After escaping from prison, Glenn Griffin, his brother Hal and a third inmate Sam Kobish randomly select a house in a well-to-do suburb of Indianapolis in which to hide out. The home belongs to the Hilliard family, Dan and Ellie who live there with their 19-year old daughter Cindy and their young son Ralph. They plan on staying only until midnight as Griffin is awaiting his girlfriend who will meet them with some money he had stashed away. When she doesn't arrive, their stay stretches out to several days. Dan Hilliard plays their game knowing that if he makes any attempt to contact the police, his family could be caught in the crossfire. Written by
Frederic March, Martha Scott, Humphrey Bogart and Arthur Kennedy are just a few of the people who endure "The Desperate Hours," a 1955 film, based on the stage play and directed by William Wyler. On Broadway, the play was directed by Robert Montgomery and starred Karl Malden in the Bogart role and Paul Newman played his brother, here played by Dewey Martin. The film also stars Gig Young, Mary Murphy, Richard Eyer, and Robert Middleton.
Having just seen Bogart in the 1936 "The Petrified Forest," it was interesting to see him still taking hostages 19 years later - and in fact, looking like he'd spent the last 19 years on the run from the law. He was clearly ill during the making of this film. Though Dewey Martin looked 30 years younger than Bogie, he was in fact only 20, making the fact that they were brothers a tiny bit more plausible.
I also had recently seen "The Star Witness," a 1931 Warner Brothers film with a similar plot, which won an Oscar for best original screenplay. By 1955, it wasn't original any longer, but the execution of the story is compelling. Martha Scott is a housewife, Ellie Hilliard, alone in her suburban home when three escaped criminals (Bogart, Martin and Middleton) take over the place. Glenn Griffin (Bogart) wants to murder the Deputy Sheriff (Arthur Kennedy) who put him in prison, and he needs to wait for the delivery of some money to make good his escape. Dan Hilliard (March) and his daughter Cynthia (Murphy) walk into the situation, followed later by the Hilliard's little boy (Eyer). You'll be wondering why the son isn't knocked off - by his parents - given the trouble he causes.
The money is delayed, and of course, the police have no idea where the gang is, as Griffin has put his car in the Hilliard garage. So the hours turn into overnight. Although March and Cynthia are allowed to leave the house for work, and Cynthia has to keep a date with her boyfriend (Young), they're too terrified to say anything for fear the mother and boy will be killed. Basically the gang as well and the family become prisoners as the hours drag on.
Wyler gives us lots of frightening and suspenseful moments as the tension builds in the house, and he never lets the pace drag. Supposedly he made March and Scott do a goodbye scene for take after take because he thought March was "acting" and wanted to tire him out. An accomplished stage actor of the old school, March consistently had a great presence but didn't always emotionally connect with his characters - he does here. March and Bogart make powerful adversaries, March hitting just the right note as an angry father afraid for his family, but not afraid to talk back to Griffin. Bogart's Griffin is shrewd and admires brains and bravery in others; the family impresses him with their guts.
Bogart is marvelous in the role - though tired out, his character is determined to keep the gang together and free; he's resentful of the middle classness of the family and how out of place he and his gang are in a nice home. Unlike his Duke Mantee in "The Petrified Forest", Bogart's Griffin doesn't seem to have a sense of the hopelessness of his situation until the very end; also unlike Duke Mantee, he has a vulnerability that he demonstrates at the end.
Robert Middleton gives a scary performance as a witless member of the gang, and Martin, as Hal, displays Hal's disillusionment with the situation, his attraction to Cynthia, and the realization that he can never have someone like her if he continues down his brother's road. Gig Young is somewhat wasted as Cythia's boyfriend - it's unnecessary star casting. Martha Scott does a terrific job as the harried wife and mother. The wonderful Arthur Kennedy gives another good performance as the sheriff determined to catch Griffin.
Highly recommended for its suspenseful story, fine direction, and top performances.
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