director: John Brahm; screenwriters: Barré Lyndon/from book by Patrick Hamilton; cinematographer: Joseph La Shelle; editor: Harry Reynolds; cast: Laird Cregar (George Harvey Bone), Linda Darnell (Netta Longdon), George Sanders (Dr. Allan Middleton), Glenn Langan (Eddie Carstairs), Faye Marlowe (Barbara Chapman), Alan Napier (Sir Henry Chapman), Clifford Brooke (Watchman), Michael Dyne (Mickey); Runtime: 77; producer: Robert Brassler; 20th Century-Fox; 1945)
“Cregar gave a staggering nightmarish performance.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A satisfying atmospheric thriller inspired by Patrick Hamilton’s novel, set in London at the turn-of-the century, starring Laird Cregar as George Harvey Bone. He’s a classical music composer who suffers from blackouts which results in him committing a string of murders, as the dissonant sounds of the city make the sensitive Bone snap when upset and stressed out. This was the 28-year-old, burly, 6 ft. 3 in., 300 hundred pound, Cregar’s first starring role and last film due to his sudden death. It was caused by a crash diet that weakened his heart. Cregar was only an actor for five years having previously been a nightclub bouncer, among other temporary jobs. His most memorable role was in The Lodger as Jack the Ripper, a similar film similar only presented in a more subtle psychological framework and critically recognized as one of the more interesting serial killer films made. As good as this film is, it never lived up to that one. Histrionics took over for dramatics during the concert hall fire during the finale with Cregar madly playing on the piano his completed work as the place burned down.
The film centers around a London square where the young composer Bone resides and is busy working on a major concert commissioned for his neighbor, the wealthy and aristocratic Sir Henry Chapman. Chapman’s lovely daughter Barbara (Faye Marlowe) is also a pianist and is attracted to the talented and well-known composer. But Bone is acting strangely of late, disappearing for the day and not remembering what happened. There is a murder in Fulham of an antique dealer on the day of his amnesia and he wonders if he did the killing. To settle his doubts, he goes with Barbara to Scotland Yard to see a psychologist he trusts, Dr. Allan Middleton (George Sanders), and leaves him a dagger and his blood-soaked coat to examine.
The Scotland Yard report comes back with no links to him being at the crime scene though Dr. Middleton recommends that he should get away from his music and learn how to relax, that he is too full of stress. Following the suggestion, he takes the night off and visits a neighborhood pub and is attracted to the lowbrow music sung by the sexy Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell).
The vulgar singer finds a golden cow in Bone and pretends to be attracted to him and leads him on romantically, while getting him to take time off writing his major concert to compose popular songs for her act so she could move out of the pub scene and hit the legitimate theater scene. When Bone gets suckered into writing songs expecting that she will marry him but instead finds out she’s about to marry her theater producer Eddie Carstairs (Glenn Langan ), he attempts to strangle Carstairs.
Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.
The most memorable scene is the Guy Fawkes day celebration with Bone lost in the crowd surge going to the festive tradition of burning a replica of Guy in a big bonfire, carrying through the streets the body of his latest victim–Netta. Bone strangled her with the knotted curtain cloth from his house and he now climbs the stairs of the huge bonfire and tosses her covered body into the fire. The Guy Fawkes celebration comes every November the 5th, to honor his failed attempt to burn down the House of Parliament.
Cregar gave a staggering nightmarish performance, while Linda Darnell was alluring as the scheming chanteuse. This is a fast-paced B&W suspense yarn, one that held my attention throughout. It is also noted for its exciting Bernard Herrmann score.
REVIEWED ON 3/15/2001 GRADE: B