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The Desperate Hours

Screening on Film
Directed by Mitchell Leisen .
With Humphrey Bogart, Fredric March, Arthur Kennedy .
US, 1955, 35mm, black & white, 112 min.
Print source: Paramount Pictures

Adapted from a bestseller and a Broadway play, The Desperate Hours is an early example of a genre that has become commonplace, the home-invasion drama, with three criminals on the lam taking a middle-class family hostage in their own home. Although the film occasionally cuts away to the police investigation going on elsewhere, it derives its most pointed suspense from the battle of wills between the leader of the gang and the head of the household (the father, of course). As in The Little Foxes and The Heiress, Wyler had a special talent for creating drama in domestic settings by portraying them as spaces that fill with unspoken tension until conflict erupts to the surface. In The Desperate Hours, the tension is much more evident but no less effective. Wyler makes the most of his central location, frequently shooting through doorways in order to provide examples of his brilliance at deploying deep focus, which he uses here for the first time in widescreen (Paramount’s VistaVision). 

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