Laird Cregar gives a "staggering nightmarish performance" (Ozus World Movie Reviews) as an amnesiac London composer named George Harvey Bone learns that a murder occurred when he suffered a blackout, he worries that he may be the murderer. Although a Scotland Yard report proves his innocence, when he is betrayed by a pub singer (Linda Darnell), Bone's murderous streak reveals itself after al. Also starring George Sanders, Hangover Square is a psychological chiller you won't soon forget. NEW HD master.
When sexy Hollywood icons like Jean Harlow, James Dean, and Marilyn Monroe die young, they become immortal, but when a hulking, overweight, up-and-coming character actor like Laird Cregar meets an untimely demise, he’s all but forgotten. And that’s a shame, because Cregar’s work more than stands the test of time. The victim of a heart attack at only 31 years of age, this brilliant, underrated performer appeared in just 16 movies during his all-too-brief career, and passed away mere days after completing Hangover Square, the sole film that gave him top billing. A gloriously dark, atmospheric, and riveting thriller that features Cregar’s finest performance, director John Brahm’s creepy yet oh-so-elegant adaptation of the novel by Patrick Hamilton (Gaslight) zips along at a frantic clip, aided by classy production values, exquisite cinematography, and dynamite music, all of which increase the stature of this irresistible exercise in Grand Guignol.
Hangover Square may borrow the Victorian setting and even some of the sets from The Lodger, the enormously successful Jack-the-Ripper mystery also directed by Brahm and featuring Cregar in the title role, but the similarities end there. Hangover Square is a far more sympathetic, almost tragic tale that chronicles the struggles of a tortured hero who’s betrayed by an illness he can’t control and a grasping woman who shamelessly manipulates and exploits him. Much like the creature in Frankenstein, we pity this havoc-wreaking monster, and though we fear his fate is predetermined, we still root for him to overcome his frailties, conquer his demons, and realize his great potential.
Music consumes George Bone (Cregar), a serious composer who works tirelessly on a piano concerto, but it can’t soothe the savage beast within him. Plagued by blackouts brought on by piercing, dissonant sounds, George commits violent acts while under their spell, but can’t recall his actions once he regains his faculties. Concern from his lady friend Barbara (Faye Marlowe) prompts George to visit Dr. Allan Middleton (George Sanders), who advises him to relieve the stress and pressures that so completely debilitate him.
George visits a local music hall to relax and becomes instantly captivated by Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell), the bar’s alluring yet mediocre singer. Netta bewitches George, and he begins writing material for her that begins buoying her career. Yet George’s stuffiness and sophistication stifle the lowbrow Netta, who mercilessly strings him along for professional gain while she romances a dashing suitor on the side. George’s obsession with this devious tart leads him to abandon his concerto and ignore Barbara, but as his emotions crescendo and spiral out of control, he begins to crack under the strain. His terrifying blackouts return with a vengeance and bring with them deadly consequences.
Because the murderer's identity is never in doubt, Barré Lyndon’s tight screenplay focuses on the psychological underpinnings that chip away at George’s sanity, as well as the exterior forces that incite and exacerbate his symptoms. As a result, Hangover Square, with its shadowy style, nefarious forces, and lethal femme fatale, much more resembles a film noir than a horror movie. Cinematographer Joseph La Shelle, who won an Oscar the previous year for Laura, works his magic once again, crafting lusciously rich images that heighten the film’s tense and foreboding aura. The bravura score by Bernard Herrmann, in only his fourth outing as a film composer, also adds immeasurably to the atmosphere. George somewhat resembles Norman Bates in Psycho, and elements of Herrmann’s score eerily presage the classic strains so associated with that Hitchcock classic. His “Concerto Macabre” is a bona fide tour de force, and its bold, untamed brilliance caps off the film’s thrilling incendiary climax.
Perhaps if he hadn’t died, Cregar would have been nominated for an Oscar for his intense yet controlled performance. His wild, popping eyes mirror the tumult in George’s soul, yet Cregar is at his best during quiet, introspective moments that portray George as a gentle giant torn between lofty pursuits and carnal desires. As the crafty vixen who plays this virtuoso pianist like a violin, the beautiful, raven-haired Darnell is perfectly cast, exhibiting a nubile sexuality that’s both innocent and calculated. Darnell also died young, at age 41, from burns she suffered in a house fire, the knowledge of which makes the climactic blaze in Hangover Square eerily ironic. Sanders, too, met a sad end, committing suicide at age 65, lending some credence to the notion of a Hangover Square curse.
Clocking in at a brisk 78 minutes, Hangover Square doesn’t waste a moment. Brahm keeps a tight rein on his narrative, masterfully builds suspense, and fashions a seductive atmosphere that holds the viewer spellbound from beginning to end. Cregar seizes the moment as well, elevating the notion of villain-as-victim to virtuoso heights, and reminding us the prettiest faces aren’t always the most interesting. He not only carries this terrific thriller on his broad shoulders; he leaves an indelible impression upon it.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Hangover Square arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a standard case and featuring a brand new 4K restoration. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the static menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
It’s always thrilling when a Hollywood classic undergoes a 4K restoration, and the spanking new, lusciously rich 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer of Hangover Square is a terrific advertisement for the process. The gorgeous cinematography by Oscar-winner Joseph La Shelle (Laura) is perfectly rendered, with exceptional clarity and contrast maximizing the impact of every shot, even the blurry, distorted ones that depict George’s disorientation. A lovely grain structure preserves the look and feel of celluloid, but never overwhelms the image, and not a nick, mark, or errant scratch dots the pristine source material, which exhibits a beautiful sheen. The predominating blacks are deep and inky, the white flames that dance around the frame are equally crisp, and the nicely varied grays in between enhance textures and background details. Shadow delineation is excellent and sharp close-ups showcase Cregar’s often sweaty face and hollow eyes, as well as Darnell’s breathtaking glamour. The DVD presentation of this film is also strong, but this Blu-ray restoration is an absolute stunner and well worthy of an upgrade.
