THE LODGER (1944), actors Laird Cregar and George Sanders reunited with director John Brahm, screenwriter Barre Lyndon, and producer Robert Bassler to make another Victorian murder melodrama, HANGOVER SQUARE.
Like THE LODGER, HANGOVER SQUARE is sumptuously produced and establishes terrific mood; it also has superb black and white photography, in this case by Joseph LaShelle. Additionally, the movie has a more sensitive, less broadly played performance by leading actor Laird Cregar, as well as the plus of a score by Bernard Herrmann. Watching the two films back to back, as suggested by a comment for my review of THE LODGER, was definitely a worthwhile and interesting experience.
All that said, I found HANGOVER SQUARE far less enjoyable than THE LODGER. While THE LODGER was deliciously creepy, with the scares alternating with the briefly developed romance of George Sanders and Merle Oberon, HANGOVER SQUARE is unremittingly gloomy, a tragedy of epic proportions which culminates in a series of disturbing sequences.
George Harvey Bone (Cregar) is a composer of great promise. His work is championed by the admiring pianist Barbara (Faye Marlowe, in her film debut); Barbara's conductor father (Alan Napier) plans to premiere the concerto Bone is composing. (Napier is made up to look a couple decades older than his actual early '40s.)
There are two problems with Bone finishing his concerto: he has a tendency to black out and not remember where he's been, though he has the disturbing feeling that he's done something very bad; and he's distracted by his unrequited love for a music hall floozy, Netta (Linda Darnell), who leads him on so that he'll compose songs to help make her a star.
In an effort to understand his blackout periods, Bone visits Dr. Allan Middleton (Sanders), an analyst at Scotland Yard. Middleton tries to unravel the case as bad things keep happening to those around Bone: there's an attempt to strangle Barbara, and then Netta goes missing...
As the film went on I found it increasingly difficult to watch, despite my admiration for the cast and the production quality. Bone is a heartbroken, heartbreaking character who could have had a happy life, were it not for Netta -- and those blackouts. What happens to Netta is ugly...but I think what disturbed me even more were scenes with a sweet, helpless little cat!
I think another aspect that made the film more challenging to enjoy is that so much screen time is spent with characters behaving badly, specifically George and Netta. Cregar and Darnell are both excellent, but their characters are not precisely pleasant to watch. The knowledge that this was Cregar's last film -- he died before it was released -- adds to the feeling of melancholy which envelops the film. The movie is missing the storytelling balance which is present to a much greater extent in THE LODGER, where there are several characters who engage the audience's sympathy.
George Sanders is once again cast as the hero, but his screen time in the 77-minute HANGOVER SQUARE might be even more limited than it was in the 84-minute THE LODGER. It's always a bit of a relief from the film's tension when Sanders' thoughtful and intelligent character is on screen! But while Dr. Middleton flirts lightly with Barbara and acts heroically in the final sequence, HANGOVER SQUARE is largely given over to the travails of the murderous George Bone.
The supporting cast includes Glenn Langan (fairly underused, with just a couple of scenes), J. Farrell MacDonald, and Francis Ford.
Bernard Herrmann's score can be obtained on CD on the album CITIZEN KANE: THE CLASSIC FILM SCORES OF BERNARD HERRMANN, an entry in the Classic Film Scores series.
HANGOVER SQUARE was based on a novel by Patrick Hamilton.
HANGOVER SQUARE is available on DVD in the Fox Horror Classics Collection, along with John Brahm's THE LODGER (1944) and THE UNDYING MONSTER (1942). Extras include two separate commentary tracks, including one with the participation of supporting actress Faye Marlowe; a radio version starring Vincent Price (whose voice seems similar to Cregar's); and featurettes on Laird Cregar and John Brahm.
The DVD is available from Netflix, as is THE LODGER.
This film has also been shown on Fox Movie Channel.
May 2015 Update: I had the pleasure of seeing this beautiful print screened again at the 2015 Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival in Palm Springs, California. I'm happy to say that I enjoyed it more the second time around.