Humphrey Bogart in The Desperate Hours

Humphrey Bogart in The Desperate Hours (1955)


Humphrey Bogart as Glenn Griffin, menacing fugitive

Indianapolis, Fall 1955

Film: The Desperate Hours
Release Date: October 5, 1955
Director: William Wyler
Costume Designer: Edith Head

WARNING! Spoilers ahead!


Noirvember continues with The Desperate Hours, a 1955 drama that was Humphrey Bogart’s penultimate silver screen performance. Bogie remains significantly associated with film noir, thanks to genre-defining movies like High Sierra (1941), The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Big Sleep (1946), Key Largo (1948), and In a Lonely Place (1950).

The New York-born actor rose to prominence playing villains, perhaps most notably his breakthrough role of snarling Dillinger-esque gangster Duke Mantee in the stage and screen productions of The Petrified Forest. As exemplified by his masterful but hardly glamorous performance in movies like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Bogart never let his popularity get in the way of darker roles—even after winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for The African Queen (1951).

Adapted by Joseph Hayes from his own novel and play of the same name (itself loosely based on true events), The Desperate Hours cast Bogart as the dangerous Glenn Griffin, the leader of a trio of three escaped convicts who seek refuge by forcing their way into the suburban Indiana home of Daniel (Frederic March) and Ellie Hilliard (Martha Scott). Originally, Bogie’s friend Spencer Tracy was cast as Daniel Hilliard, but his demand for top billing resulted in March taking over the role.

“Bogie wanted to play the gunman—the first Mantee character to come along in years,” Lauren Bacall wrote in her memoir By Myself. “To have Bogie and Spence in the same picture was everyone’s dream… that would have been extraordinary to see and record on film.”

It feels poetic that Bogart bookended his career by portraying ruthless criminals who take innocent people hostage. (His final screen role was The Harder They Fall, a lighter noir in which Bogie played a crusading sports reporter-turned-boxing flack Eddie Willis.) Just over a year after The Desperate Hours was released, 57-year-old Humphrey Bogart died of esophageal cancer at the Los Angeles home he and Bacall shared.

What’d He Wear?

The black-and-white cinematography of The Desperate Hours and dearth of available color photography from its production don’t allow for clearly identifying the colors of Bogie’s screen-worn wardrobe, but he wears enough workwear staples as Glenn Griffin that we can use context and tradition to inform what colors he’s likely wearing.

Humphrey Bogart in The Desperate Hours (1955)

Griffin’s hardy outer layer is a blouson-style hunting jacket made from a buffalo plaid woolen flannel. This balanced, two-color check of intersecting squares originated in the early 19th century as the “Rob Roy MacGregor” tartan plaid, gaining the “buffalo plaid” moniker after migrating to the United States, where it became a popular check among hunters and outdoorsmen, resulting in its lasting association with the “lumberjack aesthetic”. Just one year before The Desperate Hours was released, costume designer Anna Hill Johnstone had also used a buffalo plaid jacket to dress Marlon Brando’s tough-guy protagonist Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront.

Though it has been produced in other color combinations, buffalo plaid is typically associated with a classic red-and-black colorway, which may have been established to keep hunters more clearly visible while also disguising stains like grease and animal blood. Bogart likely wears a red-and-black buffalo plaid jacket in The Desperate Hours, though blue, green, and brown have also been popular alternatives to the red.

A typical red-and-black buffalo-plaid wool hunting jacket from the 1950s, made by Yorke Sportswear. (Source: Etsy)

Glenn’s buffalo plaid hunting jacket follows a waist-length blouson-style design. The shirt-style collar matches the buffalo-checked cloth, and there are small black plastic buttons up the plain front, including two positioned closer together on the wide, all-black waistband that would fasten more tightly than the body of the jacket when closed. The two rounded chest pockets are covered with rounded button-down flaps, and the rounded barrel-style cuffs each close through a single button with an additional button on each gauntlet.

Humphrey Bogart in The Desperate Hours (1955)

Griffin’s mid-colored chambray work shirt is likely made from a blue-and-white end-on-end woven cotton—the most traditional cloth for these work shirts as standardized by militaries like the U.S. Navy in the early 20th century. The shirt has a point collar and a front placket, squared single-button cuffs, and two large button-through chest pockets—all with white plastic buttons to fasten.

Humphrey Bogart in The Desperate Hours (1955)

Griffin’s trousers appear to be denim (and almost certainly a mid-blue denim), though the cut and style differs from conventional denim jeans. As opposed to the curved front pocket configuration popularized by brands like Levi’s, Lee, and Wrangler, Griffin’s denim trousers are styled more like work pants with their gently slanted side pockets, though these still have an inset watch/coin pocket on the right side as well as jeans-style large squared patch pockets on the seat. The fit is full through the thighs and legs down to the plain-hemmed bottoms.

Through the belt loops, Griffin holds up these trousers with a plain brown leather belt that closes through a single-prong buckle.

Humphrey Bogart in The Desperate Hours (1955)

Consistent with the rest of his workwear and likely coordinated to his belt leather, Griffin wears brown leather ankle-high plain-toe work boots, derby-laced through four sets of metal eyelets and an additional three sets of speed hooks. He also wears dark ribbed socks.