Rarely does mono audio from a 70-plus-year-old movie knock anyone’s socks off, but the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track on this release does just that. The clincher here is Bernard Herrmann’s robust, often bombastic score that features the haunting, dissonant “Concerto Macabre,” which is performed in its 11-minute entirety during the film’s climax. Superior fidelity, excellent tonal depth, and a wide dynamic scale help the sweeping music fill the room with as much power and presence as many 5.1 tracks. Booming bass, pounding piano, and screechy piccolos burst forth without a hint of distortion, while sonic accents like piercing screams, combustible flames, and the clatter of metal pipes cascading off a wagon are marvelously distinct. Quieter moments are rendered just as well, all the dialogue is clear and easy to comprehend, and no age-related hiss, pops, or crackles disrupt the hypnotic mood. This is one classic movie track you can blast with confidence, and if you do, you won’t be sorry.
All the extras, except for the stills and advertising galleries, have been ported over from the 2007 DVD release, and they all enhance the viewing experience.
Audio Commentaries - Two 2007 commentaries are included on the disc, although one track would have been sufficient. The first features screenwriter and film historian Steve Haberman and 80-year-old actress Faye Marlowe, who portrays the good girl in the film. This is a spirited discussion that’s packed with plenty of facts, trivia, and marvelous first-hand reminiscences. Haberman outlines the differences between the novel upon which the movie is based and its adapted screenplay, describes deleted and reshot scenes, addresses censorship issues, chronicles the film’s production history, relates the tragic story of Laird Cregar’s decline and premature death, and shares the recollections of screenwriter Barre Lyndon. He also discusses the fire imagery that pervades Hangover Square, points out a brief appearance by director John Ford’s brother, and mentions Marlene Dietrich and Geraldine Fitzgerald were offered the role of Netta before Linda Darnell. Marlowe charmingly remembers her blasé attitude toward acting, how she got her start in the industry, her schoolgirl crush on “snooty” George Sanders, and her various interactions with Cregar, Darnell, and director John Brahm. In addition, she relates a frightening anecdote about shooting the climactic fire sequence.
The late, great film critic and historian RIchard Schickel provides the second commentary, which seems a bit lackluster by comparison. Schickel holds Hangover Square in high regard and repeatedly praises it, but his remarks largely focus on the film’s style and artistry. He analyzes the noir elements littered throughout, talks about the industry’s newfound fascination with psychiatry, and lauds the work of the cast and crew. Schickel’s commentaries are always entertaining and informative, but this one doesn’t feature quite as many potent insights as some of his other efforts.
Featurette: “The Tragic Mask: The Laird Cregar Story” (HD, 20 minutes) - This absorbing featurette chronicles the rollercoaster life and sad demise of Cregar, who died of a heart attack at the tender age of 31 and continues to “haunt Hollywood history.” Tortured by his homosexuality and disgusted by his overweight appearance, Cregar described himself as a “grotesque,” and his obsessive desire to transform himself into the industry’s ideal of an attractive leading man through crash diets and an array of prescription drugs most likely contributed to his early death. An array of film scholars salute his superior talent, analyze his appeal, and discuss his background, demons, and career, while film clips and photos document his excellent work.
Vintage Radio Adaptation (30 minutes) - This truncated version of Hangover Square, broadcast on the Hollywood Star Time radio series, allows Darnell and Marlowe to reprise their film roles, but Vincent Price takes over the part played by Cregar, who died only a few days after completing the picture. Price lacks Cregar’s intensity, and the entire enterprise falls a bit flat, most likely because such an atmospheric tale doesn’t translate well to a strictly aural medium.
Trailer Gallery (HD, 6 minutes) - Sadly, no preview for Hangover Square is included, but we do get trailers for three other films with connections to either Cregar or director John Brahm: The Lodger, The Undying Monster, and I Wake Up Screaming.
Hangover Square may not be as famous as The Lodger or feature a villain as notorious as Jack the Ripper, but it just might be a better film. This gripping, atmospheric Victorian thriller briskly chronicles how a psychologically tortured composer deals with lengthy, violent blackouts and his debilitating obsession with a trampy music hall singer. In his final role, Laird Cregar - flanked by the ravishing Linda Darnell and ever-acerbic George Sanders - files arguably his finest portrayal, while John Brahm’s artistic direction, Joseph La Shelle’s glorious cinematography, and Bernard Herrmann’s bravura score thrill the senses. A breathtaking, brand new 4K restoration heightens the film’s impact and distinguishes Kino Lorber’s top-flight Blu-ray presentation, which also features one of the finest classic movie audio tracks I’ve heard, as well as several absorbing supplements. Few, if any, 1940s thrillers can outclass the impeccably produced Hangover Square, which still packs a potent punch and comes very highly recommended.