Hangover Square is Patrick Hamilton’s most successful and well-known novel, thought far from his most famous literary creation. Better known as a playwright, Hamilton wrote the original stage drama Rope, which Alfred Hitchcock later adapted for the screen, but is probably most famous for his psychological murder play Gaslight, which has been transformed into film on several occasions. The plot of Hangover Square joins those other and Hamilton works to illuminate a recurring theme: psychologically disturbed men obsessively driven to commit murder. But in the case of Hamilton’s novel, there is more here than meets the eye.
The 1941 publication date of Hangover Square is essential to placing its story about the cruelty that can arise from pathological desire for someone who only feels the desire to exploit and manipulate those uncontrollable passions in return within allegorical context. George Harvey Bone’s obsession is with one of the most reprehensible temptresses in 20th century literature, made all the more so due to her own obsessive desire for her boyfriend Peter. Peter’s uninhibited fascism and Netta’s attraction to it at the expense of the troubled, but artistic and essentially good George has the effect of transforming Hangover Square from just another Hamilton tale of murder into a deeply significant study of the political climate in Europe before the full scope of the atrocity that was Nazi ideology became common knowledge.
Significant alterations were made to the story the transformation of Hangover Square into something more akin to film noir than a political allegory when it hits screens with the war almost over in early 1945. The loss of the fascist Peter was balanced by the last performance by the great Laird Cregar in the role of George. Two months before the film was released, Cregar died of a heart attack, at the age 31.