Arrow Films celebrates director William Wyler's taut, tense adaptation of The Desperate Hours with a handsome limited edition release that features a brand new 6K scan of the original camera negative. Humphrey Bogart and Fredric March lead an impressive cast in this impeccably mounted, nerve-jangling thriller about three escaped convicts who invade a suburban home and hold its residents hostage. Excellent audio and a whole new spate of substantive extras also distinguish this definitive presentation of a film classic. Highly Recommended.
Home invasion films have been around for decades, but The Desperate Hours was one of the first and remains an effective exercise in tension and suspense. Adapted by screenwriter Joseph Hayes from his own novel and Tony Award-winning play, this taut thriller ushered in a wave of similar-themed movies (including an ill-advised 1990 remake) about thugs and their henchmen terrorizing typical American families.
In his penultimate film, Humphrey Bogart reprises - to a certain degree - the role that shot him to stardom first on stage and then on screen two decades earlier. Duke Mantee, the wild-eyed gangster Bogart memorably played in 1936's The Petrified Forest, is a virtual doppelgänger for The Desperate Hours' Glenn Griffin, who barges into the upper-middle-class home of the Hilliard family in suburban Indianapolis with two fellow convicts after they bust out of prison. Both Duke and Glenn are desperate, ruthless, and sadistic, but at age 54 (and looking a good deal older due to the cancer that already was ravaging his body and would lead to his death less than two years later), Bogart infuses Glenn with more nastiness, cynicism, and resentment, as well as a world-weariness that befits a hardened fugitive at the tail end of his life of crime. (A young Paul Newman originated the role of Glenn in the Broadway production, but Hayes cleverly tweaks the part to better suit the aging Bogart.)
Glenn, his much younger brother Hal (Dewey Martin), and hulking sidekick Sam Kobish (Robert Middleton) hole up in the Hilliard residence while awaiting the arrival of Glenn's girlfriend, who's bringing a stash of cash from Pittsburgh. While their threats, belligerence, and fear tactics intimidate Dan Hilliard (Fredric March), his wife Ellie (Martha Scott), and their two children - 19-year-old Cindy (Mary Murphy) and eight-year-old Ralphy (Richard Eyer) - the family doggedly tries to evict the violent trio without incurring their wrath. Tempers fray and pressures mount as time ticks by, eventually leading to a final, deadly showdown.
The Desperate Hours can't quite shake its stage roots, but Hayes does a nice job opening up the narrative and director William Wyler injects plenty of cinematic style into the material. Wyler brilliantly uses the widescreen canvas to ratchet up suspense and heighten the claustrophobic atmosphere and sprinkles in an array of marvelous deep focus shots that keep the eye engaged.
Like Wyler's best films, The Desperate Hours crackles with dramatic tension and boasts terrific performances, both of which make any plot holes easier to forgive. Spencer Tracy was originally approached to portray Dan, but dropped out over a billing dispute with Bogart. March replaced him and contributes such good work it's tough to imagine even the impeccable Tracy eclipsing him. March’s scenes with Bogart simmer with intensity and he creates a comfortable chemistry with Scott, an often underrated actress (and Wyler favorite) who crafts a believable portrayal of a typical 1950s wife and mother. Gig Young strikes the only sour note; at age 41, he's far too old to play the teenage Cindy's boyfriend and their relationship takes on a slightly creepy tone as a result.
More than 65 years after its premiere, The Desperate Hours still taps into one of our deepest fears and delivers an exciting, frightening tale filmed by one of Hollywood's most esteemed directors. Other hostage films are certainly scarier, but this one hits home.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Arrow Films' limited edition of The Desperate Hours arrives on Blu-ray packaged in a clear case with reversible cover art featuring original and newly commissioned artwork. A booklet containing essays by Philip Kemp and Neil Sinyard is tucked inside the front cover. Video codec is 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 and audio is LPCM mono. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the full-motion menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it.
According to the liner notes, this edition of The Desperate Hours "has been exclusively restored by Arrow Films. The original 35mm VistaVision camera negative was scanned in 6K resolution." That enhanced resolution coupled with substantial clean-up that produces a practically spotless print helps this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer rise above the 2022 Imprint release. Distinguished by marvelous clarity and contrast that maximizes the vibrancy of VistaVision and faithfully honors the superior cinematography of Lee Garmes, the image sports a more natural and gritty look, which better suits the material.
