Humphrey Bogart’s penultimate film reteams him with his Dead End (1937) director William Wyler for what feels a little too much like a late-in-the-day gangster yarn—and one where the stage underpinnings tend to show through. The Desperate Hours doesn’t really offer Bogie anything that much different than The Petrified Forest had back in 1936, and the 50-odd-year-old Bogart seems to realize that. What makes the film more interesting than it might be is that it’s really an incipient “home invasion” thriller before anyone even thought of that term. The fact that it’s a hostage story—escaped felons holding a family captive in their home—keeps it a step or two away from such later works as Straw Dogs (1971) and A Clockwork Orange, where the invasion is the point. All the same, it preys on—and perhaps helps to foster—the idea that suburbia only offers the illusion of a safe haven in a way—and a frankly unpleasant one—that earlier movies had only touched on. It’s otherwise efficient, but hardly shows either Bogart or Wyler at their best.
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