find no evidence linking George to a recent murder. He advises his patient to forget about work, to go out and enjoy himself among ordinary people. George takes that advice to heart.

Linda Darnell as Netta Longdon

As indicated by the picture above, Netta Longdon is a singer. A singer in the long, great tradition of singers to whom their voice is of little matter compared to their looks and ambition. She has won the hearts of the audiences of the pubs and music halls she plans to discard. All she needs is the proper material and publicity. Netta is moving up in the world.

Linda Darnell, Michael Dyne as Mickey, Laird Cregar

George's friend Mickey is Netta's accompanist. He has lyrics that would fit perfectly with George's melody. Before he realizes what is happening, George is writing for Netta and George is smitten with Netta. Netta is smitten with what George can do for her career. Isn't it a fine coincidence that they are practically neighbors in Hangover Square?

Laird Cregar, uncredited feline performer

Name a girl so lucky as to have a composer/cat sitter right across the street. Netta's landlady has a thing against pets, and George is so obliging. This moggy is in on all the composing as well as the odd mood swings of the human. The cat and Netta will be sharing a similar fate in a perfectly ironic bit of editing.  

Is this the face of love or the face of conflict?

George's new obsession with Netta makes him neglect his old friends and his concerto. When Barbara tries, ever so compassionately, to point this out to him, George becomes angry and susceptible to those headaches and blackouts.

Servants frightened off the attacker. The perfect alarm system.

No one is more shocked than George when word reaches him that an unknown assailant has attempted to strangle Barbara. Scotland Yard and Dr. Middleton are on the case. They have no proof, but their suspicions all point in one direction, across the park in Hangover Square.

What's she got that I ain't ... oh, never mind.

The attack upon Barbara shocked George into action. He attempts to cut ties with Netta and work exclusively on his concerto. Has he not recognized Netta's innate determination? She even insists that a fragment from the concerto should become a song for her new act.

Mickey had arranged another introduction for Netta, and this one was to a handsome and influential producer, Eddie Carstairs played by Glenn Langan. Netta keeps Carstairs on one string and George on the other. The venue for her breakout performance has been booked and, with what George and Netta mean to each other (she coos seductively), surely he can write her just one more song. 

George didn't expect this touching scene.

The night of Netta's big show finds George prepared to offer his heart, his life, and a ring to his adoring muse. Imagine his shock at discovering Netta in the arms of another. She and her producer, Carstairs, are planning a wedding. George is not invited.

George is in one of his black moods.

There will be no wedding for poor Netta. Authorities will note the disappearance of the entertainer on the night of her big break. There will be no proof of foul play, and no body to point clues toward her executioner, but they know.

Gunpowder, Treason, and Murder

Under cover of a Guy Fawkes Day bonfire, George disposes of Netta's mortal remains. A truly eerie and blood freezing scene, as folks dance and shout merrily in the annual celebration while George, or the man George becomes when in the grip of his mania, destroys the evidence of his crime.

George: "But I've worked all my life for this one night."
Dr. Middleton: "I'm sorry, but you must come with me."

George took Netta's life and her dreams on the evening of her breakthrough concert. On the brink of his greatest success, George's dreams are stolen by Dr. Middleton who presents George with the proof of his nightmares. Dr. Middleton stirs George's vague memories and worries with the singed trousers he wore to the bonfire and the wrinkles in the sash used as a weapon. 

The show must go on.

Even with the knowledge of his crimes, George must perform at the concert. He incapacitates the good doctor and attempts to go on to the musical glory he has sought for so long. The Yard and Dr. Middleton are unsuccessful in their attempt to subdue and remove the manic George.

George Harvey Bone

George's mind breaks and to the horror of all, he sets the elegant mansion ablaze. Frightened musicians and the panicked audience attempt to escape while George blocks their entrance and exhorts them to stay, to play, to listen. George, alone, plays through the conflagration to his doom.

Bernard Herrmann
1911 - 1975

The score combines seamlessly with the music written as that by George. The music takes on more prominence as we reach the end of the story. Brahm's filming of the concert scene is breathtaking. You can feel every note and its import as the musicians go about their job and George floats above it all while sinking deeper and deeper into his lost soul to the sound of Bernard Herrmann's Concerto Macabre.


  1. I had read about this one before, but that was before I knew who Linda Darnell was. I'd see it for her, especially if she looks the way she does here!

    1. According to the guy I'm married to, she looks even better!

  2. Not available at my library darn it. Sounds really interesting. I only recently discovered Laird Creagar, but kinfd of liked what I saw. Good review.

    1. Keep trying. Maybe the library will pick it up in the near future.

  3. Loved it - this was my intro to Laird Cregar - and what an intro. As always, you did an awesome job of highlighting all of the wonderful components of this film.

    1. Thanks so much. What an introduction indeed! We can only imagine what he had left to give.

  4. I think Laird Cregar is better here than he was in THE LODGER. Herrmann's music is outstanding. I read once where it made a huge impression on Stephen Sondheim when he was 15 and--many years later--inspired the musical SWEENEY TODD.

    1. Very interesting about the Sondheim connection. It is obvious, now that you mention it. I agree, Laird Cregar is magnificent in this role. He truly gave us his all.

  5. I liked how you said this review wrote itself in a spoilerish way – I knew we were in for a real treat!

    Thanks for your thoughtful review. I've not seen this film, but you've left me wanting more...and look! Here it is on YouTube.

    1. Oh, the inestimable YouTube, how it is the answer to so many prayers. And how it sucks us in for hours and hours!

    2. You've got that right. YouTube is my biggest productivity killer.

  6. Supposedly Merle Oberon had told him if he lost weight, he could have a diversified career like George Sanders. Rather than just being, well, the heavy. A gay man in both senses, with Fox struggling to keep him in the closet, her words must've made sense.

    He was originally cast as Waldo in Laura, Preminger fired him for being too obvious.

    1. Cregar certainly fit Caspary's description of Lydecker to a "T". Preminger choosing the much thinner, and basically unknown to movie audiences Webb, worked well for the movie. Although, I have read that he had to tussle with Zanuck over the choice.

    2. Zanuck opposed him "He FLIES!" But he came around, and turned him into a hetero comedy star. And made all his films for Zanuck.

    3. The most unlikely movie star, and always a pleasure to watch.

  7. Laird Cregar has never been one of my favorites, but it's tragic how we lost him, especially since he was still quite young. I actually didn't recognize him in your photos!

    With George Sanders playing a good guy, Linda Darnell playing a dangerous femme, and Herrmann's score, this movie sounds like a must for me! Thanks for the introduction!

    1. Many things to appreciate in Hangover Square. Who knows? It may even inspire a begrudging fondness for Mr. Cregar's work. Sometimes it just takes one role to turn a naysayer into a fan.

  8. John Brahm had the potential to be another Hitchcock with this film and The Lodger and The Locket. For me, this is his masterpiece. Sad Cregar died so young.,

  9. To be honest your post is informative and very helpful. After I saw your Post, it helped me a lot. Thanks for share your kind informations about hangover killer



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