#1954 Club: The Desperate Hours by Joseph Hayes

While looking around for a book to read for The 1954 Book Club jointly hosted by Karen @ Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon @ Stuck in a Book , I came across this little-known book by Joseph Hayes.

A look at the blurb and I knew that it was the source of a taut Hindi thriller that I had seen a long time back, 36 Ghante (36 Hours).

The book, if anybody is interested, is available @ Open Library.

Three convicts, Glenn Griffin, his younger brother Hank Griffin, and Robish, break-out of a prison. The Griffin brothers had been serving a long sentence for robbery though the money has never been recovered. Now their plan is to seek refuge in a suburban house, hold the family hostage while their accomplice Helen Lamar brings them the money. Glenn also wants to take his revenge against the deputy-Sherriff, Jesse Webb, who had broken his jaw while capturing him. Meanwhile, Webb too is keen to get his hands on Glenn again as the latter was responsible for crippling his uncle in the shoot-out during the robbery.

The convicts hole-up at the house of the Hilliards comprising of Dan, his wife Eleanor and their two children Cindy and Ralph. The Hilliards are upper middle-class decent folks and the only point of contention in the family seems to be Cindy’s growing fondness for the wealthy lawyer, Chuck Wright who Dan thinks has had everything given to him on a platter and who is not serious about Cindy. (I was surprised to learn later in the novel that Chuck was actually an ex-Marine who had fought against the Japanese in the war).

The book then describes the mounting terror as the family finds itself at the mercy of the criminals, the efforts of the police to locate the convicts, the attempts by the family to somehow escape from the situation, and the rising tensions amongst the three desperados…

As I had seen the movie and remembered some of the twists well, I did not find the novel very gripping. Moreover the children Ralph and Cindy irritated me. Cindy especially with her haughty air, defiant manner, and insulting attitude was quite unbelievable. I would think an adult teenage girl, living in a situation where violence can erupt anytime and take up many forms, would try to make herself inconspicuous rather than challenging the men with her behaviour. In the movie, Cindy wasn’t the daughter but rather the sister and quite likeable. I still remember the scene where she watches the news on TV about the escaped convicts and realises that the man sitting and grinning at her across the room is one of them. That dawning of horror! (This scene is not in the book).

After reading the book, I have come to know that it was turned into a play by Joseph Haynes and also into a movie starring Humphrey Bogart. Has anyone seen it?

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First Line: They emerged from the woods a few minute after dawn, a cold, moist dawn with a mist billowing up from the fields.

Publishing Details: NY: Random House, 1954.

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Have a happy and blessed Orthodox Easter.

15 thoughts on “#1954 Club: The Desperate Hours by Joseph Hayes

  1. This sounds like one of those few cases, Neeru, where the film is better than the book. Certainly the characters seem more appealing, and the visuals add to the tension. And I can imagine that a re-read (or re-vewing) of this one wouldn’t be as satisfying as some revisits are, just because one knows the twists.

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    1. Certainly Margot. I remember liking the movie a lot (but that really was ages ago so don’t know how I will see it today) and wished the novel had the same kind of tension. I am keen to see the Bogart movie.

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  2. Oh, how sad that the film spoiled all the twists for you, and perhaps also better done in terms of the characters. Still glad you highlighted the book. It wasn’t one I came across when I was looking up possible for 1954.

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    1. Have you seen the movie Mallika? Saw it long back on DD and was really impressed (different from the usual romantic Bollywood fare). The book is available at Open Library if you want to read it.

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  3. The 1955 film noir version of The Desperate Hours with Bogart as the prime villain is really effective and a treatment of a theme evident in 50s films: namely, the invasion of middle-class America by anarchic, barbaric forces, Both home and family structure are challenged by violent outside forces. For example, this theme is found in Suddenly starring Frank Sinatra and released only a year earlier. The need for conservative 50s America to protect the bastion of society is really evident in these films that feed both phobia and fantasy. The Bogart film is especially good and shows clearly how family trumps forces of disorder in a solid reconfiguration.

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    1. Welcome to the blog, Ron and thanks for this detailed explanation about the wider cultural implications of the movie. That has added another level to the book and now I am all the more keen to see the Bogart movie. Just love how one gets to know about the socio-cultural ethos of a society. I read somewhere lately that when in the late eighties women in the US stopped cooking, seeing it as a drudgery, the family fell apart. Is this true: both the women having stopped cooking as well as its ramifications?

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  4. I read the book and saw the movie decades ago so I’m a little shaky on my recollections. I read the novel first, then saw the movie. I doubt either version of THE DESPERATE HOURS would hold up today. I never saw the play.

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  5. I may skip the book but look out for the Bogart movie. I find with this era of thrillers that quite often the films are better than the books, probably because of the star casting. I can forgive a lot of plot weaknesses so long as Bogart or Bergman or Edward G Robinson is on screen!

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