Three times around the square and then off to the pub.

Last night I watched a film starring Laird Cregar for the first time… there’s a lot of similarities between Cregar and Charles Laughton… I noticed them immediately, without knowing anything about Cregar’s personal history. Honestly – as soon as I saw his face I was reminded of Laughton’s features, and his voice and behavior… I saw immediately that he was a talent, and I would also have guessed that just like Laughton he was gay. The pre-“out of the closets and into the streets” variety of homosexuality which seems to have given many of our greatest actors a strangely incalculable depth. The film was Hangover Square, and it was Cregar’s last. He died of a double heart attack before its completion. Like Laughton, Cregar saw himself as a grotesque… he was overweight and did terrible damage to his body with various regiments of diet and exercise, wanting to lose enough weight to move from playing heavies and villains to being like his idol, John Barrymore. In Hangover Square he is at his thinnest, and in a certain light, he is oddly reminiscent of Barrymore. Again, that was a thought I had while watching the film, before finding out anything about his life. 

 

Laird Cregar as George Harvey Bone.

Laird Cregar as George Harvey Bone.

 I wanted to see Hangover Square based on two things: an incredible still from the final shot of the film (a pianist playing in a huge room up in flames) and the wonderfully off-kilter premise described in the caption: “Many noir protagonists are a little bit mad, and some are a lot mad. After hearing a discordant sound, composer George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) blacks out and commits murders at the behest of his subconscious. Here, he plays a final, bitter symphony.”

 

Reader, beware: Hangover Square is an underwhelming thriller, save for Cregar’s performance (the best American playing an Englishman that I have ever seen! One thing I would have gotten wrong about him is his nationality) and one incredibly twisted and unforgettable scene that takes place on Guy Fawkes Day. Even the pyromanic ending cannot eclipse that one particular scene. I’m not sure if I would recommend this film with much enthusiasm, but it certainly wasn’t bad. Like Herzog does many times over in his work, Hangover Square does have one unforgettable image.

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2 responses to “Three times around the square and then off to the pub.

  1. By coincidence, I’ve been reading George Sanders interesting memoirs -“Memoirs of a Professional Cad”- during the last days.

    Sanders tells how, in his opinion, “Hollywood killed Cregar”, the fact that he was usually cast as a monster distressed him greatly, and told Sanders that he was going to loose weight and have a few operations to change his looks and be able to get other type of parts (leasding romantic parts, for instance). Cregar died as a result of his plans, which is a tragedy: he was certainly talented, and, if you ask me, he was quite goodlooking, portly yes, but see him as the devil in Lubistch’s “Heaven Can Wait”: I think he’s pretty dapper there!

    The Laughton comparison is interesting… As much as the legend says that Laughton hated the way he looked, he never would touch as much as a single wart or line of himself, and, while he dieted on a few occasions, certainly he didn’t loose the world from sight as to do it to death as poor Cregar. Laughton may have been uncomfortable by some parts of him (not being, in his view, goodlooking, being gay when being gay was outlawed, etc…) but, unlike Cregar he found comfort in other things: his work, his love of art and literature, his friends… And of course, he was quite the gourmet, which of course kept him portly, but at least, he had obtained a bit of enjoyment from it!

  2. Coincidence indeed.
    Unlike Sanders, who might have known Cregar personally, we can only speculate about whether Hollywood killed him… after all, acting is a masochistic profession and the people who gravitate towards not only acting but acting in the Hollywood system are often very imbalanced individuals. He seemed obviously to have a great deal of self-loathing to begin with, and I agree with you that he’s nowhere as “grotesque” – to use his own term – as he thought he was. The sad thing about him is that he wanted to be that leading man, and didn’t see the power he had as a character actor. Character actors are the ones that last, the ones for whom acting is always fresh and exciting. I guess he just wanted to be loved from a distance, as many of the world’s grotesquely beautiful creatures.

    As for Laughton – despite what I noted, I think they’re very very different. Laughton, in my opinion was an utter genius. He went about his work and his life in a vastly different way from Cregar or anyone else. From what I understand, though you may know more about this, he didn’t care much for conventional mores, from dress codes to behavior… within his physical, sexual, etc. confines, Laughton found infinite space. Cregar just imploded.

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