Laird Cregar was one of the best character actors in classic film. His onscreen charismatic presence was undeniable. Besides possessing a tall and imposing figure, Cregar could morph into his characters. Although his career was tragically cut short when he died from a heart attack at the age of thirty one, Cregar amassed many wonderful films on his resume in the five years he acted in Hollywood films. His final film, which was released two months after his death in 1945, was Hangover Square, starring Linda Darnell and George Sanders. John Brahm and Robert Bassler directed and produced this film noir, which was based on Patrick Hamilton’s novel of the same name.
The story takes place in early 20th century London. Cregar plays the main character, George Harvey Bone, a brilliant, but haunted composer. It seems that George has everything: talent, success, and the undying love of his girlfriend, Barbara (Faye Marlowe). However, one day George returns home and he can’t remember what happened in the last twenty-four hours. At the same time, the newspapers announce that a shopkeeper was murdered and his shop burned to the ground. George is terrified that he might have had something to do with the incident. Barbara feels certain that George is incapable of any wrongdoing. Indeed, George is quiet and gentle, though he’s inclined to brooding. Dr. Allan Middleton (George Sanders) exams George and concludes that George had nothing to do with the incident. Instead, he suggests to George that he is suffering from stress and exhaustion, and he should take a break from his music and study how “ordinary” people work. Naturally, George finds this recommendation difficult to follow, and his passion for music leads him down a dark and twisted path.
One night George meets an aspiring singer named Netta Longdon (Darnell). Netta is an average singer, but she has a captivating beauty. In order to get her attention, George tells her that he’ll write music for her. Netta sees that George truly has a gift for composing music that could make her a star. However, she also understands that George is falling in love with her and she doesn’t feel the same way about him. Netta strings George along, until one night he finds her with another man. Suddenly, George’s bouts of amnesia increase and Netta goes missing.
While getting ready to perform his concerto for a prestigious audience, George’s world unravels. Dr. Middleton warns George that he must not do the performance, but George refuses to listen. He must perform his masterpiece, even if it is the last concert he ever plays.
Producing the film turned out to be as turbulent as the plot. During the filming, Cregar was on an aggressive weight loss plan, which involved amphetamines and made Cregar more difficult to manage. Filming had to be done in chronological order so that the weight loss didn’t distract from the film. Additionally, both Cregar and Sanders didn’t get along with Director John Brahm. Cregar was a talented musician; he wanted to actually play the piano instead miming, which frustrated Brahm.
When Hangover Square finally hit theaters, the film received mixed reviews and was not the commercial success that everyone hoped it would be. The performances from the cast were solid, but the film’s biggest weakness is that it lacked mystery. The audience learns very early on what is happening, which takes away from the mystery and excitement.
While Hangover Square may not have made the top list of films, it’s still a movie worth watching. All of the actors put on solid performances. Very few actors can make an audience forget that they are watching a performance, but Cregar was gifted in transforming himself into a variety of characters. In fact, he was so passionate about his craft that he pushed himself very hard to lose a lot of weight so that he would be more eligible for leading roles. Unfortunately, his extreme devotion to his profession led to his untimely death. Linda Darnell, who convincingly plays the role of the charming, but manipulative Netta, was another talented actress who died too young in a house fire. Sometimes we don’t watch films because they are the most commercially successful or flawlessly produced. Sometimes we see films because they are gems that are worth watching, and in this case Hangover Square has become a memorialization of three very talented and memorable actors.