Film scores

Soundtrack review: Hangover square (Bernard Herrmann – 1945)

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“Hangover Square” is a 1945 film noir directed by John Brahm, based on the novel Hangover Square (1941) by Patrick Hamilton. The screenplay was written by Barré Lyndon who made a number of changes to the novel, including the transformation of George Harvey Bone into a classical composer-pianist and filming the story as an early 20th-century period piece. In Victorian London (the date 1899 is shown in the opening scene), the police suspect that a composer who suffers from periods of amnesia may be a murderer. It’s always exciting to discover a film score from 70 years ago. This Bernard Herrmann composition is one of the oldest I’ve ever listened to. Kritzerland released this score, coupled with “5 fingers”.

Now I know Bernard Herrmann for his dark and thick scores for Hitchhock movies or “Taxi Driver”. 1945 Herrmann was already dark but with a subtle hint of irony. The music has that fast pace that makes it feel like a giant wave coming towards you but there are places to escape. The darkness isn’t as compact and hopeless as the one from later years; there are moments here when there’s a waltz insert, or a piano motif that’s light.

I like the mood of this score because it makes me think of a Caravaggio painting with the dramatic use of lighting. If I were to create a visual image of the music of “Hangover Square” it would be that of a very dark room where suddenly a lamp shines very brightly and casts an all-consuming light over the image of whoever is in that room.

Even if this was written 17 years before “Cape fear” I can hear the seeds of that frightening sound when I hear a cue like “The spell”. The composer goes all in for this score when it’s time for the action moments. The music is stabbing and hysterical and this is, like most of Herrmann’s other works, isn’t the kind of score I could casually listen to over and over again. The composition is affecting and aggressive and even a romantic moment like “Fame and anger” has moments when it explodes.

Listening to “Hangover square” was an interesting experience. The score didn’t have the impact on me that listening to old Miklos Rozsa scores usually have because I connect better with film music that’s warmer and more emotional. The darkness in here culminates with the three movements of the “Concert macabre”. For Bernard Herrmann fans this will be a feast.

Cue rating: 83 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 10 / 38

Album excellence: 26%

Highlights:

The clock and the knife

The bonfire

Concerto macabre: the second movement

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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