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Joseph L. Mankiewicz
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
The original THE DESPERATE HOURS is one of the best true suspense films that were ever made. The incident happened in upstate New York in 1953, when three escaped convicts invaded a private home, and then terrorized the family until they were captured and killed by the police. In fact, the story became a successful Broadway play that this film is based on (the family in the original incident brought an unsuccessful lawsuit against the dramatist for invasion of privacy).
Humphrey Bogart, his brother Dewey Martin, and that marvelous villain Robert Middleton play the three convicts, who having escaped prison take the Hilliard prisoners. Bogart is awaiting his girlfriend who is supposed to bring money and a car for their total getaway. In the meantime Bogart is doing his best to make the Hilliards as unhappy as possible. Not too difficult, as Martha Scott, Mary Murphy, and Richard Eyer are facing three thugs who are armed. And Fredric March is the family head, frightened at the most hideous prospect possible (his family being wiped out), but struggling to maintain his courage but also his head - he hates Bogart but must not do anything that will antagonize him. Bogart fully returns the dislike. A poor guy all his life, he turned to crime to make a living. When the younger and softer Martin tries to speak out for March/Hilliard, Bogart snarls out, "And what did the Hilliards ever do for you?" In truth not much, which is what this particular Hilliard is paying for now. After awhile, watching March's careful thinking of what to do, Bogart starts taunting him as though he's a machine he sees through - saying the line in the "Subject line" above.
There are several problems that gradually increase the tensions: 1) Richard Eyer is brave as a little kid who does not understand that guns can kill. He thinks his father is the bravest man in the world, and cannot understand why he doesn't take on and destroy the bad guys.
2) The family has to maintain the aura of normality - Bogart and Murphy have to go out to their jobs and act without stirring any notice. Hard in normal situations, it is driving Murphy to insanity because she can't talk to her boyfriend, Gig Young. And Young is beginning to wonder why.
3) If the surface is to look normal, you have to keep anything unusual hidden. The original getaway car is in the Hilliard garage (now closed). But the local garbage man (Walter Baldwin) finds it accidentally - leading to an ugly tragedy.
4) Bogart and Martin are brothers, but Martin is attracted to a normal life, not one of violence. He may eventually want not to stick to Bogart.
5) Middleton came along, but he really is not trusted by Bogart - and he has a weapon of his own.
6) Bogart's plans include killing the officer who sent him to prison, Arthur Kennedy. Kennedy and the state police are coordinating the entire search, and keeping a tight lid on top of the escaped prisoners (making their temporary safety more claustrophobic).
All of these elements build the pressure up and up and up until the last twenty minutes. The results are quite explosive and impressive, and memorable. This was Bogart's last film as a bad guy, and he made the most of it. It was also his only film with Fredric March, and the tension in their scenes together grows until it shatters at the conclusion. Martha Scott, Gig Young (whose character's independent actions throws the convicts' plans out of wack), Middleton (quite chilling), and Kennedy give first rate performances. Martin's performance is also good, and ultimately tragic. No lover of suspense films will be disappointed by THE DESPERATE HOURS.
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