Humphrey Bogart in The Desperate Hours (1955)

When Griffin arrives at the Hilliard household, he wears a dark felt trilby with a narrow dark grosgrain band, more of a “city” hat than would be congruously worn with the rest of his workwear, though this may have been chosen to give the escaped convict a more presentable appearance while shuffling through suburbia.

Humphrey Bogart in The Desperate Hours (1955)

The Gun

Glenn Griffin takes over the Hilliard household with his Smith & Wesson Military & Police (M&P) revolver. With its blued steel frame, six-inch barrel, double/single-action operation, and six rounds of .38 Special ammunition in the swing-out cylinder, the Military & Police remains a quintessential American service revolver. Despite its nomenclature and general usage, the reliability and ubiquity of the Smith & Wesson Military & Police made it a favorite of cops, civilians, and crooks alike.

When Smith & Wesson launched the M&P revolver in 1899, the company also introduced a new round—the .38 Special. A slightly elongated and more powerful alternative to the underperforming .38 Long Colt, .38 Special quickly gained popularity and remained the predominant American law enforcement cartridge for most of the 20th century until most police agencies transitioned from revolvers to semi-automatic pistols.

In 1957, two years after The Desperate Hours was released, Smith & Wesson began numbering its models and the “Military & Police” revolver was designated the Smith & Wesson Model 10.

Martha Scott and Humphrey Bogart in The Desperate Hours (1955)

Note the gold medallion grips on Griffin’s Smith & Wesson revolver as he threatens Ellie Hilliard.

Later, Griffin takes a Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless pistol from Daniel, who had been given the weapon by the police… with Griffin naturally unaware that the pistol is unloaded. (Unlike his revolver, where the bullets can be clearly seen in the exposed cylinder, Griffin would have to manually check the Colt’s magazine and chamber to see if it was loaded.)

Like Griffin’s Smith & Wesson revolver, the Colt’s origins also date to the turn of the 20th century—1903, in case you couldn’t have guessed. Designed to be easily concealed in a pocket as the hammer was totally shrouded by the slide, the single-action Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless was one of the first semi-automatic pistols to find significant market success as the handgun segment had been primarily dominated by revolvers for more than a half-century to this point.

Though its 24-ounce mass would be considerably heavier than the polymer-framed CCW-marketed pistols today, the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless was revolutionary at the time for its total length under seven inches that allowed it to be easily carried. The pistol was initially available only in .32 ACP until the .380 ACP variant was added in 1908, though the larger-sized cartridge of the latter meant one less round in the magazine—seven rounds of .380 ACP as opposed to the eight rounds of .32 ACP. Colt produced more than a half-million Pocket Hammerless pistols before ending production in 1945 to keep up with the modernized handgun market.

Humphrey Bogart and Richard Eyer in The Desperate Hours (1955)

Rick Blaine would never!

What to Imbibe

There’s something special about the way Humphrey Bogart would pronounce every letter of the word “bourbon”, so it’s a treat that he gets one more opportunity to enjoy the corn-based Kentucky whiskey on screen when—upon learning that the Hilliard family doesn’t keep liquor at home—he demands a bottle of “bourbon, bonded!”

The stipulations of “bonded” bourbon were outlined in the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, specifying that bourbon must be sourced from a single American distillery within a single season, aged in a federally bonded warehouse for at least four years, and bottled at an unaltered 100 proof (50% ABV).

Humphrey Bogart in The Desperate Hours (1955)

“Eight years… then you can’t get it open,” complains the dimwitted desperado Samuel Kobish (Robert Middleton), though Griffin doesn’t seem to have any issues.

Eventually, the fugitives are supplied with a bottle affixed with the fictional “J.L. Wickam” label, perhaps meant to be a stand-in for similarly named brands like I.W. Harper, J.T.S. Brown, and W.L. Weller.

How to Get the Look

Humphrey Bogart in The Desperate Hours (1955)

A true vintage buffalo-checked blouson jacket adds a colorful, heritage-tested edge to many fall looks, though it seems particularly appropriate with Bogie’s classic workwear of a chambray shirt, denim pants, and ankle boots for his penultimate screen appearance in The Desperate Hours.

  • Red-and-black buffalo plaid woolen flannel blouson-style hunting jacket with shirt-style collar, button-up front, two rounded chest pockets (with rounded flaps), rounded 1-button cuffs, and black 2-button waistband
  • Blue chambray cotton work shirt with point collar, front placket, two button-through chest pockets, and squared 1-button cuffs
  • Blue denim flat-front work trousers with belt loops, slanted side pockets with inset right coin/watch pocket, large patch back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
  • Brown leather belt with metal single-prong buckle
  • Brown leather plain-toe derby-laced work boots
  • Dark ribbed socks
  • Dark felt trilby with dark grosgrain band

Do Yourself a Favor and…

Check out the movie.

The Quote

I got my guts full of you shiny-shoed, down-your-nose wiseguys with white handkerchiefs in their pockets!

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