Film noir’s feline stars: The Siamese cat in ‘Hangover Square’

More on the most famous kitties in film noir

The Cat in “Hangover Square” 1945

Name: Clawdette Montgomery

Character Name: Amaretto Sourpuss

Clawdette Montgomery led a very different offscreen existence from her character in "Hangover Square."

Bio: With all their scheming and double dealing, femmes fatales occasionally need a helping hand. Well, make that helping paw. A case in point is singer Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell) in “Hangover Square,” directed by John Brahm.

Netta has a lot going on, trying to get noticed in the competitive field of 1900s London music halls. To advance her career, she calls on the talents of composer George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar).

Turns out, George is a pretty good cat-sitter too. So Netta relies on him to help her multi-task, ie George can stay home and have a cozy cocktail with high-strung and quick-to-claw Amaretto Sourpuss (Clawdette Montgomery) while ambitious and quick-to-claw Netta tackles the tasks of singing, schmoozing and staying out all night. Unfortunately, George has a tenuous relationship with reality and eventually both Netta and her feline counterpart succumb to George’s madness.

Offscreen, however, Clawdette Montgomery led an entirely different, and joy-filled, existence. Born to a wealthy litter in Siam, Clawdette’s parents saw that she and her twin sister Laurette traveled the world and enjoyed an unusually cosmopolitan upbringing. As an adult cat, Clawdette dabbled in acting, art collecting, philanthropy and yoga. In her third life, she invented her own form of yoga, Furvasana, which took the radical approach of resting in child’s pose for the entire session.

Though extremely popular with other felines and enlightened humans, Furvasana never gained widespread acceptance in the world of mainstream, Westernized yoga. Nevertheless, Clawdette’s teaching philosophy was respected and revered abroad. And secretly many Hollywood stars sought private consultations so that they might emulate her inner peace and calm.

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‘Hangover Square’ is a deliciously warped little gem

Hangover Square/1945/20th Century-Fox/77 min.

Linda Darnell

Last Thursday at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, I saw “Hangover Square” from 1945 and what a deliciously warped little gem it is! (It was on a double bill with “Psycho” as part of the series honoring composer Bernard Herrmann.) “Hangover Square” stars the spellbindingly sexy and exquisitely stunning Linda Darnell as Netta Longdon, an ambitious music-hall singer in need of good songs.

Enter Laird Cregar playing composer George Harvey Bone, a sweet, lumbering Teddy Bear of a guy. Both are residents of a fictitious square in London, a curious Hollywood-esque dwelling where almost every voice you hear has an American accent.

Femme fatale Netta easily wraps George Bone around her little finger, distracting him from writing more serious music and using him as a babysitter for her long-haired, evil-eyed cat. Of course she has a menacing, demanding cat – who else is going to make sure George gets the songs done by jumping into his lap and glaring at him? Not Netta, she’s out on the town every night.

There’s just one small snag. George has a strange condition, stemming from overwork, that causes him to black out and possibly become violent. Possibly not, but he doesn’t remember. We learn early on in the film that George is on Scotland Yard’s radar, having been examined by Dr. Allan Middleton (the delightfully smarmy George Sanders), but he’s not deemed to be a threat to anyone. Besides, George is adored by the upper crust Sir Henry Chapman (Alan Napier) and his pretty daughter Barbara (Faye Marlowe).

But that was before Netta and her cat entered the picture and insisted George work his chubby fingers to the, well, bone. Strain + strange condition does not bode well for this ill-fated pair. George takes advantage of a Guy Fawkes bonfire to cover up the crime he commits before blithely succumbing to the ravaging flames of another fire.

Skillfully directed by John Brahm (he also directed Cregar in “The Lodger,” 1944) and gorgeously shot by Joseph LaShelle, “Hangover Square” is full-on film noir, even though the story is set around 1900. The shadow-drenched urban nightscapes, themes of alienation and sexual obsession, and Herrmann’s edgy score draw us into the dark, ambiguous, dangerously skewed noir world.

Barré Lyndon wrote the screenplay, based on a 1941 novel by English writer Patrick Hamilton, who also wrote the plays “Gaslight” and “Rope,” which became Hollywood classics. “Gaslight” was directed by George Cukor (1944) and “Rope” by Alfred Hitchcock (1948). In the novel, George Bone was a borderline alcoholic and the story was set in 1939.

But perhaps most chilling is the off-screen story of the stars. [Read more…]

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‘Hangover Square’ quick hit

Hangover Square/1945/20th Century-Fox/77 min.

A music-hall singer in need of new material (Linda Darnell) charms a mild-mannered composer (Laird Cregar) into service. Service that includes him taking care of her cat, natch. But there’s a catch, of course. If he works too hard, he blacks out and can’t remember a damn thing the next day. There’s definitely trouble in paradise for this pair. John Brahm directs; based on a Patrick Hamilton novel.

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Cinematheque honors Alfred Hitchcock, Bernard Herrmann

You can always count on the American Cinematheque to give noiristas some love.

The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood is running Suspense Account: The Films of Alfred Hitchcock, featuring his Technicolor spectaculars, such as “North by Northwest,” “Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” “The Birds,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” and “To Catch a Thief.” Also showing are suspense thrillers “Notorious,” “Shadow of a Doubt,” “Suspicion,” “Spellbound,” “Saboteur” and “Psycho.” Now under way, the series runs through June 9.

Additionally, from June 23-30, the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica will host A Centennial Tribute to Composer Bernard Herrmann (1911-1975), one of cinema’s most brilliant and influential artists. The series will screen “Cape Fear,” On Dangerous Ground,” “Citizen Kane,” “The Magnificent Ambersons,” “Vertigo,” “Obsession,” “Marnie,” “Psycho,” and “Hangover Square.”

Check the schedule for more details. The Egyptian Theatre is at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. The Aero Theatre is at 1328 Montana Ave. General admission is $11; members pay $7.

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