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Laird Cregar and the Fog of Hangover Square

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Hangover Square 1945

A fog-filled London is the setting for Jekyll And Hyde-type thriller Hangover Square from 1945 about a tortured composer who turns murderer when he hears loud noises.

Patrick Hamilton’s book of the same name was described by John Betjeman as being in the top class of English novels. Hamilton had wanted to sell the rights to Hitchcock. Instead it ended up in the hands of John Brahm, who just a year before had directed the atmospheric film The Lodger, another tale of a Victorian killer on the loose (and a remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s own 1927 silent). The resulting adaptation differs wildly from Hamilton’s original tale of barroom idlers and ne’er-do-wells, siphoning off only the original novel’s overwhelming sexual masochism.

Instead of the barman hero of the novel, here we have a composer by the name of George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar). He is attempting to write a concerto for rich benefactor Sir Henry Chapman (Alan Napier) but the strain of the creative process, as well as his inability to choose between two women, takes its toll on his brain. His schizophrenic evil side surfaces when he is most stressed and during blackouts he carries out horrific murders in typically Hollywood interpretations of eerie London streets.

Hangover Square is a genuinely disturbing film. Cregar’s enormous bulk dominates the screen (he died soon afterwards from a heart attack). Tormented in real life by his extraordinary physique, he offers a complex interpretation of the archetypal tortured genius. The supporting characters, too, are good, ranging from Linda Darnell’s slatternly music hall singer to George Sanders’ dry police inspector. The final star, however, has to be the music – Bernard Herrmann wrote both the concerto and the creepy score – a must in any melodrama.

TRIVIA
Leading man Laird Cregar had a short but successful film career. However, his size (over six foot and weighing over 20 stone/135 kg) meant he usually got to play villains, so he embarked on a severe crash diet. He died of a heart attack shortly after making this film, his first leading role.

Cast: Laird Cregar, Linda Darnell, George Sanders, Glenn Langan, Faye Marlowe, Alan Napier
Writer: Barré Lyndon; Composer: Bernard Herrmann; Director: John Brahm