Streaming Saturdays! Linda Darnell Courts Danger in HANGOVER SQUARE
Welcome to another edition of Streaming Saturdays, where we embed a free, fabulous movie for you to watch right here!
I’ve been on something of a Linda Darnell binge lately, prepping for my first-ever podcast appearance with the lovely Grace Collins of True Stories of Tinseltown, who got in touch after reading my story on Linda’s short, unhappy life.
This week, we bring you John Brahm’s Hangover Square, based (a bit too loosely based for the author’s taste) on a 1941 novel by Patrick Hamilton.
Hoping to capitalize on the success of The Lodger, released the previous year, Fox reteamed Laird Cregar and George Sanders with Brahm for another bit of Victorian horror, this time about a brilliant composer who suffers from unfortunate blackouts during which he embarks on murderous rampages. (Every genius has his quirks, after all.) Livening things up considerably is the addition of Linda Darnell, who had just begun to shed her ingenue image by tackling bad-girl roles. (None of them fared very well, though; by the tender age of 23, she’d been killed onscreen six times.)
Cregar, who aspired to be a leading man, initially rejected the role of the mad composer, but relented after Fox put him on suspension. However, in an attempt to land more romantic roles, he persisted in what would prove to be a disastrous, drug-fueled effort to lose weight.
Clashes on the unhappy set were loud and frequent; Sanders loathed the script and actually punched producer Robert Bassler in the face in a tussle over the film’s final line. (George was right, and the line was changed. To say more about it would amount to a spoiler, but I’ve explained in Comments.)
Brahm, meanwhile, was frustrated that the film had to be shot entirely in sequence as Cregar grew thinner over the course of the shoot, and the normally genial actor’s reliance on amphetamines shredded his fragile nerves. Finally, in an act of supreme cruelty, Brahm strongarmed the cast and crew into signing a document saying they sided with him. When the movie wrapped, he told the distraught Cregar, “Well, I think we’ve worked together long enough to know we never want to work together again.”
Tragically, that would not be an issue: his heart weakened by the strain of drugs and crash-dieting (and no small amount of emotional distress), Cregar succumbed to cardiac arrest in December 1944, at the age of 31.
To some extent, though, Cregar’s wish was realized; in the film’s musical sequences, he is lushly romantic, thanks in part to the gorgeous Bernard Herrmann score—which so impressed a teenage Stephen Sondheim that it later inspired much of his music for Sweeney Todd.
Now dim the lights and settle in for Hangover Square!
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