This movie begins with a murder.
In a foggy street in turn-of-the-century London, we glimpse an old man through an upper-floor window above an antiques shop, just as he is being stabbed by an unseen assailant. The camera then shifts point-of-view to show the murderer, played by Laird Cregar, as he throws down an oil lamp to set the room ablaze. He walks away from the burning building in a dazed state, ignoring the shouts of “Fire!” and alarm bells ringing behind him, bumping into people on the crowded street and grazing the side of his head on a large wicker basket being carried aloft. Slowly, he begins to recover as someone speaks to him, and makes his way home to Hangover Square.
The story Hangover Square was based upon was originally set in modern times, but after the enormous success of The Lodger, 20th Century Fox remade it into another gaslight thriller set in 1903 and reused the same director, John Brahm, as well as two out of three of the same stars. Laird Cregar basically reprises his role from The Lodger, with one significant difference. The Jack-the-Ripper stand-in in The Lodger was consciously and deliberately a killer of women. Aspiring composer George Bone, on the other hand, is a kind and gentle man most of the time, until loud, discordant noises–like a cartload of gas pipes crashing into the street, for example–send him into a fugue state. At such times, he’s capable of anything.
The hapless George has had several blank spells before, but he’s particularly disturbed when he learns about the death of the antiques dealer; since he came back to himself only a few streets away and found blood on his face and clothes, he’s afraid that he was responsible this murder. Which is he is, although even after several viewings I’m not sure exactly why he killed the man. No overt explanation is ever given and the only point I can see to it, to conceal the theft of a decorative and easily recognizable dagger, comes to nothing since George’s subsequent murder attempts will be stranglings and not stabbings.
On the advice of a young-lady friend who also lives on Hangover Square, George consults a doctor, a well-known Home Office analyst played by George Sanders. The doctor has the blood stains tested and finds them to be George’s own blood from the injury to his head. The doctor also states that there’s no evidence connecting George to the murder–which isn’t quite the same as saying that he couldn’t have done it–and attributes George’s memory lapses to stress. George has been working very hard on a piano concerto which he hopes will be his greatest work and make his name as composer. The doctor advises him to set aside his serious work for awhile and spend time going out and having fun. He means well, but this will only lead George into more trouble.
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