A tremendously talented character actor who yearned for leading man status, Laird Cregar is one of Hollywood's tragic figures. His efforts to reshape himself into a more conventional romantic lead ultimately caused his death from a heart attack when he was only 31, but his brief career demonstrated his incredible screen presence in a number of memorable roles. Had he lived, Cregar might have enjoyed success like that of his friend, Vincent Price, who gave the eulogy at Cregar's funeral in 1944. Here are ten films that reveal the extent of Laird Cregar's talent and potential.
1. Hudson's Bay (1941)
2. Blood and Sand (1941)
3. Charley's Aunt (1941)
4. I Wake Up Screaming (1941)
5. Rings on Her Fingers (1942)
6. This Gun for Hire (1942)
7. The Black Swan (1942)
8. Heaven Can Wait (1943)
9. The Lodger (1944)
10. Hangover Square (1945)
The Headliner: Heaven Can Wait (1943)
Dir. Ernst Lubitsch
Cregar plays the Devil himself in this sentimental comedy starring Don Ameche as a recently deceased playboy who must explain to "His Excellency" why he thinks he deserves to go to Hell. It's a small but crucial role because Cregar's character must be sufficiently devilish without upsetting the gentle comic tone of Lubitsch's film, and Cregar performs the role to perfection. Nominated for three Oscars in 1944, Heaven Can Wait remains a beloved classic thanks to engaging performances from lead actors Ameche and Gene Tierney as well as supporting players like Eugene Pallette, Marjorie Main, Charles Coburn, and Laird Cregar.
The Hidden Gem: Charley's Aunt (1941)
Dir. Archie Mayo
Although Cregar was actually much younger than Jack Benny, he still works perfectly as Sir Francis Chesney, a middle-aged gentleman who courts Benny's disguised protagonist in this uproarious comedy. Benny, dressed as a wealthy widow, must figure out how to fend off the amorous advances of Cregar's character, and the resulting scenes of romance gone wrong are absolutely hilarious. Ironically, Cregar was also three years younger than James Ellison, who plays his son, Jack, in the movie.
The Cult Classic: The Lodger (1944)
Dir. John Brahms
In this atmospheric horror film starring Merle Oberon and George Sanders, Cregar plays the mysterious Mr. Slade, who rents a room in a London house and arouses the family's suspicions when his movements parallel those of the marauding Jack the Ripper. Cregar gives a terrific performance, depicting his troubled character as dangerously unstable yet strangely sympathetic. The scene in which he laments the death of his beloved brother creates great pathos, while the final chase sequence demonstrates his ability to play the part of a classic horror monster. Cregar's next film, Hangover Square (1945), would capitalize on his success in this production, but his death prevented him from becoming a fully-fledged master of the genre.
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