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8. Hangover Square (1945), dir. John Brahm

I saw this last Saturday with ms_siobhan at the Howard Assembly Room. This is attached to the Grand Theatre in Leeds, and operated as a cinema for much of the 20th century. It's now a recently-restored multi-purpose performance and function space, but its cinematic past is sometimes revived for one-off occasions. Last weekend this consisted of a revival of a programme shown on (nearly) the same date in June 1945, complete with government advertising beforehand encouraging women to go and sign up as nurses, and a news-reel showing footage shot by Russian troops as they took control of an utterly devastated Berlin. Quite a few people in the audience had made an occasion of the evening by dressing up in 1940s clothing, and reproduction copies of the original cinema programme were given out as we went in.

The film itself is based on a novel of the same name, but the plot was clearly changed a great deal for the film. The setting switches from the eve of the war to the turn of the century (I assume to cater to the need for escapism from the horrors of the present day once the way itself had broken out), while the main character, George Bone, becomes a Classical composer and the woman he is obsessed with a popular singer. The title probably also made rather more sense for the novel than it does the film. It is a pun linking Hanover Square, where all the main characters live, with George's alcoholism - something almost completely written out of the film.

Central to both, though, is his split personality disorder, which causes him to have strange episodes in which he becomes violent and murderous, after which he comes to himself again and can remember nothing of what he has done. Naturally, this works out tragically for him and several other characters, and he ends the film doggedly playing out his latest composition in a burning concert-salon from which everyone else has fled, determined to see it through to the end and knowing full well that he will be arrested and (at best) committed to an asylum for life if he leaves the building anyway.

Despite the change of dramatic date, the burning building at the end of the film must have struck quite a chord with audiences used to living through bombing raids. Similarly, there is an open trench in the middle of Hanover Square throughout the film, which is nominally there so that gas-mains can be put in, but must have reminded contemporary audiences of bomb-craters, and of course George's split personality syndrome must have been all too familiar to families dealing with traumatised relatives sent home from the front. It is definitely a classic case of a narrative working through contemporary issues under the guise of a historical setting.

The story was well-constructed and enjoyably dark, the direction and camera-work was great, and the performances oozed the stagey charisma and glamour that you expect from this period in cinema. But there were tragic stories going on behind the scenes. The main star, Laird Cregar, who played the composer George Bone, actually died of a heart-attack two months before the film was released, due to complications caused from a stomach operation, itself the outcome of going on a crash diet in order to lose weight for the film which involved doing things like taking amphetamines. Meanwhile, his love-interest, Linda Darnell, struggled with set-backs in her career, went through various scandals in her personal life and ended up burning to death in a house fire in the 1960s. It is a brutal industry - then and now.

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 16th, 2013 03:38 pm (UTC)
That sounds like a really fascinating film, and a good event.
Jun. 17th, 2013 08:07 am (UTC)
The utterly delicious George Sanders killed himself too. I loved the score too.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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