Saturday, September 12, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Desperate Hours

The Desperate Hours
directed by William Wyler
Because of the film's star and the fact that it was shot in black and white, some people consider this to be a film noir. I disagree with that.

There are no tortured heroes, no anti-heroes, no confusion between good and evil, no femme fatales, not too much in the way of depression or pessimism, and no one doing wrong to get to right or doing right and falling into wrong. I don't think it's a film noir. It's just a crime drama.

It does have the typical lighting and snappy dialogue that was common in film noir and many other movies created during the 40s and 50s noir heyday. So there is that. There is some bloodless violence and threat of same and a young woman in a tight sweater but by today's standards this would be a PG film. 

This was based in part on a true story. This film was remade in 1990 with Mickey Rourke, Anthony Hopkins, Kelly Lynch and Mimi Rogers. That version ramped up the sex and violence considerably. And I suppose if the film were to be remade today there would be even more mayhem, sexual and otherwise.

The original version doesn't have all of that. It may have been less "realistic" in some ways but it certainly got its point across by using subtext for what today would be shouted with a bullhorn. The viewer can fill in the gaps if he or she so pleases.

Tough guy/Cool icon Humphrey Bogart is seen here in one of his last roles as Glenn Griffin, the leader of a pack of prison inmates who've made a breakout. 

Bogart looks older than he was in this film; he was almost certainly already suffering from the cancer that would take his life in less than two years after this film's release. 

I believe Bogart was officially diagnosed with the disease just after the film hit the screen, but doubtless he already knew that something was wrong. The other criminals are Glenn's satyric kid brother Hal (Dewey Martin), who always backs big brother's play, and the hulking, mean and not too bright enforcer Simon (Robert Middleton) who's getting a little tired of always taking orders, always being outvoted, and always having the Griffin brothers crack wise about his simian looks and presumed lack of smarts.

The trio need somewhere to lay low, get some food, and maybe a change of clothes, before they can escape the area with the help of Glenn's girlfriend. Glenn chooses a house that has a boy's bicycle in the front yard because he believes that people with families to lose will be less likely to give him any problems.

The Hilliards are the unlucky family. The father/husband is Daniel (Fredric March). The mother/wife is Ellie (Martha Scott). The young son is Ralphie (Richard Eyer). The older daughter is Cindy (Mary Murphy). Glenn takes a dislike to Daniel immediately because he perceives the corporate exec Daniel as exactly the sort of big shot who lords it over people like him. 

Daniel knows he can't do much against three armed men but he's watching and waiting. Ralphie is at the unfortunate age where he thinks that (1) heroes always win and (2) that his father is the best, smartest, toughest, quickest at everything. Ralphie is very depressed and even angered when events appear to show otherwise.  


Simon and especially Hal would like to (ahem) "get to know" Cindy. And Simon doesn't seem to be too concerned with consent issues. Only Glenn's pragmatism (and his pistol) keep Simon at bay. As the convicts are unable or unwilling to leave when they planned, a home invasion turns into a hostage situation. Some family members must leave the home to go to jobs in order to keep up appearances.

But as Glenn reminds them their loved ones will still be with him. And Glenn would just love to show them what happens when people *cough* Daniel *cough* think they are smarter than Glenn is.

But Daniel is a smart guy. He knows the local police, state police, and FBI are looking for the three escapees. Daniel also knows that he's the only one who has the safety of his family foremost in mind. Law enforcement doesn't care about "collateral damage" as long the prisoners are recaptured or killed. 

The film excels at showing the calculations going on just beneath the surface with Glenn and Daniel. There's a lot of psychological tension. When horrible things happen in our lives it can alternately be comforting or even more painful to see that the world just keeps on turning. Other people go about their lives oblivious to the cataclysmic events occurring in our own. This movie did a good job depicting that reality.  
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