The Desperate Hours – 1955

The-Desperate-Hours-Poster

My Review

—A Gangster Icon Returns One Last Time—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

5 Bogie

Director: William Wyler

The Lowdown

Three men (Bogart, Dewey Martin, and Robert Middleton) escape prison and take an Indianapolis family hostage as they hijack their home.

What I Thought

This was the last available Bogart film out there that I hadn’t seen and I saved it for my penultimate viewing because I’d heard so many good things about it. It had been built up so much in my mind in fact, that I was afraid there was no way it could live up to its own word of mouth. Thankfully, I loved every minute of it.

Just like Bogart’s first film collaboration with Director William Wyler, Dead End, The Desperate Hours is a play brought to the big screen. Like Dead End, Director Wyler is able to widen the scope on the original source material and never make us feel as if we’re watching a “filmed play.” While 90% of the action takes place within one particular house, we get just enough exterior and other-location shots to make this feel like a fully inhabited world.

In an odd coincidence, the house used in the film is also the same one that would go on to be used for exterior shots in Leave it to Beaver. When you watch the film, it’s pretty hard not to feel a very Cleaver-ish style vibe from the family during the opening ten minutes. Director Wyler does a great job of setting up a completely tension-less, neat and tidy, suburbanite family – only to then systematically proceed to tear them apart, bit by bit.

If I had to nitpick about anything, it’d be the cast. While everyone is great in their roles, certain actors do stretch the credibility of the script just a little. So Frederic March is a 58 year old father with a 19 year old daughter and a 10 year old son. Maybe not completely out of the ordinary, as lots of couples have ‘oops’ babies later on in life. But then you have Gig Young who was over 40 playing the love interest to a character who was 19 . . . a little creepy. And when you finally factor in that Bogart and Dewey Martin play brothers separated by twenty-four years in age, you might find yourself trying to come up with a little backstory for the characters since none is provided. (So maybe they’re from one of those big Catholic families, right? And maybe they had eleven kids with Bogart being the oldest and Martin being the youngest. . . That could work, couldn’t it?) Then again, maybe I’m the only one that notices such things. March and Martin both do amazing jobs, and Bogart is so good that it’s hard to imagine a much younger actor filling the role. (I’ll cover it in ‘The Bogart Factor’ below!)

The Bogart Factor

How fantastic is it that Bogart’s first big break was as ‘Duke’ Mantee in The Petrified Forest, and then in his second to last film he returns with an almost identical character and plotline with the role of Glenn Griffin here? What an incredible double feature this would be for any classic film fans who need a great lineup on a Friday night!

So let’s talk about the elephant in the room. When the play won its Tony on Broadway, a young and much lesser known Paul Newman was the star. Half Bogart’s age, Newman’s casting makes a bit more sense when you factor in the younger brother storyline that weighs pretty heavily into plot. I can only imagine what kind of tour-de-force Newman must have been on stage, but being a celebrated Broadway actor who’d really only had bit parts on television, Newman wasn’t used for the role when it came up for grabs in Hollywood. Would it have been a better movie? Who’s to say? It would have been different for sure. It might have been an earlier launching pad for another one of Hollywood’s most celebrated actors as it would still be another three years before Newman would really break out with Somebody Up There Likes Me and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

But back to Bogart! This is his second to last film and there’s no trace of the illness that would eventually take his life on display here. He looks rough and ragged, but that’s what the role calls for. He smokes, snarls, leers, and blows his top in the most masterful of ways and it’s a captivating watch. This one’s certainly going into my top one or two ‘Older Bogie’ performances, and I can’t wait to watch it again.

The Cast

Frederic March plays Dan Hilliard, the father of the household where Bogart and his cronies hold up. March, while perhaps a bit long in the tooth for the role, does an outstanding job here going toe-to-toe with Bogart. When the tables turned and the gun was finally in his hands, don’t try to tell me you didn’t let out an audible “Shoot him!” just like I did!

Martha Scott plays Ellie Hilliard, the mother of the household. Out of all the characters, Ellie is the one who comes the closest to being portrayed as a two-dimensional stereotype, but Scott is given just enough brave moments to flesh the role out a bit.

