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“Cregar was a big man with a hidden Tyrone Power lurking within him,” Eddie Muller stated when he introduced Hangover Square at the sixth edition of Noir City. Dead at 29, all in the name of what cinema demands of its handsome leading men, Cregar’s is a tragic waste of talent. He could have given Raymond Burr a run for his money had he lived long enough. My transcription of Muller’s commentary on Cregar can be found here, for those interested.
Thanks, Maya! I’m obsessed with Laird. Part of his trouble is a misunderstanding of his own talent: he was too versatile and too adept at grotesquerie to ever become a regular leading man, but he had succeeded in getting leads as a character actor, and regularly got work in comedy, thrillers, horror: there were few limits to what he could do. He didn’t NEED to be thin.
He just needed to be more honest with himself, but that might’ve been a difficult thing thing to do in his case. Everything I’ve heard and read tells me that Cregar was a conflicted mess, but I’ve liked him in pretty much everything I’ve seen him in.
Had he not died because of the crash diet he put himself on for Hangover Square, he would have played Waldo Lydecker in Laura, which is such an interesting thing to consider. I’ve yet to see his performances in either The Lodger or I Wake Up Screaming. Have you written on Laird, David?
Or – had he stayed thin and survived – his career might have followed a path similar to Vincent Price’s. Interesting that Price played the Cregar roles in the radio versions of both The Lodger and Hangover Square. As Maya points out, Cregar very likely would have co-starred with Price in Laura.
Cregar in Laura is an enticing thought. It confirms that odd characteristic of Preminger’s, of casting gay men in straight parts and seeming to foreground the mismatch rather than disguising it, as he certainly could have. There are a few little bits about Cregar you can find on my blog, I think. Hangover Square is one of my favourite books and I hate the fact that Hollywood messed up the adaptation, having cast it so perfectly (not just Cregar, but Darnell and Duryea are ideal). The film has many visual and musical compensations for the liberties taken, but it doesn’t amount to the classic it could have been.
Much as I love Hangover Square, the book, I have to also love the film – as much for its bizarre concatenation of wrongness as anything else. An accurate film of Hamilton’s book would be almost unwatchably grim, with poor Bone vacillating between being completely deluded about the nature of his love object, and – alternately – filled with the kind of complete and specific, crystal-clear vision that also damns the narrator of Sartre’s Nausea. Instead, we have London fog, music-hall, bonfires, and an ending great, stupid and epic enough that Guy Maddin borrows it for his wonderful The Saddest Music In The World. I don’t really ever get tired of Hangover Square, amazingly enough. Sometimes I wish I did.

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