The 6K resolution highlights the grain a bit more, but not to an excessive degree. The picture flaunts a lovely film-like feel, with rich blacks, bright whites, and varied grays heightening fine details and depth. Costume patterns and fabrics are crisp, excellent shadow delineation keeps crush at bay even during nocturnal scenes, and razor-sharp close-ups showcase all the careworn wrinkles and crow’s feet on March’s face, as well as Bogart’s omnipresent stubble, baggy eyes, and unkempt appearance. If you're a rabid fan of The Desperate Hours, you'll definitely want to upgrade, but those without such strong feelings might be okay sticking with the very good Imprint release.
The LPCM mono track, which was "sourced from the optical sound negatives by Paramount," sounds pretty much the same as the one on the Imprint disc, supplying solid audio that’s distinguished by excellent fidelity and tonal depth. Atmospherics like crickets, street noise, and a faint siren in the background are distinct, while sonic accents like machine gun fire and revving truck engines make a statement. A wide dynamic scale gives the dramatic music score by Gail Kubik (with an uncredited assist from Daniele Amfitheatrof) plenty of room to breathe, and all the dialogue is easy to comprehend. No distortion creeps into the mix and no age-related hiss, pops, or crackle intrude.
Arrow Films provides a hefty supplemental package that features all new material. If the extras on the Imprint release matter to you, you'll need to hang on to that disc.
Audio Commentary - Filmmaker and film historian Daniel Kremer sits down for an interesting and informative commentary that focuses most intently on director William Wyler. Kremer examines Wyler's signature style, perfectionism, and penchant for dozens of takes and looks at the idea of manhood in Wyler's 1950s films and the theme of non-violent people forced into action by circumstances beyond their control. He also discusses the "home invasion" genre, the real-life incident upon which the story is based, how Bogart evolved as an actor late in his career, and how the film industry changed during the 1950s. In addition, Kremer compares this film to the 1990 remake with Mickey Rourke and Anthony Hopkins and notes the exterior of the house was later used as the Cleaver home on the classic TV series Leave It to Beaver. Though long stretches of this commentary have little or nothing to do with The Desperate Hours, it honors the movie's cast and crew and paints an absorbing portrait of Hollywood in the 1950s.
Video Essay: "Trouble in Suburbia" (HD, 39 minutes) - José Arroyo, associate professor in film and television studies at the University of Warwick, analyzes the film's themes, characters, various shots, lighting and cinematography, and how the impressive set influences the action in this in-depth examination. Arroyo also looks at the darker psycho-sexual, noir, and political underpinnings that course through The Desperate Hours.
Video Essay: "The Lonely Man" (HD, 15 minutes) - Eloise Ross, co-curator of the Melbourne Cinémathéque, discusses Bogart's performance (and compares it to his portrayals in The Petrified Forest and The Two Mrs. Carrolls), the film's noir elements, the role of journalism in the narrative, and the class and family conflicts that further enflame tensions in this thoughtful video essay.
Audio Interview: "Scaled Down and Ratcheted Up: An Interview with Catherine Wyler" (12 minutes) - In this new 2023 interview, Wyler's daughter Catherine recalls the "scary feeling" she had when visiting the set as a child, surmises why Wyler insisted on so many takes and what attracted him to the project, talks about why her father liked using deep focus, and reveals which Wyler film in her opinion deserves a second look.
Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2 minutes) - The film's original preview highlights the story's tension and the movie's illustrious cast.
Lobby Cards Gallery - Reproductions of 16 color lobby cards, several of which are in Spanish, comprise this gallery.
A new 6K scan of the original camera negative, excellent audio, and a bounty of new, substantive supplements make this limited edition release of The Desperate Hours definitive. The Arrow Films transfer outclasses Imprint's 2022 rendering and the addition of reversible cover art and a handsome booklet increase the set's appeal. If you're a fan of this tense thriller, an upgrade is certainly in order, and if you've never seen it, this is the edition to get. Highly Recommended.
Order your copy of The Desperate Hours on Blu-ray