Desperate Hours, The (1955)

The Desperate Hours (1955), produced and directed by William Wyler.

A little boy doesn't have time to put away his bike before school. This begins the whole frightful story: three escaped convicts looking for a hideout see the bike in the yard and know they have found a family that can be controlled by terror.

Home invasion stories as a film genre took off in the 1950s. The ethical trap is excruciating: who can afford to be a hero when innocent loved ones are held hostage? Criminals use our kindly, cautious natures against us. It's actually easier for the little boy to be brave because he doesn't gauge the consequences.

The sexual menace against the wife and daughter isn't played up, but it's there. The threats of violence are pretty brutal.

Some moving moments when the dialogue stops and we watch a few quiet scenes: the younger convict spying on teenagers having fun across the street, having the life he probably missed. Bogart sitting in an easy chair, staring into space, just pondering the circumstances of his life. Fredric March at the gas station, looking at a pay phone, wondering whether to risk it.

March plays the sort of character he was so good at, as in Wyler's own The Best Years of Our Lives (1946): not a tough guy, but intelligent and with moral grit.

This is Bogart's second to last film and he can still be an unlikable villain. You can see some resemblance to The Petrified Forest (1936) and Bogart said his character was something like "Duke Mantee grown up".

Also among the villains: hulking Robert Middleton with poor impulse control.

For the cops we have a big set of familiar actors: Arthur Kennedy, Bert Freed, Ray Collins, Whit Bissell, Ray Teal.

Based on actual events, with the novel, stage play and screenplay all by the same author.

Edith Head costumes.

The house exterior was used in the final season of Leave it to Beaver and I see another crossover: character actor Burt Mustin has a bit part and was also "Gus the Fireman" in the series.