The Desperate Hours (1955)
In what proved to be his last role as a gangster, screen icon Humphrey Bogart doesn’t disappoint in this tense crime drama from top flight director William Wyler. Teaming up with Bogie is another actor who can cast a very large shadow. Fredric March. And he’s up to the challenge of facing off with the legendary Bogart.
Bogie is joined by Dewey Martin and hulking Robert Middleton in a prison escape that finds them invading the peaceful home of March and his family. From the opening scene of Bogie threatening his way in past Martha Scott as March’s wife the tension is set on a slow elevation and does a great job at sustaining it for the film’s 2 hour length. March has a beautiful daughter who is a natural temptation to those who would harm her and a small son who would like nothing better than to see his Dad put Bogie and his crew out on their asses.
Adding another fine actor to the mix, we have Arthur Kennedy as the police officer leading the manhunt for the murderous trio. Wouldn’t you just know it, he’s the cop that sent Bogie up 3 years ago and both are set upon getting another crack at the other. As much as I love Bogie, I have to say that Fred March really drives this one home as the father trying to do what’s best for his family and keep them alive. If that’s to appear as a coward in front of his small son, so be it. His scenes with Martha Scott are both believable and tearful at times. For almost 2 hours he fences with Bogie as he slowly gets the upper hand in the rousing finale.
That this film is first rate should come as no surprise based on the actors involved not to mention the man behind the camera, William Wyler. Wyler has done more than his fare share of classics including Ben Hur and a previous film that won March the Academy Award. The Best Years of Our Lives. There are many well known faces throughout the cast including Gig Young as suitor to March’s daughter. Whit Bissell and Ray Teal join Kennedy on the man hunt as does Ray Collins.
According to Hollywood legend, Spencer Tracy was slated for the March role but bowed out due to billing issues with Bogie. Although I think we missed something there, that’s not fair to March and his work here. The film also serves as an interesting bookend to Bogie’s gangster films with The Petrified Forest as they have much in common with the hostage taking plot.
It’s understandable how this film can get lost in the mix with so many classics to see from Bogie, March and Wyler but at the same time a little unfair to this nail biter. No one seems to talk of this title when reviewing there careers and I most certainly think it needs to be rediscovered and one should savor the Bogie-March showdown as it deserves multiple viewings.