[Smt-talk] Hangover Square

Charles Smith cjsmith at buffalo.edu
Fri Sep 9 13:43:18 PDT 2011


I'm not sure how closely related this to what Justin brought up, but his post reminded me that I wanted to share with the list a truly extraordinary film I saw on TCM a couple of weeks ago.

The film is Hangover Square, dating from 1945. It feels like a British film of the 40s in some ways (perhaps just because it is set in early 20th-century London), but was in fact made by Fox at their Century City studios in Los Angeles. It is usually categorized as a horror-thriller, and is available on DVD in a 3-pack called Fox Horror Classics, along with The Lodger (a great film) and The Undying Monster (not so)—for those who still like hard copies of their movies.

The story is about a composer named George Harvey Bone (played by the extraordinary and short-lived Laird Cregar), who is struggling with a new piano concerto and juggling two women, his loving but rather boring fiancée (daughter of the conductor who has commissioned the concerto...hmmm) and a manipulative cabaret singer (Linda Darnell) who finds him useful as a writer of songs for her shows.

The intriguing aspect of the story though is that Bone is presented as a composer with a curious mental problem. Any time he hears an "unpleasant dissonace", he suffers some alarming symptoms, including hysteria, frenzied anger, and blackouts…after which people of his acquaintance turn up dead.

The end is straight out of Phantom, with Bone so obsessed with finishing the premiere performance of his concerto that he cares not that he is being burned alive by the immolation of the concert hall around him. (Needless to say, all the orchestra members have fled by this time, leaving Bone to expire with the final, solo-cadenza bars.) The score is by Bernard Hermann, and therefore is worth a careful listen—if only for lots of harbingers of later, better-known scores by him. (And Cregar does a fine job of appearing to be playing the actual music that we hear on the soundtrack, so obviously that music was conceived and written before filming began.)

But what a concept: that dissonance (even worse, UNPLEASANT dissonance) would so unhinge a composer that he would start killing off the competition or anyone else who gets in his way. (Think of all the alternative histories of early 20th music that could be written from this angle.) The silliness of the idea is beside the point (since his own music is full of "dissonances"); perhaps the fascination is simply with someone who takes aesthetic notions that seriously. Do we always end up calling those people "lunatics"?

I recommend a viewing of this remarkable movie. It's a wild Gothic trip.


PS The film was directed by John Brahm, which I rather hoped was a pseudonym adopted for this one musical film by someone otherwise well known, but apparently not. According to the IMDb, Brahm was born in Hamburg (fitting!) in 1893, died in Malibu in 1982 (clean living seems to have paid off for him), and directed dozens of films and, later, TV episodes—including many of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., Dr. Kildare, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Prof. Charles J. Smith
Slee Chair of Music Theory & Chair of the Department
Music Department
220 Baird Hall
University at Buffalo
Buffalo, NY 14260
716-645-0639 [private office line]
716-645-3824 (fax)
cjsmith at buffalo.edu

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.societymusictheory.org/pipermail/smt-talk-societymusictheory.org/attachments/20110909/f01b7ff5/attachment-0004.htm>

More information about the Smt-talk mailing list