The Desperate Hours (1955)

112 mins | Drama | November 1955

Director:

William Wyler

Writer:

Joseph Hayes

Producer:

William Wyler

Cinematographer:

Lee Garmes

Editor:

Robert Swink

Production Designers:

Hal Pereira, Joseph MacMillan Johnson

Production Company:

Paramount Pictures Corp.
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HISTORY

Joseph Hayes’s best-selling novel was first published in Collier’s . Hayes’s stage version of the story, starring Karl Malden as “Dan” and Paul Newman as “Glenn,” did not open on Broadway until 19 Feb 1955, shortly after shooting on the film was completed. Both the novel and the play are credited onscreen as sources, however.
       As noted in a Jul 1956 Var article, Hayes’s story was inspired by the real-life hostage-taking of Pennsylvania residents James J. and Elizabeth Hill, who, in 1952, were held captive in their home by escaped federal penitentiary convicts. The incident was chronicled in a Feb 1955 Life magazine article. According to the Var article, the Hills filed a $300,000 right to privacy lawsuit against Hayes, Paramount and novel publisher Random House, among others, claiming that the Life article, which identified their ordeal as the basis of Hayes’s story, embarrassed, distressed and injured them through unlawful use of their names and photographs. The Hills argued that the article, by comparing the play and novel to their ordeal, gave the false impression that they had been abused by their captors. Although the convicts did not, in fact, harm them, the Hills wanted no reminders of the crime and had moved to another state. They refused to grant permission to publish articles about the incident and did not endorse the Life piece. Judge Saul S. Streit dismissed the complaint, noting that while Hayes was authorized by Random House to take part in promotional activities regarding the book, the Hills had not sufficiently shown that Random ... More Less

Joseph Hayes’s best-selling novel was first published in Collier’s . Hayes’s stage version of the story, starring Karl Malden as “Dan” and Paul Newman as “Glenn,” did not open on Broadway until 19 Feb 1955, shortly after shooting on the film was completed. Both the novel and the play are credited onscreen as sources, however.
       As noted in a Jul 1956 Var article, Hayes’s story was inspired by the real-life hostage-taking of Pennsylvania residents James J. and Elizabeth Hill, who, in 1952, were held captive in their home by escaped federal penitentiary convicts. The incident was chronicled in a Feb 1955 Life magazine article. According to the Var article, the Hills filed a $300,000 right to privacy lawsuit against Hayes, Paramount and novel publisher Random House, among others, claiming that the Life article, which identified their ordeal as the basis of Hayes’s story, embarrassed, distressed and injured them through unlawful use of their names and photographs. The Hills argued that the article, by comparing the play and novel to their ordeal, gave the false impression that they had been abused by their captors. Although the convicts did not, in fact, harm them, the Hills wanted no reminders of the crime and had moved to another state. They refused to grant permission to publish articles about the incident and did not endorse the Life piece. Judge Saul S. Streit dismissed the complaint, noting that while Hayes was authorized by Random House to take part in promotional activities regarding the book, the Hills had not sufficiently shown that Random House was responsible for the article’s publication. Streit permitted the Hills to submit an amended complaint, but the final outcome of the suit is not known.
       In an 8 Oct 1955 NYT item, reviewer Bosley Crowther charged that the film was irresponsible and unbelievable because it portrayed the police as grossly incompetent and untrustworthy. Hayes responded to Crowther’s accusations in a 16 Oct 1955 column, noting that during the real-life event that inspired the book and play, a prison escapee held a young child hostage at knifepoint and threatened to harm him if the police shot at him. One policeman did shoot, and the convict stabbed and killed the child. To which real-life event Hayes is referring is unclear, however.
       According to a May 1954 DV item, Humphrey Bogart, through his Santana film company, attempted to purchase the Hayes’s novel but was outbid by Paramount. Bogart had played a role similar to "Glenn Griffin" in The Petrified Forest , the 1936 film that made him a star (see AFI Catalog of Motion Pictures, 1931-40 ). Modern sources claim that Hayes signed with Paramount because the studio agreed to hire him to write the screenplay and because of director William Wyler’s reputation. Wyler had read Hayes’s novel in manuscript form and, according to modern sources, asked Paramount to buy it. According to Feb 1956 correspondence from the Screen Writers Guild, contained in the file on the film at the AMPAS Library, John Mock and Elizabeth Eberhardy were incorrectly credited in an Apr 1955 SAB listing as contributing to the screenplay’s construction along with Jay Dratler.
       Modern sources state that Wyler originally wanted Gary Cooper or Henry Fonda to play Dan, and Marlon Brando or James Dean to play the part of Glenn, who in the stage version, was a young man. Modern sources also claim that Wyler asked Spencer Tracy to portray Dan, but when Tracy and Bogart could not agree on screen billing, cast Fredric March, who had starred in his 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50 ). As noted in news items, Raymond Burr was cast in the film, but had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts with You’re Never Too Young (See Entry). News items announced that Richard Erdman had been cast in the role of a reporter, and Erdman is listed in HR production charts, but neither he nor his character appear in the final film. Arthur Franz also was announced as a cast member in HR , but he, too, was not in the final film. HR news items add Jesslyn Fax and Ed Ralph to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Night exteriors were shot on Universal Studios’ back lot, according to modern sources, and a thoroughly furnished, seven-room house was built on the Paramount lot for the film’s interiors.
       Despite generally good reviews, The Desperate Hours was a box office failure. On 13 Dec 1967, the ABC television network broadcast a version of Hayes’s play, directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Arthur Hill, Teresa Wright and George Segal. In 1990, Michael Cimino directed a remake of The Desperate Hours , titled Desperate Hours . The MGM-UA release, for which Hayes received an onscreen writing credit, starred Mickey Rourke, Anthony Hopkins and Mimi Rogers.

