Desperate Hours, The (1955)

Desperate Hours, The (1955)

“Yes, son — I’m afraid, and I’m not ashamed of it.”

A trio of escaped convicts — ringleader Glenn Griffin (Humphrey Bogart), his conflicted younger brother (Dewey Martin), and a portly psychopath (Robert Middleton) — hole up in the home of Mr. Hilliard (Fredric March), his wife (Martha Scott), and their two children (Mary Murphy and Richard Eyer), threatening to kill them if they reveal their presence before the arrival of a package of money from Bogart’s girlfriend. While a local detective (Arthur Kennedy) works on the case of the escaped convicts’ location, Murphy’s boyfriend (Gig Young) grows increasingly suspicious that something isn’t right with his girlfriend.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Arthur Kennedy Films
  • Fredric March Films
  • Fugitives
  • Gig Young Films
  • Hostages
  • Humphrey Bogart Films
  • Play Adaptation
  • William Wyler Films

Adapted from the novel and Tony-winning play by Joseph Hayes (who based his story loosely on real-life events), this mostly-house-bound thriller remains a well-told cinematic outing, thanks to strong direction by Wyler, atmospheric b&w VistaVision cinematography by Lee Garmes, and a tension-filled script. A chilling interlude involving Middleton and a hapless garbage collector (Walter Baldwin) unlucky enough to stop by the Hilliards’ home on the wrong day shows us the stakes involved for the family: making a wrong move really could prove lethal. Watch for a randomly quirky moment, as a short-order cook laughs nervously at Young after Kennedy gives him his options: “You can hightail it out of here and maybe say a prayer, but nothing else – ya hear me? Nothing.”

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Strong direction by Wyler

  • Lee Garmes’ cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s recommended as a taut, well-directed thriller.


One thought on “Desperate Hours, The (1955)

  1. Agreed – not must-see.

    ~which, in this case, is nothing against the film: in all aspects, it is a highly respectable and well-crafted work. For what it is, I really can’t fault it for anything. (Re: certain passages of dialogue… I even like the fact that, when dealing with particular people who could not only help somehow in the dangerous situation but could also quickly become suspicious, certain members of the family – esp. the father and daughter – aren’t more careful about blocking suspicion. That’s usually how distracted and emotional they are; they believably end up being less careful about protecting themselves.)

    Viewers who have a particular interest in this kind of melodrama will have no problem seeking it out and will do so anyway. I have difficulty seeing this as anything but optional for anyone else.

    Sidebar re: the original Broadway production – It’s interesting to note that Bogart’s role was originated by Paul Newman. As well… a tidbit: the tiny role of the schoolteacher who briefly visits the home was played by Mary Orr (who wrote the short story that grew into ‘All About Eve’).

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