Thursday, February 9, 2023

Period Noir Watch: Hangover Square (1945)

Watched:  02/08/2023
Format:  TCM
Viewing:  First
Director:  John Brahm

Really dug this film.  What could have been a hokey set-up is carried off without a hitch, all pistons firing on this one.  From performances of a great cast, to a score that's woven in and far more than incidental, there's astounding camera work and lighting, amazing sets, etc...  and a story that has nuance, but a clear through-line.

Honestly, I prioritized the film because it starred Linda Darnell and Laird Cregar, who I appreciate for every different reasons.  But even with the strong assemblage of parts, the film felt like it 

Laird Cregar and Linda Darnell get cozy in a cab

The basic story is:  Cregar plays a young, promising composer who is working on a concerto and offering piano lessons to his fetching neighbor (Faye Marlowe) who is very into him.  Sadly, he has this fun issue that if he hears any sound that's of a particular volume and dissonance, he goes into a fugue state and he has no idea what he's done during that window - he just wanders around.  Maybe murdering?

In fact, the movie opens on a murder he may or may not have committed.  But he's a good dude, and so he asks his friend (George Sanders) to look into it, and evidence suggests he wasn't the culprit.  To alleviate the stress, he's told to take some time off and relax, so he goes to a music hall where he spies Linda Darnell.  

Taken with her (I mean, I get it, Laird) he helps her write a song that's a hit.  She asks for more songs, and trades time with him for songs - which she sees as transactional and he sees as romance blossoming.  He's ignoring his career, the sweet girl across the way, and a respectable future for, you know, Linda Darnell.  Which, shoot your shot, Laird.

Anyway - things go badly, and in the middle of it all, there's some loud noises.  Things go sideways.

As mentioned - on paper, this all sounds a little hokey.  But in the moment - and in no small part because of all the aforementioned forces at work, not the least of which is Cregar himself, it's a hell of a picture.  

The score is early work by the great Bernard Herrmann, who was brought on early to develop the needed music for the film instead of scoring a finished picture.  He was able to generate themes for characters as well as help construct the shattering climax of the film, which was, frankly, brilliant.  It is, after all, a movie about music and the people who make it.  

(Spoilers in the video and below)

And if you need a movie to just drop a wildly grim scene on you, that's also a technical wonder, it's hard to top the Guy Fawkes Night celebration scene, made genuinely horrific by the actual ending of Darnell's life.  But, man, the entire sequence of Darnell's murder straight through the bonfire sequence is next-level stuff.  Made all the more fascinating as you never know how to feel for Cregar's composer and how Darnell used him - so it all has a weird inevitability the characters can't ever feel, but as an audience - do you cheer for Cregar to get away with it?  

Anyway - maybe not to all tastes, but I'd certainly push this one on people.  It starts strong and just keep escalating.  And, yes, I believe the film works as noir, thriller and whatever labels you want to throw at it.

Also - another great turn by George Sanders, who is in everything.  

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