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Today's Date is:

The Desperate Hours

Reviewed by: David Litton
Genre: Thriller
Video: 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono, French Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Language: English, French
Subtitle: English
Length: 112 min
Rating: Not Rated
Release Date: 06/17/2003
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Commentary: None
Documentaries: None
Featurettes: None
Filmography/Biography: None
Interviews: None
Trailers/TV Spots: None
Alternate/Deleted Scenes: None
Music Video: None
Other: None
Cast and Crew: Humphrey Bogart, Fredric March, Arthur Kennedy, Martha Scott, Dewey Martin
Written By: Joseph Hayes
Produced by: William Wyler
Directed By: William Wyler
Music: Gail Kubik
The Review:

"The Desperate Hours" begins with all the usual indications of a thriller, showcasing the comfortable suburban life of a middle-class family before they are plunged into a 48-hour plight when taken hostage by a trio of escaped criminals. We get the tell-tale signs of foreboding: a radio news report of the escape that provides the backstory, a sinister shot from within a moving vehicle as it passes the home at which the action will take place, and of course the ominous score that hits all the expected notes. ***

But what sets "The Desperate Hours" apart from others of its kind is the abundance of well-written scenarios and two lead characters who match wits in an at-times explosive battle against time and the inevitable. Humphrey Bogart is cast as Glenn Griffin, one of the escaped cons who hatches the plan of taking a civilian family hostage as cover until his gal pal arrives with the getaway money. Fredric March plays Dan Hilliard, a modestly successful businessman whose family happens to be that which is held at Griffin's whim. Here we have two men, both of whom know how the other operates, and none of whom is ready for the changes that will come to pass as their internal and external battles begin to take shape. ***

Director William Wyler and writer Joseph Hayes (adapting his own novel and stage play) instill the usual suspense tactics of the genre with a much-needed shot in the arm of sheer tension, and the results are fantastic. As the plot progresses, certain advantages for both sides come into play, but taking them at face-value could mean trouble. When Hilliard is ordered to go about his business of going to work like nothing has happened, the opportunity to go to the authorities with his troubles arises, but with the fate of his captive family at stake, he's got virtually no way of getting the message out there without facing the harsh consequences. Meanwhile, back at the Hilliard house, everyone from a nosy boyfriend to a well-meaning garbage man becomes a possible leak that must be taken care of. ***

Scene after scene plays out with incredible tension, mostly due to the incredible tension arising from the unpredictable nature of Bogart's character. As Griffin, the actor exudes a brutish confidence that makes his domineering presence all the more forceful. As his counterpart, March's Hilliard is the man who finds himself under pressure to use his brain, and keep his primal instincts at bay. The dynamics between these two actors and their roles come across like lightning on the screen: right down to the final extraordinary moments, we're caught in a vice of incredible energy as we witness the growing hatred in these men, especially Hilliard, who near the end turns to his captor and says, "I know what makes you work, because now I want to kill you." With these psychological elements at play, the more mechanical aspects of "The Desperate Hours" are anything but rash, making the movie one of the more memorable classics of the genre, and a minor milestone in the careers of many involved.

Image and Sound

The 1.85:1 image transfer for "The Desperate Hours" looks pretty good, albeit with a few minor flaws. The black-and-white photography comes acroos quite well, with good contrast, shadow detail, and solid blacks that remain flawless for the most part. Edges are sharp throughout, with a couple of enhancement halos present. The source print looks very nice here, with only a few instances where dirt marks or spots are visible; film grain is apparent in places, but isn't as bothersome as that of other transfers. In the end, it gets the job done nicely. ***

The sound comes in Dolby 2.0 Mono, so you know up-front not to expect much from it. It sounds clean, however, with very little background noise or hiss to mar the dialogue, which sounds fairly decent, or the creepy score, which is passable without being truly good. Not the best, but not the worst, either.

The Extras Nothing to comment on here: another of Paramount's feature-less catalog releases, and not even the expected theatrical trailer has been included here.
Commentary None
Final Words: "The Desperate Hours" is anything but desperate, with a well-structured story and intriguing characters. It deserves more than what it has received on this DVD.

Send all Comments to Teakwood Productions
June 15, 2003