Dewey Martin plays Bogart’s younger brother and fellow escapee, Hal Griffin. Again, Martin might be a tad too old for the role as he is expected to pine after his lost teenage years despite the fact that he’s over thirty. Yet, Martin handles the role well and we get a couple of really nice scenes between him and Bogart. Their final scene together is especially well handled by Director Wyler, and it earns both men a great deal of sympathy that they really don’t deserve.

Arthur Kennedy plays Deputy Sheriff Jesse Bard, the lawman who makes it his personal mission to track down Bogart. There is a subplot about Bogart and Kennedy having some history together that’s never fully explored, which is a shame, but perhaps it was fleshed out in the play. Kennedy does very well here as he plays a cop obsessed with one of his former collars, and it was great to see him again after playing a smaller role in High Sierra.

Robert Middleton plays the third escaped con, Sam Kobish, and I’m amazed by how much he was able to grow on me by the end of the film. As if three escaped cons isn’t enough conflict for a script already, Director Wyler finds ways to amp up the film’s tension by constantly finding new opportunities to make Middleton seem more and more unstable as the film goes on.

Mary Murphy and Richard Eyer play the Hilliard children, Cindy and Ralphie respectively, and both do a solid job of holding up their ends of the script. While neither is given too much heavy lifting, they’re both a testament to how important younger actors can be to supporting an older cast.

Gig Young plays Mary Murphy’s lawyer love interest, Chuck Wright. As I mentioned before, the age difference here is perhaps too disparaging to forgive, but Young does fine regardless.

Classic Bogie Moment

I still hold fast that no other Classic Hollywood actor was able to convey so much with so little – especially in regards to their facial expressions. In this still below, we see the very second where Bogart’s escaped con starts to crack just a bit under the pressure. It’s not a huge moment. He could have chosen to really go for the grimace or even scream, but instead, we get just the hint of desperation begin to appear in his eyes.

Desperate classic The Bottom Line

If you’re like me, and you’ve waited this long in life to catch this film – don’t wait any longer!

Dead End – 1937

Dead End Poster

My Review

—A Strong Cast Makes This a Classic—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

4 Bogie

.

out of 5 Bogies!

Director: William Wyler

The Lowdown

A down on his luck architect (Joel McCrea) is pulled between two women (Sylvia Sidney and Wendy Barrie), a gangster on the run (Bogart) visits his old stomping grounds, and a group of street kids (The ‘Dead End’ Kids) make the best out of their lives in the slums of New York.

What I Thought

Based on the hit Broadway play of the same name, Dead End is theater brought to the big screen in the best possible ways. An ensemble piece that takes it’s time letting characters interact in more private, high-stake conversations, Director William Wyler keeps the most important essence of any great stage drama alive; the audience gets to watch people struggle through life-altering decisions in real time right before their eyes. Dialogue is king here, giving the top billed stars plenty to chew on as they pinball between one another, sorting out their lives while altering the lives of everyone around them at the same time.

Key to much of what works here is Art Director Richard Day as he does an amazing job creating a studio set that looks like the real New York, but at the same time retains the claustrophobic feeling of a large group of people struggling to be noticed on a theatre stage. The atmosphere brings the caged mood of the slums to life – characters can see the wonder and shine of the world beyond their neighborhood, but they know that they’ll never get there.

It’s the film that earned The ‘Dead End’ Kids their name, having been brought from New York where they originated their roles on stage. Many of the film’s strongest moments come between the boys and Bogart as he takes an interest in them after recognizing his own childhood reflected in their behavior. It would lead to a multi-film collaboration between the kids and the soon-to-be superstar, but make no mistake, this is their strongest film together.

Director Wyler does a great job of letting each character, no matter how small the role, shine in their own moments without stealing the overall focus of the film. (See Claire Trevor below.) Does Bogart outshine the film’s actual leads? Maybe, but it’s not his fault. The role is written so well that I don’t think his charisma could have been bottled up any more than it already was. I’m excited to write up Wyler’s future Bogart collaboration, The Desperate Hours.

