The movie was released in New York City on February 7, 1945, two months after its star, Laird Cregar, suffered a fatal heart attack.
In Edwardian London, in the summer of 1903, a Scottish shopowner in Fulham is stabbed to death and his shop set on fire by distinguished composer George Harvey Bone (Laird Cregar), who stumbles out onto the street in a stupor. George eventually makes his way back the next night to his basement flat at 12 Hangover Square in Chelsea to find his girlfriend Barbara Chapman (Faye Marlowe) and her father Sir Henry Chapman (Alan Napier) inside. George admits privately to Barbara that there is "a whole day missing" from his memory. The newspaper has stories of the murder and fire, and George goes to see Dr. Allan Middleton (George Sanders) who works at Scotland Yard. Bone tells Middleton that when he is stressed or overworked he suffers from periods of amnesia brought on by discordant sounds. Middleton's advice is to go out among ordinary people and observe how they work and recreate.
On August 29 at a Smoking Concert at a working class pub, George meets an ambitious and conniving singer named Netta Longdon (Linda Darnell) through his buddy Mickey (Michael Dyne). Although Netta, who also lives in the square, is a mediocre talent, George is enamored of her. Nettie finds George boring, yet nonetheless mercilessly manipulates him to get money, dinners, drinks and all kinds of favors for months. Meanwhile Barbara is put off by George's interest in Netta, as Middleton tries to get closer to her. George is driven to the point of having another amnesia episode and almost strangles Barbara to death.
George finally strangles Netta to death on Guy Fawkes Night. He carries her wrapped body through streets filled with revelers and deposits it on top of the biggest bonfire.
Ultimately, Geore, plays his piano concerto, unmindful of the conflagration around him, as flames consume everything.Laird Cregar as George Harvey Bone
Linda Darnell as Netta Longdon
George Sanders as Dr. Allan Middleton
Glenn Langan as Eddie Carstairs
Faye Marlowe as Barbara Chapman
Alan Napier as Sir Henry Chapman
Laird Cregar, a fan of the original novel, encouraged 20th Century Fox to buy the film rights. Fox relented, but wanted to recreate the success they had enjoyed with The Lodger the previous year and made several changes to the story, including the main character's personality and the setting. Cregar, George Sanders and John Brahm, who had all worked together in The Lodger, were announced as working on the film.
Cregar, who had ambitions of being a leading man and was worried that he would always be cast as a villain, refused the role and was put on suspension. Glenn Langan was announced as his replacement. However, Cregar realized he could use his romantic scenes with Linda Darnell and Faye Marlowe to his advantage in order to change his public image into a more romantic one. He thus accepted the role, but began a radical crash diet to give his character more physical appeal.
The film had to be shot entirely in sequence so as to be consistent with Cregar's real life weight loss. This frustrated director John Brahm, who frequently clashed with Cregar over how the film should be handled. Cregar, a real-life musician, was eager to perform the musical pieces on his own; however, Brahm insisted that Cregar mime. Cregar used amphetamines to aid his rapid weight loss which led to erratic behavior on his part. Brahm lost patience with Cregar and forced the entire cast and crew to sign a document stating they were on Brahm's side and not Cregar's in order to humiliate him into submission. When the filming had ended, Cregar told Brahm: "Well, I think we've worked together long enough to know we never want to work together again."
George Sanders also brought complications. Having been put on suspension the previous year for refusing to perform in The Undying Monster, George accepted the role of Dr. Allan Middleton. However, he was unhappy with his script, particularly the final line in the film, which required him to justify the death of George Harvey Bone by saying, "He's better off this way." When shooting the scene, which was very expensive to film, George repeatedly refused to say the line. He later got into an altercation with the film's producer, Robert Bassler, which ended in George punching Bassler. The line was later changed to, "It's better this way."
American composer Stephen Sondheim has cited Herrmann's score for Hangover Square as a major influence on his musical Sweeney Todd.
The film received mixed reviews. The staff at Variety magazine liked the film and wrote, "Hangover Square is eerie murder melodrama of the London gaslight era—typical of Patrick Hamilton yarns, of which this is another. And it doesn't make any pretense at mystery. The madman-murderer is known from the first reel...Production is grade A, and so is the direction by John Brahm, with particular bows to the music score by Bernard Herrmann." The New York Times claimed, "There is not a first-class shiver in the whole picture."
In 2010, the British label Chandos released a CD that includes a 17-minute concert suite from Hangover Square, assembled by Stephen Hogger. The film's musical tour-de-force is a sonata movement for piano and orchestra in the Lisztian style (where the scherzo and adagio movements, which are typical as succeeding movements in a concerto, are compressed and presented in place of a central development). Slightly revised by the composer in 1973 for Charles Gerhardt's RCA film music series and retitled Concerto Macabre, it has been recorded by RCA, Naïve, Koch and Naxos, in addition to the recording paired with Hogger's suite. Save for that released by RCA, all of the recordings of the Concerto relied on the version edited and engraved in 1992 by Christopher Husted, editor of the Bernard Herrmann Edition. The disc also includes Stephen Hogger's extended suite based on Herrmann's incidental music for Citizen Kane (1941).