The Desperate Hours (1955 film)

The Desperate Hours is a 1955 film noir starring Humphrey Bogart and Fredric March. It was produced and directed by William Wyler and based on a novel and a play of the same name, written by Joseph Hayes, which were loosely built on actual events.

The Desperate Hours
The Desperate Hours film poster
Directed byWilliam Wyler
Produced byWilliam Wyler
Screenplay byJoseph Hayes
Jay Dratler
Based on1954 novel The Desperate Hours
1955 play
The Desperate Hours
by Joseph Hayes
StarringHumphrey Bogart
Fredric March
Music byGail Kubik, Daniele Amfitheatrof (uncredited)
CinematographyLee Garmes
Edited byRobert Swink
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
October 5, 1955
Running time
113 minutes
Budget$2,388,000 (estimated)
Box office$2.5 million (US)[1]

The original Broadway production had actor Paul Newman in the Bogart role but he was passed over for the movie because Bogart was a much bigger star. The character was made older in the script so Bogart could play the part. Bogart said he viewed the story as "Duke Mantee grown up," Mantee having been Bogart's breakthrough movie role in The Petrified Forest. Spencer Tracy was originally cast in the film with Bogart. Although the two actors were very good friends, both insisted on top billing, and Tracy eventually withdrew from the picture. Fredric March assumed Tracy's role as Daniel Hilliard .[2] The role of Glenn Griffin was Bogart's last as a villain.

The Desperate Hours was the first black-and-white film in VistaVision, Paramount's wide-screen process. The house used in the final seasons of the television series Leave It to Beaver was used for exterior shots of the Hilliards' home. In 1956, Joseph Hayes won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay.


Glenn Griffin (Humphrey Bogart) is the leader of a trio of escaped convicts who invade the Hilliards' suburban home in Indianapolis and hold the four family members hostage. There they await the arrival of a package, being sent by Griffin's girlfriend, that contains funds to aid the three fugitives in their escape.

Police organize a statewide manhunt for the escapees and eventually discover the distraught family's plight. Griffin menaces and torments the Hilliards and threatens to kill them. Later, the refuse collector, George Patterson (Walter Baldwin), who happens upon the situation after noticing Griffin's car in the garage, is silenced by murder, after being forced to drive into the country.

Finally, after convincing law enforcement personnel that their plan to storm the residence is too risky for his family, the father, Daniel Hilliard (Fredric March), plays a trick on Griffin using an unloaded handgun. Then, he forces the convict out of the house with the outlaw's own weapon trained on him. Griffin is subsequently machine-gunned to death, when he hurls the firearm at a police spotlight and tries to make a break for it.



Actual events that took place on September 11 and 12 in 1952, wherein the five members of the Hill family were held hostage for 19 hours, inspired the 1953 Joseph Hayes novel which, in turn, inspired the 1954 play on which the movie was based. The Hill family (formerly of Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania) sued Time, Inc., because Life magazine published an article in the February 1955 issue about the play, describing it as based on the actual events. The article was illustrated by staged photos with actors in the actual home that was the scene of the events, the Hills having moved away, making efforts to discourage publicity. The Hills' complaint was that the article falsely described the actual events while claiming it represented the truth. Immediately following the home invasion event, Mr. Hill had told the press the family had not been molested or harmed, and in fact had been treated courteously. The Life article, however, stated that some family members had been assaulted, profanity used, and in other ways – according to a New York appellate court – differed from the account Hill had given. Suing in a New York court, the plaintiffs relied on a New York statute which permitted damages suits for violation of the right of privacy only in instances of use of a person's name or picture for commercial purposes without consent. The statute, however, had been interpreted by the New York courts to make the truth of the publication a defense. The defense for Time, Inc., was that the matter was of general interest and the article had been published in good faith. A jury awarded compensatory and punitive damages, but the state appellate court awarded a new trial at which only compensatory damages could be considered, while sustaining liability. This order was affirmed by the highest state court.

Time, Inc., appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled that the First Amendment prohibited holding the publisher liable unless the article was known by it to be false, or at least was published with disregard as to its truth or falsity (i.e., recklessly). The jury had not been so instructed, so the judgment could not stand. This ruling was a significant expansion of press protection, for a (qualified) immunity from damages was being extended to publishing matter about people who were newsworthy only by accident, as opposed to, for example, government officials. To this point the relevant cases had only dealt with such so-called "public figures" who were suing publishers. Mr. Hill was represented in the High Court by Richard M. Nixon, at that time an attorney in private practice. The Supreme Court thus made it extremely difficult even for ordinarily private persons to prevail in a defamation or "false light" invasion of privacy case. From the Supreme Court, the case was sent back in 1967, to the New York courts for disposition under this newly announced constitutional standard, probably involving a new trial, or perhaps summary judgment rendered on the basis of affidavits and depositions.[3]


The movie was remade in 1990 as Desperate Hours, starring Mickey Rourke, Anthony Hopkins, Mimi Rogers, Kelly Lynch, Lindsay Crouse and David Morse. The remake, directed by Michael Cimino, received poor reviews.

The film was also remade in India as the Hindi film 36 Ghante (1974).

See also


  1. 'The Top Box-Office Hits of 1955', Variety Weekly, January 25, 1956
  2. Tracy and Bogart only made one film together, John Ford's Up the River (1930), the first feature film for both actors, and one in which Bogart played a supporting role with Tracy as the star.
  3. Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374 (1967)
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