31 August 2015

Hangover Square

Hangover Square: This one's a real noir curiosity, as it's set in turn-of-the-20th-century London and has a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde horror tinge to it.  The script tells the sad story of George, a dweeb composer working on a concerto for his blueblood patron, Sir Henry (played by Alan Napier, who would score his most famous role twenty years later, as Alfred the butler in the '60s tv show Batman).  George is cheered on by Sir Henry's goody two-shoes pianist daughter, Barbara.  Even though George is an overweight dork, his musical genius fires Barbara between her legs. . .but the feeling is not mutual.  Anyway, George has bigger problems than how to handle Barbara.  You see, George isn't a marshmallow all the time.  He has this (movie) condition: sudden discordant sounds trigger blackouts in which he becomes, for some reason, a violent psychopath.  Not surprisingly, this makes it tough for him to concentrate on his concerto.  Uh, but anyways, George's life gets even more complicated when he meets nightclub chanteuse Netta, a 100% Grade A noir femme fatale, the kind that eats marshmallows like George for breakfast.  With a couple kisses and batted eyelashes and some vague promises about a life together, Netta soon has George blowing off his concerto to work on pop songs for her new stage show.  Naturally, this being noir, George eventually discovers Netta has made a first class chump out of him.  Brokenhearted, he runs home and throws his sheet music against the wall.  But, uh, there are a bunch of violins, cymbals, etc. leaning against the wall.  Somehow the couple pieces of paper manage to knock over all the instruments which somehow make a huge discordant CRASH BANG which, of course, triggers one of George's violent blackouts, and, presto! bye bye Netta!  But even though George is in the midst of one of his fits, he's still able to devise an ingenious plan for disposing of Netta's body--he puts one of those Anonymous masks over Netta's face, and tosses her on a Guy Fawkes Night bonfire (because, uh, you see, luckily all this just happened to occur on Guy Fawkes Night).  Yeah, so anyway, after snapping out of his blackout, George tucks his tail between his legs and trots back to Barbara and Sir Henry to finish his concerto.  Just as it seems he's about to work up some feeling for Barbara, and make a happy little dull life for the two of them, a Scotland Yard police shrink busts George for Netta's murder.  George has one last request before being hauled off to the nuthouse: he wants to perform his concerto (because, uh, you see, the Scotland Yard shrink just happened to figure out George was Netta's killer on the very night George was to premiere his concerto).  The shrink doesn't think this is a good idea, but George gives him the slip, and we are given this memorable ending:

Despite some rather serious implausibilities, Hangover Square is moodily effective, due to its baroque staging and the strong performances of the two leads.  Laird Cregar (imagine Jason Segel as a 1940s limey) plays George with just the right mix of sad sack 40-year-old virgin and bug-eyed psycho.  Linda Darnell's Netta is a triumph of two-faced minimalism, her subtly played treachery in sharp contrast to the often overblown histrionics of noir bad girls.  Toss in Bernard Herrmann's fittingly dark score, and you've got a good gothy change-up to the usual 1940s film noir fare.


  1. It's not the paper that sends the instruments falling. The cat was sitting between the cellos, and when he flung the torn up sheet music that way, it startled the cat, and he knocked one instrument over, then it kind of dominoed.

  2. Thanks. It makes a little more sense, that way.