Humphrey Bogart is sinister sweaty brilliant in William Wyler’s home invasion masterpiece The Desperate Hours. Newly restored from a 6K Scan of the VistaVision Negative!
Some films just work. No matter the era. No matter the technology currently being used. This is ever so applicable to William Wyler’s masterpiece of tension and drama The Desperate Hours.
Escape prisoner Humphrey Bogart takes Patriarch Fredric March and his family hostage. That’s it. That’s the setup and everything you need to know about the progenitor of the home invasion film. However, what’s not discussed, which shouldn’t be, is how evolving and adroit the film and its screenplay are about the situation never making you feel (unintentionally that is) claustrophobic. The threat of violence is so effective that when the violence does occur much of it is done off-screen adding to the terror set by that threat.
It would be just enough for Wyler and Co. to make the film just a 12-round prize fight between Bogart and March. This is where The Desperate Hours distinguishes itself above even the other, more modern, heavyweights of the subgenre. Every character we meet has their own agenda and manages to create wrinkles in the plot creating wave after wave of issues that frustrate the Convicts and leave the family to find solutions for. That isn’t even accounting for the internal strife between the Convicts and even the family on solutions for their respective problems.
The Desperate Hours wrings every bit of tension from the plot, character, and design by the end one cannot help but bow to Wyler’s prowess as a storyteller.
The all-new restoration by Arrow Films from a 6K scan of the original VistaVision negative is a marvel of image quality and what is possible with Blu-ray and its image compression tools. I’ve said this before numerous times as we’ve gotten into the 4K UHD era of home video, the best Blu-ray is as good as a 4K UHD disc. The only difference right now is not the added resolution but the dynamic range in color and contrast levels. Arrow Video has made a Blu-ray transfer so good; that one wonders if a 4K UHD would show any difference. The image is FLAWLESS. Flawless in the way that Criterion’s Black and White 4K discs are. There’s a clarity, though never at the expense of the film’s more cinematic qualities, that’s unrivaled in most of what we’ve seen in 2023 on home video (with a few precious exceptions). Needless to say, anyone purchasing The Desperate Hours is in for a huge treat. Watch this one on the biggest screen you have.
They include the following;
- Brand new audio commentary by film historian Daniel Kremer
- Trouble in Suburbia
- The Lonely Man
- Scaled Down and Ratcheted Up
- Theatrical Trailer
- Lobby cards gallery
The all-new audio commentary by film historian Daniel Kremer opens with a discussion of VistaVision’s technical aspects. Some of the other details include Wyler’s directorial style – compositions, deep focus, stacked frames, et. al.; the bicycle in the front lawn being more than just a MacGuffin; this being Bogart’s penultimate film of his career; the work of Robert Wyler – William’s brother and the various uncredited work he did through his brother’s career; Wyler’s use of a “mobile camera” – how it differed from his contemporaries; the various home invasion films as they compare to The Desperate Hours and how new the subgenre was – including a few examples of them; the source material that was written by Joseph Hayes first as a novel then a play – which was based off a true life events; the reasons and interest Bogart had in the lead even though the novel and the play skewed the character younger (Paul Newman was cast in the Broadway production); casting what if’s – Spencer Tracy being thought of in the Fredric March; Tracy and Bogart’s friendship and single film they appeared in; an anecdote about Wyler during the first day of the production – and the number of takes, and a great one liner from Rod Stieger; the reason why Wyler was allowed to function with multiple takes – which leads to a story about John Barrymore late in his career who was considered “washed up” before working with the director; how Gig Young actually got his nickname; a larger conversation about William Wyler – from the actor’s he worked with, the critics, and his contemporaries – additionally a fascinating discussion about Benhur; a larger discussion of Bogart’s career at the time, personal history throughout the his later career; a larger discussion of the various actors in the film, their careers, personal lives, and the work in the film; and much more.
Trouble in Suburbia (38:51)– in this all-new appreciation of the film by José Arroyo, Associate Professor in Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick, the professor discusses why this is the best version of the oft-told story. More of a longer introduction to the film Arroyo takes a deep dive of how The Desperate Hours came to fruition from a production company formed by Capra and Wyler – and its failure, which forced Wyler to make five pictures for Paramount eventually getting The Desperate Hours. Arroyo dissects the themes, production, acting, technology, direction, and more in this great interview.
The Lonely Man (14:54) – in this all-new visual essay by Eloise Ross, co-curator of the Melbourne Cinémathèque, dives into the work of Humphrey Bogart specifically in The Desperate Hours and how his age, work, and physicality up until that point help make his performance one of his greatest. Ross not only covers Bogart’s performance but the film and all of its greatness in its different forms all in aid of his performance. The visual essay is perfectly edited with Ross’s adroit and intelligent writings.
Scaled Down and Ratcheted Up (11:47)– in this all-new audio interview with Catherine Wyler, daughter of director William Wyler, is a personal recollection of the film and being on set for The Desperate Hours. Wyler’s a great interview discussing various topics including dinners with Bogart, Billy Wilder; the almost casting of Spencer Tracy; her understanding of why her father’s insistence on multiple takes – including a great Heston quote; what attracted her father to the film; and much more.
Theatrical Trailer (2:19)
Lobby cards gallery – the gallery presents 16 various color tinted and painted lobby cards.
The Final Thought
Arrow Video has given us an excellent edition of The Desperate Hours. The Transfer may be the best in 2023. Highest possible recommendations.