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BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
17 Sep 1955.
---
Daily Variety
20 May 1954.
---
Daily Variety
14 Sep 55
p. 3.
Film Daily
14 Sep 55
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Sep 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Sep 1954
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Oct 1954
p. 6, 16.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Oct 1954
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
10 Nov 1954
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Nov 1954
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Nov 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Jan 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Jan 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Apr 1955
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Sep 55
p. 3.
Life
10 Oct 1955
pp. 111-112, 115.
Los Angeles Times
25 Sep 1955.
---
Los Angeles Times
13 Oct 1955
Pt. III, p. 13.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
17 Sep 55
p. 593.
New York Times
6 Oct 55
p. 25.
New York Times
8 Oct 1955.
---
New York Times
16 Oct 1955.
---
Newsweek
3 Oct 1955.
---
Variety
14 Sep 55
p. 6.
Variety
1 Jul 1956.
---
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
William Wyler's Production
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITERS
Contr to scr const
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost
MUSIC
Mus score
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec photog eff
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel The Desperate Hours by Joseph Hayes (New York, 1954) and his play of the same name (New York, 19 Feb 1955).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Release Date:
November 1955
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 5 October 1955
Los Angeles opening: 13 October 1955
Production Date:
mid October 1954--25 January 1955
Copyright Claimant:
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Copyright Date:
1 November 1955
Copyright Number:
LP5481
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Widescreen/ratio
VistaVision Motion Picture High-Fidelity
Duration(in mins):
112
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17499
SYNOPSIS

