“You could get me. All for you. There’s not a thing I wouldn’t … or that I couldn’t do. You wrote that for me, George. But you’ve never really tried to find out, have you?”
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Bone, Alfred the butler, another killer Bernard Herrman score, a sultry songbird with a black heart, brilliant use of drapery, how to hide a body on Guy Fawkes night, and two tremendous acting losses, maybe three.
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George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) is a talented musician and composer, but when it comes to women, he’s a poor old sap. Not only is he molly-coddled by rich socialite Barbara (Faye Marlowe) who’s heavily vested in his composing career, he's also got bar girl Netta (Linda Darnell) and her pair of sultry lungs, leggy spunk, and dark ambition bouncing around in his head. Plus, it’s the olden days, Victorian era London to be exact, and Bone has got to finish his latest and greatest concerto if he is to be taken seriously by the musical world. But he’s got other problems too. He blacks out and suffers memory loss when he hears screeching, discordant sounds. His personality completely changes and he prowls his neighborhood of Hangover Square in a zombie-like trance with murderous intent. He emerges as a main suspect in the murder of a sleazy character who was stabbed and burned to death. Recognizing his problem and fearing the worst, he consults Dr. Middleton (George Sanders) who has expertise in criminal behavior and the rising science of psychology. When Scotland Yard is unable to link him to the murder, Bone is relieved and continues to work, but is still deeply disturbed coping with his psychosis. When he rejects Barbara’s affections, his attention focuses on pub performer Netta, a raven-haired siren who uses Bone to write music for her popular singing career. She strings him along, teases him with the hint of a relationship, and drags him away from his composing so that he can write sappy love tunes for her. He falls hard for the sexy succubus, but after getting a few successful songs out of him, she dumps him for another man. Reeling violently from Netta’s rebuff, he knocks over some string instruments. The squealing sound triggers his other worldly bloodlust. He does away with Netta in possibly one of the most ingenious ways I’ve ever seen in a movie, but sorry no spoilers here. Upon returning home, he snaps out of his spell and continues to work on his music, aptly titled the Macabre Concerto. Barbara and Middleton’s concern for Bone rises as news of Netta’s disappearance is reported, and the police are again unable to link him to the crime. On the night of the premiere of his concerto, Bone is confronted by Middleton who wants to commit him. But there’s no stopping an unstable and bloodthirsty composer, and Bone is determined to perform his final coda at any cost.
Laird Cregar could have been another acting giant, an iconic Hollywood figure, and one of cinema’s unforgettable personalities. Unfortunately, this immensely talented actor did not attain the heights he seemed destined for and died shortly after the completion of Hangover Square, a powerful and unsettling thriller. He presents a sympathetic but malevolent approach to the tragic character of Bone, and his varied intensity and sensitivity is central to the movie’s success. If you rent the DVD, you should watch the short feature on Cregar in the special features. For me, it is a revelation of an actor I hadn’t had much exposure outside of 1944’s The Lodger where he played a maniacal and psychologically tortured Jack the Ripper. He was pigeon-holed in villain roles (in which he excelled) but Cregar branched out to leading man status as evident in his starring role in Hangover Square. But his own forceful but unhealthy ambition cost him in the end. He is a classic Hollywood tragedy, and I fully intend to watch more of Cregar’s work. Darnell, another talent lost too soon, is intoxicating as the seductive Netta. She is something else in this film, almost an otherworldly dark being, luminous and immoral. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. For some reason, this film was included in Fox’s Horror Classics collection, and although there are horrific elements to the story, the unmistakable hint of film noir is apparent through the cinematography, expressive camera work, and the film’s grim setting and psychological theme. Sanders is exceptional as the good doctor who wants to help and Marlowe is fine and awfully cute as the woman who wants to save Bone from his murderous duality. The Hermann score is typical excellence from the masterful composer, and the use of his score of the Macabre Concerto at the end of the film is creative genius. Wow, am I selling this too much? Hangover Square is a stylistic noir accented with powerful performances, a cracking story, and a wild ending that you won’t soon forget.