Hangover Square(d): Early Psycho Movie

                       

Brilliant Laird Cregar!

 

He died two weeks after completing his most extraordinary role.

Laird Cregar is now a mere forgotten footnote in movie history. He was as much a victim of the Hollywood studio system as anyone in the heyday of the major film industry. Cregar was the classic villain who wanted to be a leading man.

Alas, he was overweight. He was in a constant skirmish to lose the heavy look to leave the heavy roles. When he went to the hospital for stomach surgery, it killed him in 1945.

He left on the marquee his role as Bone, the minor composer and major psycho killer. The movie starts out by describing John Harvey Bone as a minor composer of the early 1900s, as if he were real. The movie is Hangover Square.

The large Cregar wears oversize suits to make him look thinner, but there is obviously some residue flab that made studio executives cast him as the dangerous baddie. He played opposite the debonair George Sanders as a forensic psychologist from Scotland Yard, which didn’t help. It was an attempt to make Laird more sympathetic by playing against a well-known movie cad.

Their leading lady was marvelous, underutilized and mistreated Linda Darnell, another victim of the movie industry. She was stunning and never allowed to play much range: here she is Netta, a cheap cabaret singer with designs on the upper-crust Bone. Nettie was her real name.

This stylized film, directed by John Brahm, begins with a startlingly shot murder of a pawnbroker and arson to cover it up. Several bravura sequences highlight the movie, including a depiction of Guy Fawkes Day, a setting not often seen in film.

Bone tosses a victim’s body onto the bonfire. Fire is the motif of the film: Laird Cregar plays his great masterpiece of composition (actually a Bernard Herrmann piece) as the theatre burns down.

We give Cregar credit for faking his concert playing of Herrmann’s Concerto Macabre. It is amazing stuff as fire engulfs him in the age before computer effects. Ironically, not 20 years later, Linda Darnell died in a fire too.

Hangover Square is a forgotten masterpiece that deserves rediscovery and admiration.