Welcome back to BCB After Dark, the oasis of cool for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. We’re so glad to see you again this week. Take your mind off your troubles for a while. We’ve got a great table for you in the second row. Bring your own beverage. Make yourself at home. Be kind to the waitstaff.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
Last time I asked you about free agent pitcher Marcus Stroman. Fully 75 percent of you thought that Stroman would be a good addition to the Cubs, while only 12 percent were against the idea. On the other hand, only 13 percent of you actually thought the Cubs would sign Stroman. The good news here is that as far as I know, Stroman has not committed to any team as of yet.
Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. You’re free to skip to the baseball question at the end if you’d like. You won’t hurt my feelings.
I have to admit that I don’t give enough attention to vocal jazz in this space. Mostly that’s because my personal preference is for instrumental jazz, although I don’t dislike vocal jazz. Sure, there’s some vocal jazz I dislike, but I don’t dislike vocal jazz as a genre. There’s some that I really like, and I’ve shared some of that around here.
We’re also now past Thanksgiving, so I guess it’s time to bring out the holiday and Christmas music. I’m sorry to those who hate that and you’re welcome to those that do. I promise I won’t share Christmas music in every BCB:AD from now until the 25th. Just most of them.
One of the best and most famous jazz singers of today is Dianne Reeves. And here she is with a very moving version of “Christmas Time Is Here” that you all know from A Charlie Brown Christmas.
I kept working my way through the “Fox Noir” collection on the Criterion Channel over the Thanksgiving holiday. I had already written about Laura last week, and this week I watched director Jules Dassin’s Night and the City, I Wake Up Screaming starring Betty Grable and Victor Mature and Niagara, which is a remarkable noir not only in that it starred Marilyn Monroe, but that it is also one of the rare noir films shot in Technicolor. (Seems like a contradiction.) But instead of those films, the one that really caught my attention was 1945’s Hangover Square, starring Laird Cregar and Linda Darnell and directed by John Brahm. I can’t say that Hangover Square is a better film than those other ones, but it’s a fairly bonkers movie that makes it a bit more fun than some of the other ones.
In Hangover Square, Cregar plays George Bone, an English classical music composer and concert pianist in 1903 who suffers from a dissociative personality disorder (what we used to call multiple personality disorder) and is a serial killer when his other personality takes over. That’s not a spoiler, by the way. That he’s a murderer is revealed in the very first scene, the dissociative personality is revealed in the second and the third scene tells us he’s a classical composer.
So yeah, this film is nuts. They’re trying to get as seedy and dirty as they can and still keep on the good side of the Hays Office.
In the opening scene, we see an antique dealer (who is clearly coded as Jewish, which may or may not have been a reference to other events of 1945) getting slashed to death by an unknown man, played by Laird Cregar. He then sets the store on fire and leaves the scene of the crime. As he walks down the sidewalk, he’s hit in the head by a man carrying a basket. This seems cause a change in the man, which is indicated by the scene all going out of focus. When it returns to focus, the man clearly doesn’t know where he is or how he got there.
We discover the man is George Bone, a “composer of some renown,” when he returns to his apartment and finds conductor Sir Henry Chapman (Alan Napier—later Alfred the Butler in the 1960’s Batman TV series.) and his daughter Barbara (Faye Marlowe) at his piano, going over his latest work. Sir Henry is impressed with George’s composition and says he’d like to perform it if he can finish it by the summer. Barbara, on the other hand, is much more worried about the cut on George’s head.
(Spoilers for a 76-year-old movie to follow)
Barbara, who clearly has a crush on the accomplished musician, stays behind with George to tend to his wound. George confesses to Barbara that he had another blackout and he didn’t know what he had been doing over the past day. He also tells Barbara that he has a knife on him and he doesn’t know why.
The newspaper has a story about the murdered shopkeeper, and George fears he may have done it while in his blackout state. The two of them call Dr. Alan Middleton (George Sanders), who works for Scotland Yard, and they tell Middleton their fears. Dr. Middleton takes George’s knife, but can find no evidence either on it or at the crime scene that George committed the murder. Barbara is relieved, but Dr. Middleton warns that this doesn’t mean George is innocent, only that they can’t prove anything.
Dr. Middleton suggests that these blackouts are caused by stress and overwork, and suggests that George take some time off from music. This was a very bad suggestion, because George heads to a local workingman’s pub where one Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell) is performing.
