Although composer George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar) doesn't recall any of this, he is a murderer. Tonight during a fit he killed an antiques dealer and set fire to his shop, then escaped into the gaslit, Edwardian night, still bleeding from the temple and in a state of confusion. He would bump into passersby on his way home, but the mist in front of his eyes would not clear until he returned home. There, his patron, Sir Henry Chapman (Alan Napier) and his daughter Barbara Chapman (Faye Marlowe) were awaiting him, wondering where he had been and why he was wounded, but he couldn't say. Maybe it was time to bring in professional help...
Hangover Square was very loosely based on the novel of the same name by Patrick Hamilton, but was really a way to bring back some of the team who had made the previous year's remake of The Lodger such a hit. So Cregar returned to the role of the madman and George Sanders the role of the police detective (a crime doctor this time) and director John Brahm and writer Barré Lyndon were also back. Sadly, for the hulking Cregar it would be his final role because of his crash dieting, wanting to play romantic leads he thought being slimmer would help, but the actual effect was a fatal heart attack.
Knowing this gives the film a particular poignancy, and not simply because Cregar invests the character with such sympathy in spite of his unwitting murderousness. George is really the cliché of the tortured artist gone to extremes, as he strives to finish his beloved concerto (a suitably dramatic work actually scored by Bernard Herrmann) but gets distracted by a lovely lady. Well, she might be outwardly lovely but inside music hall singer Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell) is petulant and manipulative and positively the worst person for George to be simtten with.
All Netta wants is for George to write her some catchy tunes, which ironically he has an ear for, and there would be a snobbishness in the script that sees George brought low by penning showtunes if Netta wasn't such a despicable character. Darnell is great here, proving herself not just a pretty face with some fine performing as the film's real villain, but such is the story that it's easy to see where she will end up when George twigs he is being played for a sap. All it takes is for him to hear a dischordant noise and the red mist descends - in typical horror movie touch he has to kill to shake it off and return to normal.
To accompany some fine acting, Brahm especially flexed his directorial muscles here, with some very stylish set-ups. The opening murder is startlingly shot partly with subjective camera, and he utilises a range of closeups, swooping camera moves and camera effects to work up a sense of delirium. This is not to all tastes, and it's unavoidably more over the top than The Lodger, but its histrionics and hyperbole create a texture of tragic madness that perfectly compliments Cregar's haunted playing. Oddly, by the climax, which ends in a close-to-ludicrous concert inferno, we're on poor old George's side all the way as he's as much the victim as those he has bumped off - if he had succeeded in strangling nice Barbara as he attempts to, then perhaps we would have less compassion, however. The real shame of it would be that there would be no more Cregar performances: still in his twenties, he was dead by the time this was released.