October 12, 2023


1955 / 112 min
Review by Mr. Paws😸

In his penultimate film, the great Humphrey Bogart redons his bad guy hat one last time. His villainous role as ruthless, unrepentant criminal Glenn Griffin harkens back to the one that made him a star in the first place (The Petrified Forest). And with the possible exception of The Caine Mutiny, he delivers what's arguably the best performance of his latter-day career.

The quintessential home invasion film, The Desperate Hours features Glenn, younger brother Hal (Dewey Martin) and sadistic, dimwitted brute Sam Korbish (Robert Middleton), three escaped convicts who pick a random suburban home to lay low during a massive manhunt. That home belongs to the Hilliard family, whose patriarch, Daniel (Fredric March), is the type of successful white-collar businessman Glenn bitterly resents. 

Keeping the family hostage at gunpoint, Glenn plans to wait there until he can rendezvous with his girlfriend, who’s bringing enough cash for them to make a clean getaway. When those plans go awry, the escapees end up staying much longer, making the Hilliards’ lives a living hell, which Glenn sometimes appears to be enjoying. Conversely, Hal grows increasingly uncertain over Glenn’s decisions, feeling they should all just clear the hell out of there while they still can, especially after murdering the local trash collector who happened to swing by the house (a scene which perfectly exemplifies Korbish's cruety).

Meanwhile, the authorities, headed by Sheriff Bard (Arthur Kennedy), escalate the manhunt, but have little luck. And even though Glenn orders him to venture out of the house numerous times, Daniel fears repercussions to his family if he alerts the cops. He, his wife Ellie (Martha Scott) and their children are essentially on their own.

When Twister turns ugly.
The Desperate Hours is an accurate title that applies to all three parties - the Hilliards, the convicts and the police - as the surprise-laden story progresses. Tension-filled almost from the get-go, the film masterfully draws us in with its scary scenario and well-realized characters, made all the more compelling by striking direction from William Wyler. Primarily taking place in a single location, he and cinematographer Lee Grimes manage to make this beautiful, spacious suburban home look and feel like a prison, for both the protagonists and antagonists.

Bogey makes Glenn a wonderfully hateful character and appears to relish being the baddie once again. But as good as he is, March is every bit his equal, convincingly conveying Daniel’s fear, vulnerability and (eventually) selfless bravery & determination. Elsewhere, the supporting performances are mostly on-point, with the possible exception of Gig Young as daughter Cindy’s (Mary Murphy) nosy boyfriend. Young is fairly dull, but then again, so is the character, so maybe it ain't entirely his fault.

Other than that, The Desperate Hours is an irresistible mix of film noir, home invasion thriller and family drama, wrapped up in a fast-paced package that is worth revisiting again and again. Arrow Video has put together an excellent Blu-ray release with an impressive high definition transfer and a great batch of all-new bonus material. 


(NOTE: Free Kittens Movie Guide was provided with a “promo disc” for review purposes. The actual retail version includes substantial physical extras, which were not made available). 

TROUBLE IN SUBURBIA - An entertaining appreciation by University of Warwick associate professor Jose Arroyo, though a few of his analogies stretch things a bit.

THE LONELY MAN - Audio essay by Eloise Ross.

SCALED DOWN AND RATCHETED UP - Interview with director William Wyler’s daughter, Catherine.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By film historian Daniel Kremer.




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