As a singer, Netta is a mediocre talent, but she looks like Linda Darnell and she knows how to use her sex appeal to send the crowd into a frenzy. The working men in the pub eat it up, as does, unfortunately, George. George goes backstage and a mutual friend introduces him to Netta as a classical composer. Although he doesn’t write bar hall songs, Netta convinces George to write a song for her. He does, she performs it, and the song becomes a hit.
Netta finds the oafish and dull George to be quite unappealing and unattractive, but she recognizes his musical talents could be her ticket to the big time. She pretends to be attracted to George in order to get more music out of him. Leading on a serial killer is a pretty stupid move, but the shallow Netta is unaware of the dangerous game she’s playing.
Netta keeps George on a hook just long enough for him to write the music to advance her career. When he tries to get close to her, she may give him a kiss, but she’ll quickly feign a headache if George wants anything more.
George finds out about Netta’s duplicity, but he’s too smitten with her to cut her off. He tries to once, but Netta tracks him down and drags him right back into her web. Meanwhile, Barbara, the good girl who really cares for George, is getting cast aside.
George has another dissociative episode (they seem to be caused by loud, sudden noises) and he kills a cat and tries to strangle Barbara. Barbara never saw who assaulted her and can’t believe that George would do it. The police, however, strongly suspect George. They just can’t prove it.
Finally, George decides to propose marriage to Netta, only to discover that she’s in her bedroom with a theatre producer whom she has already agreed to marry. George has another violent episode and tries to kill the producer, but Netta manages to pull him off her fiancé before he kills him.
George returns later that night and strangles Netta to death. He then disguises the body—did I mention it’s Guy Fawkes Night?—with a Guy Fawkes mask and robe and carries it to the top of a bonfire where Netta’s corpse is burned to ashes.
The disappearance of a rising singer causes a scandal, but somehow no one connects her disappearance to George, the man who was clearly in love with her. No one, that is, until Dr. Middleton figures out that it had been Guy Fawkes Night and George could have discarded the body on the bonfire.
Middleton eventually confronts George, but George locks him up while he goes off to perform his concerto, which is now completed. George plays the piano in his concerto while Sir Henry conducts. But he becomes increasingly agitated and tells Barbara to fill in for him.
Meanwhile, the police unlock Dr. Middleton and they all go to grab George. They tell him that his mental condition means that he’s not responsible for the murders, but that he’s a danger and has to be removed from society. George refuses to be locked up in an asylum, so he throws a gas light against the curtains, starts a fire and runs back into the concert hall. As the audience and other musicians flee, George returns to his piano and plays out his concerto among all the flames.
As the inferno burns inside, Barbara is outside the concert hall and she asks Dr. Middleton why he didn’t save George. Dr. Middleton simply says “He’s better off this way” and the film ends.
So yes, this film is nuts. Director John Brahm presents the story with all the subtlety of jackhammer. Almost every scene is at night. He uses the loud noises and out-of-focus camera to indicate a change in George’s personality. The final scene of the concert and the inferno puts a Mötley Crüe concert to shame. I think a more skilled director, and Alfred Hitchcock comes immediately to mind, could have upped the suspense and added some intentional humor to make this a “better” film. On the other hand, then we would have lost the utter insanity that we got.
Cregar was a noted character actor of the late-thirties and early-forties, and this was his chance at a leading role. I’m going to say more about Cregar, his career and the making of this film later this week, but he had the face to pull this film off. He could make himself look crazed, but still in control, when he’s in “killer” mode. In the rest of the film, he’s able to make sad, puppy-dog eyes to show George as the self-loathing loser that he was (despite his character’s considerable musical talent).
Darnell’s part was done better by Bette Davis in Of Human Bondage, but she’s up to the task of playing the duplicitous, one-note Netta. Darnell’s biggest asset on screen was always her beauty, and that does make it somewhat believable that someone like George would continually overlook her many, many flaws.
The problem with that, however, is that the film also give George the option of Barbara, the very attractive “good girl” who is clearly in love with him. I know that it’s a standard trope of tragedy that the protagonist can’t seem to make the obvious choice in front of their face, but it does strain credulity at times since George is clearly aware that Netta has been lying to her and Barbara has been nothing but devoted.
