1955 Certificate: pg


A noir thriller based on true events, The Desperate Hours stars Humphrey Bogart as the leader of a fugitive gang who take an executive (Fredric March) and his family hostage in their suburban home while awaiting a moll who will bring them escape funds. As the money is delayed, the menacing lifer - Bogart's last role as a villain - grows crueler towards his hostages. A nail-biter from start to brutal finish.


  • William Wyler


  • Humphrey Bogart

  • Fredric March

  • Arthur Kennedy

  • Martha Scott


Humphrey Bogart's penultimate film casts him in his darkest role since In A Lonely Place five years previously.

A gun-toting thug with murder in mind, Bogart's Glenn Griffin is a memorable badman, sympathetic only to his simple brother Dewey (Martin) and watchful of his brutish, twitchy enforcer Kobish (Middleton).

After briefly establishing Dan Hilliard (March) and his treacly all-American family, director William Wyler subjects them to a harsh dose of violent reality before a tough showdown.

Adapted by Joseph Hayes from his book and play, the film avoids the pitfalls of stage adaptations and features a series of nerve-wracking set-pieces as everyday life (the delivery man, a potential son-in-law) threatens to blow the whole shebang and leave the gang dangerously out-of-options.

The pressure-cooker tension slacks whenever the detective on Griffin's tail creaks his way through an investigation subplot, but Hayes and Wyler keep these moments brief, allowing the goons to steal most screen time.

Shooting in VistaVision black and white (as opposed to colour normally used for the format), Wyler keeps the visuals vicious and moody as darkness descends literally and figuratively over the two leads.

Sexual menace bubbles beneath the surface in the sadistic power plays Griffin subjects the family to, and as with Straw Dogs The Desperate Hours is a film about how a mild-mannered man can turn savage when backed into a corner - a transformation well-realized by March.

But, with desperation and vengeance etched into his lined faced and grimaced snarl, the film belong to Bogie.

The role had previously been played on stage by a certain Paul Newman, but the character was rewritten as middle-aged when the Hollywood icon signed on for the movie (tragically, he would be dead barely a year after it was released).

A Michael Cimino remake appeared in 1990 with Mickey Rourke and Anthony Hopkins in the Bogart and March roles; it was as uninvolving as this is electrifying.

Rob Daniel