Categories
Drama Mystery/Noir

Hangover Square

Supplementing my recommendation of The Charmer, I offer another Patrick Hamilton adaptation, albeit one that departs more substantially from the original novel: 1945’s Hangover Square.

The plot: In Edwardian London, brilliant, troubled classical composer George Bone (Laird Cregar) suffers fugue states during which he commits violent acts which he cannot recall afterwards. As Bone attempts to hold his psyche together long enough to complete a concerto, a scheming, alluring dance hall tart named Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell) tempts him in every way to devote his talents instead towards producing popular songs that will catapult her to fame. When George finally realizes that Netta is manipulating him, his mind snaps once more, propelling forward this dark tale of suspense, crime, and emotional anguish.

I am going to start my analysis of this film by getting the unpleasant bit out straightaway. The middling script of Hangover Square was written by Alfred Edgar, under the pen name BarrĂ© Lyndon (Presumably he was a Thackeray fan). Edgar drained the trenchant political and psychological observations from Hamilton’s novel (which was set during Hitler’s rise to power), added some clunky expositional exchanges while leaving other important elements of the plot strangely unexplained, and concocted a character who makes little sense (Dr. Allan Middleton, played by George Sanders, who is a clinical psychiatrist but is also somehow a front-line police detective and also apparently a romantic rival of George Bone though this is dropped after a single needless scene). Edgar’s is by no means a terrible screenplay, but given the source material — Hangover Square is generally considered Hamilton’s best novel — it should have been better.

Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square and a slide into the abyss ...

Fortunately, other elements of Hangover Square are so remarkable that they overcome the script’s flaws. The film is anchored by scintillating performances by two sadly short-lived talents: Cregar and Darnell. The character of George Bone might easily have repelled the audience, but Cregar conveys such vulnerability and ingenuousness that the audience sympathizes with him anyway. A talented musician in his own right, Cregar is also completely believable in his composing and performance scenes. Darnell, only 22 years old at he time, is just as good at being bad. She keeps every man in the movie dancing on a string with her lovely face, artful conversational dodges, and sexual ruthlessness. One central aspect of the book that the film does maintain are the scenes of love struck George letting Netta hurt him, disregard him, and demean him; Cregar and Darnell play these just right.

The visuals of the movie are as rewarding as the performances. The sets are handsome, the costumes expertly done, and the editing is spot on. On top of all that, the brilliant Joseph LaShelle (whose film noir work I have praised before) contributes gorgeously shadowy cinematography and a particularly superb tracking shot at the climax.

The other undeniable pleasure of Hangover Square is Bernard Herrmann’s score, one of the best in his storied career. Herrmann had to write not just the usual movie theme music, but also the piece that Bone is striving to compose and plays in the arresting final scene. The result — Concerto Macabre — is a knockout.

Hangover Square (1945) - Overview - TCM.com

Hangover Square re-united much of the team that made another of my recommendations, The Lodger, the year before, but the second production was not a happy set. Stevens hated his closing line and got into a row about it with producer Robert Bassler that allegedly ended in fisticuffs. Cregar loved the novel and was angry about how it had been drastically changed in the script, and he and director John Brahm clashed throughout the production. Cregar was also struggling with health problems stemming from his attempts to dramatically reduce his weight, including through amphetamine use. He died two months before Hangover Square was released, but at least fate made his last scene on screen an unforgettable image that will stay with viewers of this film for many a moon.

Categories
British Horror/Suspense Mystery/Noir

The Lodger **Double Feature**

I had long wanted to experience Alfred Hitchcock’s first foray into suspense, 1927’s The Lodger (sometimes subtitled “A Story of the London Fog”), but could never get through the film because the available prints were so beat up as to make it virtually unwatchable. To the rescue came British Film Institute, which despite the lack of the negative managed to restore the movie beautifully using a tinted print that had been maintained in excellent condition. Hitchcock’s version of the Belloc Lowndes tale as well as the best of the many subsequent efforts to remake it constitute my double feature film recommendation.

The story is set during a series of Jack the Ripper-like murders in London. One of the respectable families in the neighborhood takes in a mysterious lodger played evocatively in the 1927 version by early 20th century entertainment superstar Ivor Novello. His manner is strange, his habits are out of the common and he always seems to be out in the fog when the murders happen. Both the police and the family hosting him begin to suspect that a wolf has found its way into the fold. Hitchcockian magic ensues.

I embed here the restored version, which looks marvelous (Though BFI earns only an A minus because of a bone-headed decision to insert some jarring pop love songs in at particular moments of the new score). But the real attraction here is Hitchcock, who even this early in his career shows how he will come to define with unbounded creativity the suspense film genre. His origins in the silent era no doubt helped him develop his “pure cinema” style of storytelling because of course without sound it’s all about shots, images and editing. What can also be seen in The Lodger is his impish ability to break tension with humorous moments. He and Eliot Stannard also changed the original story in a way that increases tension up to the very end. All in all, the movie serves both as entertainment and an education in the early years of The Master.

Novello went to Hollywood in 1934 and made an ill-fated talkie version of the same film without Hitchcock, but the story was taken up again to much better effect by a different group of filmmakers in 1944, and I recommend it as the second half of a double feature with the 1927 version.

This version keeps closer to the original story, making it as much a character study as a mystery/thriller. This provides a chance for the sadly short-lived Laird Cregar to showcase his considerable talents as an actor. He’s near-perfect as a man whose proper British exterior hides a roiling mass of emotion and need. The rest of the cast is also strong, particularly Sara Allgood as the woman of the house and George Sanders as a police detective. The production values are first rate, with much of the budget apparently spent by respected costumer designer Rene Hubert on a series of flouncy outfits for the bewitching Merle Oberon (More information about her career is in my recommendation of The Scarlet Pimpernel). The result is a movie that if not at the level of Hitchcock’s work is still a handsome and gripping piece of cinema.

p.s. The same story was made again in 1953 as The Man in the Attic and yet again in 2009 as The Lodger. As the man once said, “In Hollywood they don’t make movies, they re-make them”.

p.p.s. In Robert Altman’s fine film Gosford Park, Ivor Novello was portrayed by Jeremy Northam.