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.
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.