Hangover Square (1945) John Brahm

This review contains spoilers

Director John Brahm waste no time getting the suspense moving, as the film opens we see an older man fighting off an unseen attacker. From the camera’s POV a knife soon appears plunging into the chest of the man and then a quick shot of the killer tossing a gas lit lamp on to the floor, a deadly fire begins to rage. It is a powerful opening to a visually stunning film worthy of Hitchcock. Laird Cregar stars as George Harvey Bone a turn of the century classical composer inflicted with increasingly frequent blackouts that result in a murdering rampage. When Bone meets dance hall singer Netta (Linda Darnell) who plays up to him, manipulating him to write a few popular type songs she can include in her act, the old boy is hooked. Netta uses Bone, flirting yet continually resisting his affection. Of course, Bone eventually realizes he is being used by the cheap floozy and seeks his revenge by killing Netta and dumping her lifeless body on to the top of a barn fire set during a celebration on Guy Fawkes Night.

Fire plays an important part in this film occurring in at least in three significant points including the finale as Bone meets his own demise in a concert hall, where his piano concerto is being performed. The madman sets the theater on fire as the police attempt to surround him. The final image is one of Bone at the piano regally performing his work as he is engulfed in ever growing flames.

“Hangover Square” was a follow up reuniting in fog bound Victorian London director John Brahm, screenwriter Barre Lyndon (whose screenplay is based on the Patrick Hamilton novel), two of the three films stars Laird Cregar and George Sanders all who collaborated in the successful 1944 version of “The Lodger” just one year earlier. The setting of the original source novel was just prior to England’s entry into the war with Germany. For the film the creators changed the setting to turn of the century London to more closely resemble the mood and atmosphere of the prior year’s hit film.

 Brahm use of a subjective camera and low-angles united with Joseph LaShelle’s noir cinematography make for a first-rate entertaining piece of filmmaking.  The other major highlight in this film is the music of Bernard Herrmann who not only composed the incidental music but also the major concert pieces performed.  The film is a major vehicle for Herrmann’s work and one of his best scores. Both Herrmann (Psycho, North by Northwest, Marnie, Vertigo) and LaShelle (Alfred Hitchcock Presents) worked with Hitchcock, which this film could have easily been directed by. Brahm does an inspired job and like Herrmann and LaShelle would work for Hitchcock himself later in his career directing many episodes of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.”    Brahm also did some very good episodes of “The Twilight Zone”, “Thriller”, “The Outer Limits” and “The Man from UNCLE” among many others.  

Sadly, this was Laird Creager’s final film in a life that was way too short.

****

7 comments on “Hangover Square (1945) John Brahm

  1. Sam Juliano says:

    “Brahm’s use of a subjective camera and low-angles united with Joseph LaShelle’s noir cinematography make for a first-rate entertaining piece of filmmaking. The other major highlight in this film is the music of Bernard Herrmann who not only composed the incidental music but also the major concert pieces performed. The film is a major vehicle for Herrmann’s work and one of his best scores.”

    Absolutely John on every point here. I am a huge fan of Herrmann’s music, and I’ve always had very high regard for his work on HANOVER SQUARE. I was just discussing Brahm yesterday at the THRILLER A DAY thread, where I proposed that the director’s yeoman turn in helming “The Cheaters” may well be the series’ finest contribution in this department. Brahm also directed THE LODGER, but I see you’ve reviewed it here, so I” head over to read it now.

    As always a wonderful assessment.

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    • John Greco says:

      Herrmann is one of my favorite film composers. So mnay classic scores one loses track. I need to check out the THRILLER A DAY blog. I know you mentioned it a few times and it seems like one to track. thanks again Sam.

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  2. The Lady Eve says:

    I heard an NPR interview with Stephen Sondheim earlier this year in which Sondheim discussed how Bernard Herrmann’s score for “Hangover Square” had deeply impressed him when he first saw the film at about age 15.

    Years later Sondheim wrote the music (and lyrics) for a musical and, before it was produced on Broadway, played the music for his good friend Anthony Perkins. Perkins smiled and said, “Ah…Bernard Herrmann.” It was the music for Sweeney Todd:The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (1979) and Sondheim said it was something of an homage to Herrmann.

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    • John Greco says:

      Lady Eve,

      Thank you for sharing that story. As I mentioned to Sam above, I am a big fan of Herrmannn and it is good to know Sondheim’s appreciation. I was fortunate enough to see the original production of “Sweeney Todd” during the January 1980 Subway Strike in NYC. The company I worked for put us up in a hotel in Manhattan so we could get to work during the strike, and myself and a few others caught a couple of plays (two-fers) of which Sweeny Todd was one.

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  3. I saw this film earlier this year at the Stanford Theatre and the incorporation of the music made it a thrilling experience.

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