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Running Time: 112 minutes
Starring: Humphrey Bogart, Fredric March, Arthur Kennedy, Martha Scott, Dewey Martin, Gig Young, Mary Murphy
Screenplay by: Joseph Hayes
Directed by: William Wyler
Retail Price: $19.99
Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Mono, French Mono, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (25 Scenes)
Released: June 17th, 2003
Dan Hillard (Fredric March) is your typical, loving family man. He's successful, has a loving wife and two children. He has everything going for him, but his world is rocked when an escaped convict named Glenn Griffin (Humphrey Bogart) takes over his home along with his brother Hal (Dewey Martin) and another threatening individual, Sam Kobish (Robert Middleton). As a manhunt is on to find the three baddies and with his family at stake, Hillard has to find more strength than usual to take the three on. But can he, during such desperate hours?
"The Desperate Hours" may not be as well known as other Bogart and March classics, but it definitely is a winner. Probably one of William Wyler's more underrated films, Wyler expertly sets the stage for what is a rousing film that not only entertains, but sticks itself clearly within us. He wonderfully creates a tense atmosphere that might not seem like much at first, but builds layers of suspense that end up keeping the audience on the edge of its seats. He certainly creates a unique bill of paranoia, coupled with some great point-of-view shots and stable close-ups that tend to get us more in the action and within the characters. The blocking of some integral scenes also give the film a scary mystique which only adds to the tension. The film is well-paced too and doesn't get bogged down in any of its elements, but keeps consistent within its tone and characters. It all leads to a fine climax and satisfying conclusion.
It probably helps that this was screenwriter Joseph Hayes third time with the story, having previously written the novel and Broadway play the movie is based on. Hayes really hones the story and characters here, making the story quite accessible and very even. The characters are well fleshed out, things keep rising up and up and makes the story play out so that those watching it feel a bit trapped, a la some of the characters in the movie. Hayes also crafts some wonderful confrontations, complete with some fine exchanges and heated banter that really capture you in many of the film's moments. Most of this movie may seem tame to some, but I responded to the way he threw around the lives of what seems to be the members of a perfect family in a more innocent time. In a respect, a social commentary can be inferred from this movie. While it's more normal now, I'm sure back in the day this movie was a bit scarier.
The performances are truly excellent. Fredric March truly makes the film worthwhile and probably should have been acclaimed more as the well-doing, perfectly comfortable everyman (and supportive family man) who's life takes an unexpected turn that pushes him over the edge in ways that are easily justified. He's quite strong in this role and plays the character's defensive side perfectly, not to mention brings intense and raw delivery for much of the movie. March plays incredibly well off Humphrey Bogart, in their only screen outing (the role was originally supposed to go to Spencer Tracy).
I personally loved the exchanges between March and Bogart, as Bogart's cruel yet intriguingly stoic demeanor is a bit underplayed. While some aren't a big fan of him in this movie, he really did grow on me as it went along. While it's true the part of Glenn was originally meant for someone younger and would probably work better that way, there's no denying the presence of Bogart. He certainly was a master actor, and his unexpected sharpness he brings to the role fits well with the film. And just as March can bounce off of him, Bogart also bounces off of March nicely. The other supporting players in the film also do great jobs, such as Robert Middleton, Dewey Martin, Arthur Kennedy, Mary Murphy and Martha Scott.
There are probably a lot of you who have never seen "The Desperate Hours," and I'm sure most of you in that group will really like this movie. It's certainly an old-fashioned story, but nearly fifty years later, it still holds it own and works incredibly well for what it is. Throw in some great directing and a fine ensemble of actors, and you have a suspenseful character drama that is nothing short of entertaining. Oh, and classic TV fans... pay close attention to the exterior of the house of where much of the story takes place. It might look pretty familiar...
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, "The Desperate Hours" looks pretty impressive given the film is nearly fifty years old, but it isn't anything spectacular as this film wasn't given a major restoration or something of that nature (and why would it? It's not considered a major film from the era). There is no edge enhancement to speak of, and the only real problems with the image seem to be grain, noise and some dirt pieces as well as blemishes. However, with that said, all of that is very apparent and the image is never truly sharp. The black and white nature of the film looks just fine, flesh tones seem pretty spot-on and detail looks pretty good. The transfer looks nice, but it won't take your breath away.
Good old classic mono... in English or French, might I add. Each track is fine for the movie, as I doubt any kind of remixes would really add anything. Nonetheless, the mono is limited in its dynamic range and overall power, but I found the fidelity to be surprisingly strong. Everything here sounds equal and just about right. The musical score sounds finely tuned, the sound effects do their job pretty strongly and the dialogue is pretty clear and crisp. It's not the greatest mono track, but it doesn't disappoint. English subtitles and English closed captions have been provided for this release.
Nothing at all.
"The Desperate Hours" may not be a more noted "classic" movie, but it's still a good watch and is anchored by the performances and the fact it's the only movie Fredric March and Humphrey Bogart worked together on. The mono tracks are fine, the transfer is pretty good but alas, there are no supplements to be found. The list price is about 20 dollars for this one and makes it a bit disappointing since Paramount has recently been releasing bare-boned catalog titles for around 15 dollars. Still, if you're a fan of the movie, you'll probably want this.