B&W, 1945, 77m.
Directed by John Brahm
Starring Laird Cregar, Linda Darnell, George Sanders, Glenn Langan, Faye Marlowe
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), Fox (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

The Hangover Squaresuccess of 1944's serial killer Hangover Squarefilm The Lodger, a dark spin on source material earlier filmed by Alfred Hitchcock, made enough of a splash at Fox for director John Brahm to return with two of that film's stars, George Sanders and Laird Cregar, for another murderous thriller called Hangover Square. The latter's star-making turn managed to get him top billing here, though the imposing, large-framed actor's ill-advised crash diet that made him much thinner there would cost him his life, making this a dark and spectacular cinematic swan song for the immensely talented performer.

Loosely adapted from Patrick Hamilton's 1941 novel Hangover Square: A Tale of Darkest Earl's Court, the film takes place in early 20th-century London where composer George Harvey Bone (Cregar) suffers from an unusual medical condition. Where he hears a loud, abrasive sound like clanging metal, he goes into a murderous, amnesiac fugue state, sometimes losing an entire day's memory at a time. He keeps his worries secret from girlfriend Barbara (Marlowe) and seeks help from a police doctor (Sanders) who advises him to get out more in the outside world and socialize. That advice puts George in the cross-hairs of scheming bar singer Nettie (Fox star Darnell), who recognizes George's talent and strings him along to get new music material out Hangover Squareof him. However, the combination of manipulation and homicidal insanity turns out to be a very dangerous one.

Short, stylish, and often visually stunning, Hangover Square is clearly designed as a Cregar showcase Hangover Squarewith the actor ably dominating almost every scene. However, Darnell nearly matches him in her more limited role, looking every bit the stunning femme fatale in her black wardrobe and sparkling close ups. Not to be overlooked is the powerhouse score by the great Bernard Herrmann, in the midst of his legendary run at Fox that went well into the following decade, with his climactic concerto standing out as a particular highlight. The film's macabre tone is pushed into full-on horror territory during its two major set pieces, both revolving around fire, including a nightmarish Guy Fawkes Night sequence that burned its way into many viewers' memories.

Inexplicably absent on home video for a very long time and often difficult to see in revivals or TV airings, Hangover Square first turned up on DVD from Fox as part of its Brahm-themed Fox Horror Classics Collection in 2007 packaged with The Undying Monster and The Lodger. The subsequent 2017 Kino Lorber Blu-ray ports over all of the extras from that release and goes one better with a newly commissioned 4K transfer that both deepens the black levels (which are gorgeous here) and increases the level of detail even in the moodiest sequences. The DTS-HD MA English track (with optional English subtitles) sounds excellent, especially when it comes to that pounding piano music. Hangover Square

Hangover SquareTwo audio commentaries are included, the first featuring Marlowe and moderator Steve Haberman for a solid, informative look at the sometimes tumultuous production (the star and director pretty much swore each other off by the end of filming) as well as many stories about the studio system in general at the time. The second commentary with Richard Schickel is worthwhile and has some good film history material, though he often lapses into simply describing the characters or what's happening on the screen. Constantine Nasr's excellent featurette, "The Tragic Mask: The Laird Cregar Story" (19m43s), is mostly anchored by Dr. Drew Casper, Gregory William Mank, and Mark Vieira, with a few other fleeting interview subjects, for a thorough look at the actor's rise to fame at a young age through several Fox films and his ill-advised attempts to become a more traditionally slimmed-down leading man. A vintage radio production of the story (29m38s) performed by Vincent Price, Darnell and Marlowe is also included (and loses surprisingly little in its streamlining down to half an hour), along with bonus trailers for I Wake Up Screaming, The Undying Monster, and The Lodger.

Hangover SquareHangover SquareHangover Square

Reviewed on November 4, 2017.