In the suburbs of Indianapolis, Indiana, the Hilliard family—father Dan, mother Eleanor, nineteen-year-old daughter Cindy and young son Ralphie—start their weekday in typical fashion. After Ralphie leaves for school, and Dan, a department store executive, drives to work with Cindy, Eleanor cleans house while listening to a radio broadcast about three escaped convicts. Unknown to her, the convicts, led by Glenn Griffin, a vicious criminal with a vendetta against sheriff’s deputy Jesse Bard, are at that moment driving down her street. Noting Ralphie’s bicycle in the front yard, Glenn decides to hide out in the Hilliards’ house, and he and his cohorts—younger brother Hal and the dimwitted but brutal Samuel H. Kobish—take Eleanor by surprise and stash their getaway car in the garage. Jesse, meanwhile, learns of the escape and joins FBI agent Carson to deduce the convicts’ whereabouts. At the Hilliards’, Glenn, who possesses the convicts’ only weapon, pressures Eleanor into revealing where Dan stores his gun. Glenn then makes Eleanor place a long-distance phone call using a phony name, and talks with girl friend Helen Miller about delivering some money to the house that night. Later, Dan and Cindy return home and are horrified to discover Eleanor being held at gunpoint by Glenn. After Glenn explains to Dan that he and the others will leave peacefully once the money arrives, Ralphie shows up and is terrorized by Kobish. Dan instinctively lunges for the convict but is struck and subdued by Glenn. Later, Ralphie questions his father about an escape plan and is disappointed when Dan admits he is afraid. Jesse and the police, meanwhile, discover Helen’s ... +


