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The Desperate Hours opens on a scene from any ‘50s sitcom. A family sits at a table enjoying breakfast, the father reads a newspaper brought to him by his wife, the young son turns bratty, and his sister retorts while dad bemoans her choice in boyfriends.

Then Humphrey Bogart enters the home and Desperate Hours is turned sideways.

A home invasion thriller, Desperate Hours sees the aggressive if often sarcastic Bogart holding everyone hostage at gunpoint, trying to make a getaway after escaping from prison. He’s joined by two others, setting up a story about a father trying to protect his family without police intervention. No surprise given this was 1955, but the narrative leans on a male-dominated, post-war society, and conflict stems from Daniel Hillard’s (Fredric March) attempts to outsmart the criminals while usually telling his wife to stay in a room.

Enough moving pieces keep Desperate Hours engaging, even if it runs long

Enough moving pieces keep Desperate Hours engaging, even if it runs long. Bogart’s unshaven, increasingly tense performance builds capable drama, but it’s March taking on much of the burden. Faced with stopping Bogart and his erratic fellow escapees, March must also contend with work as a lawyer, plus alerting police, but not enough for them to engage, endangering his family in a shoot-out.

There’s a sharp, “this could happen to you,” element in this script, that at anytime the post-WWII American middle class dream can easily shatter. Set in Indianapolis, that’s less pertinent to theme or tone, but more so to the script to provide a sense of place as police narrow down possible locations; this event takes place anywhere.

As the movie pushes forward, it becomes a game of wits. Hillard must go to work. His daughter must meet her boyfriend. To Bogart’s crew, it’s a matter of raising no suspicion. Yet every chance provides an opportunity for additional tension, the threat to Hillard’s family ever more real the longer this crime goes. That helps keep familiar screen material engaging, leading a brisk final act that sees Hillard become an every man hero, convincing police to let him save his own rather than take a risk of crossfire. Desperate Hour’s masculinity doesn’t overstep boundaries. The violence isn’t egregious, and Hillard’s ability to control his foe – unknowingly for Bogart most of the time, who thinks a gun is an equalizer – becomes entirely an intellectual fight. It’s fascinating to watch.


Licensed from Paramount but restored by Arrow, the resulting Blu-ray is fair. A minor touch of ringing leaves subtle, even minuscule halos on contrasting edges. Most won’t notice. Arrow advertises a 6K source scan, but the resolution never has the pop of similar VistaVision productions on Blu-ray. Grain carries a coarseness, likely because of that limited sharpening. That all said, in close, Desperate Hours shines, finding the texture and detail inherent in the film stock. It’s only in the wider shots where limitations appear.

Gray scale is touch-and-go, at times pristine, and in other spots on the muddier side. Great black levels show tremendous depth though, consistent too. A solid (also consistent) contrast keeps the depth high.

Specks and scratches dot the print to a minor degree. It’s nominal, doubly so considering the age. Most of the damage appears as thin horizontal scratches, the type that sticks for a full scene and can’t be repaired.


PCM mono is sufficient for this simple soundtrack. Age becomes evident only through the lower fidelity. The score’s highs dwindle at their peak, distorting a bit. Desperate Hours doesn’t degrade any further from there however, and for 1955, it’s wonderful.


Historian Daniel Kremer is given the microphone for a commentary track. Film professor Jose Arroyo pens a visual appreciation of Desperate Hours, and another essay from curator Eloise Ross follows. Director William Wyler’s daughter Catherine speaks about her father’s work in an audio interview. Trailers and a lobby card gallery close things up.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Desperate Hours
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A capable home invasion thriller made great because of its cast, The Desperate Hours moves fast without any lulls.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 40 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray:

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