In early twentieth century England, overworked composer George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar, I Wake Up Screaming) is distraught over a sudden onset of severe blackouts. After an old merchant is brutally murdered by an unknown assailant, Bone wonders if he killed the man during one of his dizzy spells.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“All my life I’ve had black little moods”
Few things are more interesting and exciting than a movie that defies expectations. This is a fascinating psychological thriller, if only because of its unusual choices: Hangover Square is about a vicious killer who doesn’t want to kill, consequently, the murderer ends up being the most sympathetic character in the entire film.
Directed by John Brahm (Guest in the House) from a script by Barré Lyndon (Cecil B. DeMille’s The Greatest Show on Earth) based on the 1941 novel by Patrick Hamilton (the mystery writer behind such stage hits as Gaslight and Rope). Hangover Square confounds viewers with its unorthodox handling of thriller tropes.
Hangover Square opens with a long, uninterrupted crane shot that reveals the identity of the killer. This short but elaborate sequence quickly announces that the film is not your run-of-the-mill thriller. In this case, the bulk of suspense comes from the fact that the audience is always one step ahead of the characters — we worry about the characters because they don’t know they are in imminent danger.
There are a few other things that immediately stand out from the movie. First, Laird Cregar’s performance (his last). The role literally killed him. Thinking, perhaps incorrectly, that the starring role called for a handsome leading man, Cregar adopted a crash diet to lose weight. The decision proved to be fatal for the fine actor.
I must say that if Cregar expected to look better after losing weight, well, I don’t think it worked at all — he looks sickly. Worse than that, the actor’s sudden weight loss caused a fatal heart attack (the movie was released posthumously). There must be some consolation in knowing that Cregar ended his career with a bang. He’s superb in a complex role that has more than a few things in common with Dr. Jekyll (and Mr. Hyde).
The other thing that stands out is Bernard Herrmann’s (The Day the Earth Stood Still) superb music score. It’s one of the composer’s most ambitious scores. Because this is the story of a brilliant composer, Herrmann needed not only to write a conventional music score, but also come up with music one could believe was written by a genius. The outcome isn’t entirely unexpected — Herrmann pulls it off marvelously!
Hangover Square ends with a grand concerto (aka “Concerto Macabre“), and this stunning composition is one of Herrmann’s finest efforts (the symphony influenced Stephen Sondheim’s musical Sweeney Todd). Herrmann’s score also offers viewers a hint of things to come. Close your eyes and listen carefully, and you’ll notice similarities between this score and the ones Herrmann wrote for Alfred Hitchcock.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Hangover Square will undoubtedly appeal to people looking for an offbeat murder-mystery. Additionally, character actor Laird Cregar is fantastic, and Bernard Herrmann’s powerful music score will get stuck in your head. Also starring Linda Darnell (A Letter to Three Wives) as a heartless cabaret singer and George Sanders (All About Eve) as a sympathetic physician. Highly recommended! B&W, 78 minutes, Not Rated.