One year, one film: 1955
The Desperate Hours, dir. William Wyler
Starring Humphrey Bogart and Fredric March
Recommended | Highly Recommended | MUST-SEE
Three escaped convicts walk into the ‘burbs… and that’s the basic set-up of The Desperate Hours. Humphrey Bogart stars as Glenn Griffin, one of three escaped prisoners looking to hide out from the law in a neighborhood in suburban Indianapolis. They plan to pick a home and stay in it until the cover of darkness, when Glenn’s girlfriend will bring them some money and help them head out on the run. But they may have made a mistake in choosing the home of Dan Hilliard (Fredric March), a man determined to do anything possible to protect his family (Martha Scott, Mary Murphy, and Richard Eyer).
I first watched The Desperate Hours in 2013, and you could say I was floored by it. I gave the film a perfect rating of “5/5!” (known ’round these parts as a “super five”), praising March and Bogart’s performances, as well as the film’s overall success in building a constant level of suspense. But did the critics of 1955 find the film as engrossing as I?
Variety called the film “an expert adaptation” (adapted from a novel and play, both by Joseph Hayes). Fredric March’s performance is described as “powerful.” And that Bogart fellow? “Here he’s at his best, a tough gunman capable of murder, snarling delight with the way his captives must abide by his orders, and wise in the ways of self-preservation strategy.”
We’ve even, in a rare but not unheard of occurrence, stumbled upon a film kind of enjoyed by Bosley Crowther. He called the film “crafty and crackling,” giving particularly high praise to the “stalking and searching” photography and the “ferocity” of Bogart’s performance. But Crowther did take issue with some of the story’s turns, complaining that Dan would, in reality, never have left the house without calling for help. “Would a man as able and courageous as the father, whom Fredric March plays with extraordinary spirit and versatility, be so disdainful of the capabilities and consideration of the police that he would not take his problem to them?” Crowther couldn’t buy it. I could, but we live in a different world today. Perhaps this did require too much suspension of disbelief in 1955.
Regardless of Crowther’s one nitpicky-but-valid complaint, I still hold The Desperate Hours in very high regard. If you’re a Bogart fan or love a good crime drama and haven’t set seen it, add The Desperate Hours to your must-see list!