In the suburbs of Indianapolis, Indiana, the Hilliard family—father Dan, mother Eleanor, nineteen-year-old daughter Cindy and young son Ralphie—start their weekday in typical fashion. After Ralphie leaves for school, and Dan, a department store executive, drives to work with Cindy, Eleanor cleans house while listening to a radio broadcast about three escaped convicts. Unknown to her, the convicts, led by Glenn Griffin, a vicious criminal with a vendetta against sheriff’s deputy Jesse Bard, are at that moment driving down her street. Noting Ralphie’s bicycle in the front yard, Glenn decides to hide out in the Hilliards’ house, and he and his cohorts—younger brother Hal and the dimwitted but brutal Samuel H. Kobish—take Eleanor by surprise and stash their getaway car in the garage. Jesse, meanwhile, learns of the escape and joins FBI agent Carson to deduce the convicts’ whereabouts. At the Hilliards’, Glenn, who possesses the convicts’ only weapon, pressures Eleanor into revealing where Dan stores his gun. Glenn then makes Eleanor place a long-distance phone call using a phony name, and talks with girl friend Helen Miller about delivering some money to the house that night. Later, Dan and Cindy return home and are horrified to discover Eleanor being held at gunpoint by Glenn. After Glenn explains to Dan that he and the others will leave peacefully once the money arrives, Ralphie shows up and is terrorized by Kobish. Dan instinctively lunges for the convict but is struck and subdued by Glenn. Later, Ralphie questions his father about an escape plan and is disappointed when Dan admits he is afraid. Jesse and the police, meanwhile, discover Helen’s location and send out an alert to have her followed, but not apprehended. At the Hilliards’, Cindy’s boyfriend Chuck telephones to announce he is coming over. Before Chuck arrives, Glenn sends Dan to the nearest gas station for gas, bourbon and a newspaper, warning him not to do anything that would endanger his family. While Cindy takes a drive with Chuck and pretends all is well, Dan contemplates phoning the police at the gas station, but instead presents Glenn with two bottles of bourbon. Realizing Dan wants to get him drunk, Glenn smashes one bottle and warns Dan not to “think too much.” After saying goodnight to Chuck, who assumes that her tenseness is due to her father’s disapproval of him, Cindy is accosted by Kobish. Hal, who is attracted to Cindy, stops the unarmed Kobish, and Kobish storms off in frustration. Worried about Kobish’s erractic behavior, Glenn follows him outside and knocks him out, and while he is gone, Cindy pretends to faint in the foyer. When Hal bends over to help her, Cindy bites his hand, and Dan grabs his gun and pushes him out the door. The Hilliards’ victory is short-lived, however, as gun-wielding Glenn catches Ralphie climbing out his bedroom window and reclaims control of the situation. At the sheriff’s station, meanwhile, Jesse and Carson learn that Helen was stopped briefly for a traffic violation outside Columbus, Ohio, and is no longer driving west. Upset, Jesse has all long-distance phone calls between Columbus and Indianapolis monitored. At the Hilliards’, Glenn receives a call from Helen, who is holed up outside Columbus, and arranges to send him the money special delivery. The next morning, Glenn orders Dan and Cindy to go to work, but insists that Ralphie stay home. Before Dan and Cindy depart, Glenn announces that Helen is sending the money to Dan’s office and warns him again not to try anything. In the car, Cindy questions whether they should contact the police, but Dan insists they cannot take chances. Back at the Hilliards’, trashman George Patterson shows up to collect the garbage and notices the convicts’ beat-up car in the garage. Glenn sees George studying the vehicle and orders Kobish to jump on the back of the trashman’s departing truck. Kobish soon hijacks George and forces him at gunpoint to drive to the countryside. Fearing the worst, George jumps from the moving truck, which then crashes, but Kobish scrambles out of the wreck and shoots George. Dan, meanwhile, waits nervously for his mail and arranges for a note to be delivered to the neighborhood police station. From a golf course, Kobish telephones Dan at work and threatens to shoot up the place unless Dan picks him up. Dan arrives home with Kobish and finds Miss Swift, Ralphie’s teacher, chatting with Eleanor, while Glenn and Hal hide. Sure that Ralphie has tried to slip Miss Swift a plea for help, Dan prevents her from leaving with Ralphie’s composition book. Dan then persuades Glenn to use him as a hostage once they leave the house, instead of his family. Having discovered George’s body, Jesse, Carson and the police, meanwhile, deduce the convicts’ general location based on George’s trash route, and set up headquarters at a neighborhood diner. When Jesse receives Dan’s unsigned note, which alerts the police to the family’s plight without revealing their location, Jesse and acting sheriff Fredericks argue about how to handle the criminals. Later, Chuck drops Cindy off at home, but worried, circles the block in his car. Fearful and guilt-ridden, Hal finally tells Glenn he is taking off, and although he disagrees with his brother’s decision, Glenn gives Hal some money. Hal hijacks a car and when he hears on the radio that the police have narrowed their search area, forces the driver to stop at a restaurant. Before he can warn Glenn by phone, Hal encounters an armed deputy and shoots him in a panic. Hal then dashes across the road and is struck and killed by a truck. At the same time, Dan learns that Helen’s letter has arrived and takes a taxi to the store. The police then catch Chuck circling the area and bring him to the diner just as word comes that Hal’s body has been identified and his gun, traced to the Hilliards’. Deeply concerned, Chuck telephones Cindy and, without revealing anything, tells her to expect him. At the front door, Chuck yanks Cindy outside before Glenn can react and drives off with her. A taxi then drops off Dan a block from his house, and he is intercepted by police, who are operating out of a neighbors’ attic. Although Dan wants to give Glenn the money to assure his family’s safety, Sheriff Masters, who has just arrived on the scene, orders the house be stormed. With Jesse’s blessing, Carson overrules Masters and gives Dan a gun, which Dan then empties. Glenn soon finds the gun on Dan and goes upstairs to retrieve Eleanor and Ralphie, whom he has decided to take with him. After startling Kobish, Dan slams the door on his hand, grabs his gun and pushes him outside, where he is shot by police snipers. Dan instructs Eleanor to run next door, then confronts Glenn, who is holding Ralphie at gunpoint. When, at Dan’s urging, Ralphie runs to his father’s arms, Glenn fires his gun but discovers too late that it is empty. With Ralphie safe, Dan contemplates shooting Glenn, but instead tosses him down the stairs. Outside, Glenn attempts to trick the police and is gunned down in a hail of bullets. Later, their ordeal finally over, the Hilliards embrace and retreat to their reclaimed home.

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Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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