As an aside, Faye Marlowe plays Barbara. There’s not much to the part other than looking concerned for George, and Marlowe didn’t have much of a career in Hollywood with about seven films and some television appearances over the next decade, all in supporting roles. However, both the Internet Movie Database and Wikipedia tells me that Marlowe is still with us at the age of 95. It always gives me a little joy to discover that some of the actors in the old movies from the 1940s are still living, assuming the sources are correct.
Perhaps the best part of the film is the remarkable musical score by Bernard Hermann. Hermann had already won an Oscar for his music for The Devil and Daniel Webster and he had already done the musical score for Citizen Kane before he made Hangover Square. He would go on to have a long and productive collaboration with Hitchcock, including the scores for Vertigo and Psycho, which are classic musical scores by anyone’s estimation.
The score for Hangover Square is, obviously, based on classical music, with a little dance hall stuff thrown in for Netta’s scenes. The music from the final concert is available as a soundtrack album, which isn’t something you see from many non-musical films from the 1940s. Hermann’s soundtrack is fantastic and certainly convinces you that the fictional George Bone was a terrific turn-of-the-century classical composer.
As I wrote earlier, I can’t say Hangover Square is a great film, because I can point out so many flaws in it. But it’s a heck of a lot of fun anyway. A lot of people seem to be agreeing with me, because last week it was at the top of The Criterion Channel’s “Trending” list. (It was down to fourth the last time I checked.)
Hangover Square is also a tragic film, as star Laird Cregar didn’t live to see it open in theaters. I’ll have more to say about that and Cregar’s career later in the week. He’s an actor that you probably never heard of before (unless you read my essay on Laura and read that Fox head Daryl Zanuck wanted Cregar to play the Waldo Lydecker role instead of Clifton Webb) but he’s someone worth knowing about.
Here’s a scene after George has attempted to rid himself of Netta, Netta seduces him right back into her scheme.
Also, while I don’t generally like to recommend complete films on YouTube because they are normally of such poor quality, there does appear to be a complete and good quality version of Hangover Square on YouTube. So you don’t really have the excuse that you haven’t subscribed to the Criterion Channel to not watch it.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the jazz and movies.
It’s been a bit disappointing to be a Cubs fan these past few days. While other teams have been spending furiously to get players under contract, the Cubs have been silent. While the Rangers, who finished 11 games behind the Cubs last season, has signed Marcus Semien, Corey Seager and Jon Gray, the Cubs have signed left-handed reliever Locke St. John to a minor league deal. That is such a big deal that Cubs.com doesn’t even have a story on it, only a brief mention on the transactions page.
No offense to Mr. St. John, who may end up being a decent bullpen piece (or he may not), but that’s not the kind of move that Cubs fans wanted to see this winter. I don’t think many expected the team to grab Seager or Semien, but fans certainly had the right to expect a signing in the range of Jon Gray or Steven Matz. And now, with a lockout on Wednesday night at midnight a certainty, it may be a long time before the Cubs have anything to dream on.
On the other hand, there are certainly a lot of top free agents still out there. None of the former Cubs who left are under contract yet. Marcus Stroman, who I asked you about last week, is still on the market. It may be impossible at this point to get any free agent under contract before the lockout, but the Cubs still have time to add enough players to get a respectable team on the field for 2022. And there is still a lot of talent out there.
Again, I don’t think anyone expected the Cubs to sign Carlos Correa (although I’d love to be surprised), but I can’t imagine the Cubs are going to try to lose 100 games again next season. I know Cubs Twitter thinks otherwise, but what do you think?
So today’s question is “How worried are you?” On a scale of 1 to 5 with one being “The Cubs are still going to add a pair of significant players before Opening Day” and five being “They’re going to trade everyone not nailed down and lose 110 games in 2022,” how worried are you about this lack of activity?
How worried are you that the Cubs will not take the necessary steps to improve themselves before Opening Day?
How worried are you about the Cubs off-season so far?
This poll is closed
1 (least concern)
5 (I can’t sleep at night!)
And obviously, we’d like you to talk about this in the comments, but I do politely request that you keep your emotions in check and your comments civil. And if you need a break, do what I do and watch and old picture. Like Hangover Square.
Thank you again for stopping by. I’ll have someone get you your hat and coat. Do you need a ride home? Be sure to tip your waitstaff. We’ll be back again tomorrow night with another edition of BCB After Dark.