Monday, May 02, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Hangover Square (1945)

The year after the release of last night's movie, 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.


Blogger DorianTB said...

Laura, your review of HANGOVER SQUARE was excellent; I'm glad you covered it! While I agree that the film isn't always easy to watch because the characters aren't exactly warm, fuzzy types, I find it taut and suspenseful, with superb performances all around. It's a shame that HS turned out to be Laird Cregar's final role before he died from the effects of that draconian crash diet he went on to slim down. By all accounts, Cregar had wanted desperately to be a leading man, and he'd hoped losing all that weight would do the trick. As I've said in my IMDb review, it goes to show that it's unwise to go to dangerous extremes for your art. I think if Cregar had lived and lost weight in a healthier fashion, he really could have become a leading man, with that silky voice and suave manner he had in many of his best roles.

6:18 AM  
Blogger James Corry said...

"Hangover Square" is a heartbreaker isn't it? You just feel so bad for this poor guy who's used by this totally unsympathetic monster to get whatever she wants by whatever means she has to use. And Cregar's character really IS an "innocent" of sorts. He really DOESN'T know what he does during those "black moods"; he suspects, but he doesn't KNOW. Herrmann's music is, as usual, dazzling, and was written when he was in his early 30's (!) I believe that "Hangover Square" was his 5th film. And all of this was packed into a film which lasted barely over 70 minutes. Many of today's directors could (should) take a lesson in filmmaking from watching somrthing like "Hangover Square" before making these bloated, 3 hour monsters that they unleash on the public......

7:50 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

From the moment the kitty appeared, I went into silent panic mode about what was going to happen to it. I have a very hard time with animals in movies where you just know something bad is going to happen. Fortunately, it wasn't as bad as what I was fearing would happen, but still...

Great review. I liked this one better than The Lodger, only because I could actually sympathize with George, where I couldn't with Laird's character in The Lodger. Definitely tragic.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Maura McPeak said...

I think George Sanders' character's screen time was cut down because of George's "difficult" ways and his tendency to call Zanuck vulgar names. His character was supposed to have more of a romance with faye Marlowe.

3:21 PM  

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