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DESPERATE HOURS, THE(director: William Wyler; screenwriter: based on the novel and play by Joseph Hayes/Joseph Hayes; cinematographer: Lee Garmes; editor: Robert Swink; music: Gail Kubik; cast: Humphrey Bogart (Glenn), Fredric March (Dan Hilliard), Arthur Kennedy (Jesse Bard), Martha Scott (Eleanor Hilliard), Dewey Martin (Hal), Gig Young (Chuck), Mary Murphy (Cindy), Richard Eyer (Ralphie), Robert Middleton (Kobish), Alan Reed (Detective), Bert Freed (Det. Winston), Ray Collins (Masters), Whit Bissell (Carson), Ray Teal(State Police, Lt. Fredericks); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Wyler; Paramount; 1955)
“An aged fiftysomething Humphrey Bogart is in his element as the snarling desperate fugitive, a role played on Broadway by the much younger Paul Newman.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Based on the novel and play by Joseph Hayes, who based it on a real incident. William Wyler (“Friendly Persuasion”/”Detective Story”/”The Collector”) mechanically but efficiently directs this unpleasant drama of a family taken hostage in their homes by ruthless escaped felons. It reflects America’s paranoia in the 1950s over strangers and those not endorsing the American Dream, but reassures the public not to fret that the typical American middle-class family can overcome any terrorism directed against them. An aged fiftysomething Humphrey Bogart is in his element as the snarling desperate fugitive, a role played on Broadway by the much younger Paul Newman. It’s the same type of role Bogie played a few decades back in The Petrified Forest (1936).

Glenn Griffin (Humphrey Bogart) is a vicious murderer who escapes from a Terre Haute, Indiana, prison along with his depraved but softer little brother Hal (Dewey Martin) and the brutish giant Kobish (Robert Middleton). They invade the Hilliard’s suburban home in Indiana (the exterior of the house is from the Leave It to Beaver television series), who are depicted as the typical American nuclear family. The father Dan (Fredric March) is a successful department store executive, his adoring wife Eleanor (Martha Scott) is the ideal mate, teenage daughter Cindy (Mary Murphy) is the perfect daughter and the 10 year-old son Ralphie (Richard Eyer) is a charmer. The thugs take the family hostage in order to avoid the massive police manhunt.

The manhunt is led by Deputy Sheriff Jesse Bard (Arthur Kennedy), who arrested Glenn some eight years ago and broke his jaw while in custody, whereas Glenn threatened payback. Bard attempts to use the convict’s girlfriend Helen Miller to find the escapee.

Glenn allows the father and daughter to leave the house and go about their normal routines, as he feels they’ll be too scared to do anything because the mother and little son are still held hostage. In the meantime Glenn contacts his girlfriend to deliver the bank money he robbed. The ordeal drags on for the family as the thugs wait for the money to be delivered, and the police manhunt is frustrated by several goofs. The wait causes the following family troubles: Cindy’s boyfriend Chuck (Gig Young) notices something is wrong by her nervous behavior, Ralphie wants dad to do something and when he doesn’t thinks dad is a coward, and Dan becomes frustrated playing along with the dangerous desperadoes who are abusive to the females and deems it’s time to take action and thereby bravely comes up with a plan to outwit the felons.

It’s a story that can easily be lifted from the newspapers, but as a drama it’s ponderous and done in by its all too familiar situation. But the acting was superb and the production values for this b/w film were first-class. Wyler was eager for Spencer Tracy to take the March role, but Bogie wouldn’t give up top billing and Tracy refused second billing. Speaking about egos, those two seemingly had them in spades!


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”