A must see gangster role for Bogart, there’s more than enough here to please any classic film fan.

The Bogart Factor

Playing ‘Baby Face’ Martin, this is one of Bogart’s most fleshed-out gangster roles. While on paper it might not look like much – a criminal running from the cops who stops by to see his old flame and his mother one more time – a lot of expectations get turned on their heads when both interactions don’t follow the typical Hollywood formula.

It’s a role where we get to see Bogart thinking out loud, saying just as much with his facial expressions and mannerisms as he does with his dialogue. Perhaps one of his best portrayals of internal turmoil, I’m a little surprised that this part isn’t more talked about when people list his greatest performances. ‘Baby Face’ Martin seems like a younger, ever-so-slightly more hopeful, version of Duke Mantee just as he turns the corner from confidence to fatalism.

For the scenes between Bogart and his mother (Marjorie Main reprising her role from the original play), as well as Bogart and Trevor, this film’s an acting clinic for how to handle disappointment with a character in film. Both scenes are incredibly strong moments that give us a great glimpse of Bogart’s skill at listening and reacting to his costars onscreen.

And how many roles has Bogart played where he’s a gangster who’s gotten plastic surgery to hide? I smell a future post coming up. . .

The Cast

Joel McCrea plays Dave, the unemployed architect who’s taking odd jobs to make ends meet while he courts Kay Barrie and keeps Sylvia Sidney on the line just in case. McCrea if very good here, and it’s no fault of his that the rest of the cast is so strong that we forget his storyline until he shows up now and again. His character arc is one of the best of the film, and his final confrontation with Bogart and Allen Jenkins is just about as taut and suspenseful as a film climax can get.

Sylvia Sidney plays Drina, the lower class gal that’s sweet on McCrea and can’t stand the fact that he’s after a woman of higher means. Again, Sidney is great here, but it’s not one of the roles from the film that you’ll remember as the overall cast is just too good. I’m excited to see her again in The Wagons Roll at Night where she gets a little more of the spotlight on her own.

Wendy Barrie plays Kay, the upper class woman who seems to think that McCrea is a diamond in the rough. Barrie and McCrea have good chemistry together, and you can feel the desperation in each performance as both seem to see each other as more of a ‘rescue’ than a life partner.

Claire Trevor plays Francey, Bogart’s ex who’s turned to prostitution to make ends meet. The scene they share coupled with the scene of Bogart being chastised by his mother are, I believe, two of the most powerful scenes from Bogart’s entire career. Director Wyler had to leave out the overt references to both prostitution and syphilis in the scene she shares with Bogart here, but what’s left unsaid is even more powerful. Their sexual tension is off the charts. When they stand an inch away from one another before Bogart tries to kiss her, it feels like someone’s hold back two magnets from clanging together. Yes, Trevor is only in the film for a few minutes, but it was such a strong showing that she was nominated for an Oscar. That should be all you need to know!

Allen Jenkins plays Bogart’s right hand henchman, Hunk. What can I say? I really love Jenkins, and it pains me a little bit that I can’t put him into The Usual Suspects portion of the blog yet. (I only enter folks after I’ve seen all of their Bogart collaborations, and Racket Busters is indefinitely unavailable!) I might just have to do a partial write up sometime because Jenkins is a go-to character actor for solid performances. While this role leans a little more on the melodrama than the comic relief that Jenkins was so good at, it’s a real testament to his talent that we believe he’s the heavy that he’s supposed to be.

The ‘Dead End’ Kids turn in an incredibly strong performance as they recreate the roles that they played on Broadway. Billy Halop, Huntz Hall, Bobby Jordan, Leo Gorcey, Gabriel Dell, and Bernard Punsly seem to have a natural chemistry, and it’s easy to see why they were able to parlay this film into a career together.

Classic Bogie Moment

Come on, it’s Allen Jenkins and Bogart as two of the best dressed gangsters in New York! How could I not go with a pic from these two?

Bogart Jenkins

The Bottom Line

If my Bogart DVD collection had to be cut in half, I’d probably want this one in the mix.