The Desperate Hours, 1955.
Directed by William Wyler.
Starring Humphrey Bogart, Fredric March, Arthur Kennedy, Martha Scott, Dewey Martin, Mary Murphy, Richard Eyer, and Robert Middleton.
Prolific director William Wyler’s minor classic The Desperate Hours, which failed at the box office in 1955 but found new appreciation in later decades, is out now on Blu-ray from Arrow. The disc features an excellent restoration and a nice batch of new bonus features that round out the movie.
I wonder what people in various age groups who haven’t seen The Desperate Hours would think if they were told it’s a home invasion thriller and then asked to watch it. I’d imagine younger viewers would be underwhelmed by it, given the kind of filmmaking that goes into thrillers today, but this film still does an excellent job of conveying the menace that comes with such an incident.
Based on the novel and play of the same name by Joseph Hayes, who shares co-screenwriting credit with Jay Dratler, The Desperate Hours was directed by William Wyler and stars Humphrey Bogart as Glenn Griffin, the leader of three escaped convicts who invade the Indianapolis home of Dan Hilliard (Fredric March).
Their plan is to keep Dan and his wife and two children captive until Glenn’s girlfriend can arrive to give them money, but Glenn decides to let Dan and his daughter leave the next day to go to work, so as to not arouse suspicion. The threat of killing his wife and son is enough to keep Dan from going straight to the police, although he begins to think of other ways he can alert them.
Meanwhile, the police are on a manhunt for the three men, led by Deputy Sheriff Jesse Bard (Arthur Kennedy), who broke Glenn’s jaw during a prior arrest. Glenn would like nothing more than to exact revenge on the deputy, which causes him to delay their escape even when his girlfriend is waylaid.
His fellow escapees, one of whom is his brother, begin airing their frustrations with Glenn, who soon finds himself trying to keep them at bay while also trying to keep the Hilliard family under control. As you might imagine, the situation begins to build to a boiling point, especially when the police discover where the convicts have holed up and begin moving in.
Revisiting my initial topic, The Desperate Hours may not be a thriller in the sense of how people think of them today, but the acting skills of the entire cast still keep the story moving as if it’s on the edge of a cliff. If you’re a fan of older films and haven’t seen this minor classic yet, I recommend seeking it out.
Arrow has issued the film on a single Blu-ray disc featuring a restoration that gives Lee Garmes’ black-and-white cinematography a crisp, clean look in its widescreen presentation. (It was actually the first black-and-white film to use Paramount’s VistaVision process that was new at the time.)
The extras are also all-new, along with a Criterion-like booklet that has a pair of essays. Here’s what you’ll find on the disc:
• Commentary: Film historian Daniel Kremer serves up a nice in-depth discussion of the movie. I know I use the term “film class on a disc” a lot to describe these kinds of tracks, but that’s exactly what they are, and this one is more of the same. Great stuff.
• Trouble in Suburbia (39 minutes): José Arroyo, Associate Professor in Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick, discusses the movie, with a specific emphasis on the ways Wyler and Garmes used specific camera angles to get across emotions.
• The Lonely Man (15 minutes): Eloise Ross, co-curator of the Melbourne Cinémathèque, focuses on Bogart’s role in the film within the context of his career at the time.
• Scaled Down and Ratcheted Up (12 minutes): This is an audio interview with Wyler’s daughter, Catherine, that plays over scenes from the movie. She has many memories to discuss from that time period, including her visit to the set, how her father reacted to the film’s box office failure, and more.
A lobby cards gallery and the theatrical trailer round out the platter.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★