The Desperate Hours

This 1955 suspense classic directed by the great William Wyler (The Best Years of Our Lives) stars Humphrey Bogart and Fredric March. (Today, of course, if remade, it would be drenched with swearing and sexual situations.)

As suspenseful as a good Hitchcock movie, this film shows how truly talented people could put together a superior vehicle that can still entertain audiences 58 years later–a far cry from the weak crap pervasively around in theatres today. The plot itself is about three escaped cons holding a middle-class family hostage while they wait to make their getaway. All sorts of things go wrong as is typically the case with anything involving human beings and director Wyler skilfully keeps the viewer interested with many unexpected twists.

Black and white cinematography is at its peak here; there are several striking scenes and camera angles involving stairs and the upstairs and downstairs floors simultaneously. The 1950s is faithfully represented by artifacts such as transistor radios and by aspects like three-times-a day mail delivery in American cities; Wyler’s visuals also faithfully capture the ’50s look and style of cars and home interiors.

This movie is thoroughly engaging and entertaining. Much of its effects depend on the maintenance of believable suspense for characters and audience alike. Unlike today’s movies which pander and cater to the lowest of low, this film demonstrates true courage and appeals to people’s better qualities and instincts. Wyler ultimately balances the picture of humanity here while making fear realistic and palpable. Recommended for viewers who enjoy strong cinematic tension without modern coarseness and purposelessness.

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