DVD Review – The Desperate Hours Producer and Director, William Wyler; Screenplay, Joseph Hayes, based on his novel and play; Director of Photography, Lee Garmes; Art Director, J. McMillan Johnson; Editor, Robert Swink; Music, Gail Kubik. Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Fredric March, Arthur Kennedy, Martha Scott, Dewey Martin, Gig Young, Mary Murphy, Richard Eyer, Robert Middleton, Alan Reed, Ray Collins, Whit Bissell, Joe Flynn, Beverly Garland, Burt Mustin. A Paramount Pictures Production. A Paramount Pictures Release. Black and white. VistaVision. 112 minutes. No MPAA Rating. Released October 5, 1955. DVD: Released by Paramount Home Video / Street Date June 10, 2003 / SRP $19.99 1.77:1 / 16:9 anamorphic Dolby Digital Mono. Special Features: None. Reviewed by Stuart Galbraith IV A taut domestic thriller with an impressive pedigree, William Wyler's The Desperate Hours is remembered as Humphrey Bogart's last tough guy role, a part that in some ways brought his career full circle. Despite some minor casting problems and a dated '50s sensibility, the picture holds up remarkably well thanks to several very good performances and an extra measure of care accorded to what was obviously regarded as a prestige production. The story is simple. Three hardened criminals – Glenn Griffin (Bogart), kid brother Hal (Dewey Martin) and sadistic brute Kobish (Robert Middleton) – escape from jail and hide out in a typical house in the suburbs. (Typical, indeed – the very same backlot home would soon be occupied by Beaver Cleaver and family.) Intending to hide out there until Griffin's girl can show up with getaway money, the trio terrorize an All-American family: Gray Flannel Suit-wearing Hilliard (Fredric March), his wife (Martha Scott), young adult daughter (Mary Murphy) and young son (Richard Eyer). The Desperate Hours is, partly, a “what would you do?” movie. As tensions rise, Hilliard goes from acquiescing to the escaped cons' demands to passively then actively scheming for a way out. Bogart's Griffin always seem to think one step ahead of Hilliard, and no one in the family (except the kid, acting on boyish impulsiveness) can make a move without risking everyone's life. Indeed, the convicts have it so good they can send Hilliard out to fetch booze and newspapers; they know full well he isn't going to risk his family by going to the police. To this end the picture proceeds in a believable and logical fashion, and it's this verisimilitude that makes the film eminently watchable. Wyler and writer Joseph Hayes also keeps things moving by frequently showing the audience simultaneous action. Art Director J. McMillan Johnson built a single set to reflect the two floors of the Hilliard home, and Wyler often stages bits of business on both floors (and the staircase in between) at once. The film also works as a kind of ultimate suburban nightmare – the home invasion. The way-over-the-top remake is certainly more brutal, but audiences of the 1950s were shocked enough at the very idea of criminals wreaking terror deep inside suburbia, as if moving out of the city would insulate the growing middle class. The script goes to great length to show how uncouth these hoodlums are: they are bemused by plates and silverware (as if such utensils didn't exist in prison), knock furniture over, put their cigarettes out on the nice, clean carpeting, and in general exhibit both envy and contempt for such wholesome living. In 1955, Fredric March was most familiar to movie audiences as the similar patriarchal figure in Wyler's acclaimed and popular The Best Years of Our Lives (1946). He's fine as the Everyman determined to protect his family. Bogart was nearly twice as old as the actor who originated the part on Broadway – Paul Newman – but Bogie's age brings a hard edge and a kind of criminal wisdom to the part, though it's hard to accept that he and Dewey Martin could ever be related, let alone brothers. For the film anyway, Bogart's age is less of a concern than that of 42-year-old Gig Young, an otherwise fine actor but hard to accept as the boyfriend of the Hilliard's young daughter. Richard Eyer, later the Genie in The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), plays the kind of child only Hollywood could imagine. He's fine, he rarely speaks the way real kids do. Familiar character actors populate the film, including an uncredited Beverly Garland as Eyer's teacher, Joe Flynn as a kidnap victim, and Ray Collins and Whit Bissell as lawmen. How is the Transfer? Shot in VistaVision, the DVD of The Desperate Hours is enhanced for widescreen televisions with a 1.77:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is generally quite good, though not as sharp as other VistaVision titles in which the original horizontal negative was accessed, such as Warner’s razor-sharp DVD of North by Northwest. The mono sound is a bit tinny at times, but generally acceptable. Special Features None. Parting Thoughts Humphrey Bogart is best remembered as a Warner Bros. actor. It was there he made The Maltese Falcon (1941), Casablanca (1942) and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), among others. He spent the last third of his career as an independent, and for every African Queen (1951) there was a Sirroco (1951) or a Battle Circus (1953). But there were a fair share of gems, and The Desperate Hours ranks fairly high, offering fans of the actor a mature, confident performance that by itself makes the film worth a look.