Opening Night: February 10, 1955 at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.
(Scroll down to bottom of page to view scenes from the play.)
Producer: Howard Erskine and Joseph Hayes
Author: Joseph Hayes
Director: Robert Montgomery
Setting and Lighting: Howard Bay
Costumes: Robert Randolph
(in order of appearance)
Judson Pratt...Tom Winston
James Gregory...Jesse Bard
Gene Blakely...Harry Carson
Nancy Coleman...Eleanor Hilliard
Malcolm Broderick...Ralphie Hilliard
Karl Malden...Dan Hilliard
Patricia Peardon...Cindy Hilliard
Paul Newman...Glenn Griffin
George Grizzard...Hank Griffin
Fred Eisley...Chuck Wright
Wyrley Birch...Mr. Patterson
Rusty Lane...Lt. Carl Fredericks
Mary Orr...Miss Swift
The action takes place during the course of several days in autumn in the present time,
and alternates between the Indianapolis home of Dan Hilliard, a police squad room and a
police lookout overlooking the Hilliard home.
Due to the suspenseful nature of the plot, only the details of the general setting and events
preceding the climax are given. Indianapolis police officers Jesse Bard and Tom Winston,
and F.B.I. man Harry Carson swing into action, albeit circuitously, when they learn that
three convicts have broken out of a federal penitentiary and may be in their city. Their
hunch is correct. The three--Glenn Griffin, the "brains" of the jailbreak; Hank Griffin,
Glenn's younger brother; and Robish, a brutish chap who instinctively resents Glenn's
domination--surprise a housewife in an attractive residential area early in the morning,
force their way into her home and use it as a hiding place. The home is that of Dan Hilliard,
whose family consists of his wife, Eleanor; his attractive daughter, Cindy; and his young
son, Ralphie. The convicts announce that they will remain but one day, until they receive a
package of money to further their flight. But when their connection with the outside world
goes awry, their stay drags on, to the frustration of themselves and their captives. The
action centers jointly around the gradual disintegration of the escapees under this
pressure, and Dan Hilliard's inner struggle to adapt himself to the awful dilemma--his
conflicting desires to assert his fundamental decency in the situation and his realization
that he must do nothing to jeopardize the safety of his wife and children. When the state of
siege goes on beyond the expected period, Glenn allows individual members of the family
to leave the house, with the stipulation that a single effort to reveal the hiding place of
himself and his confederates will bring about the death of the remaining family members
held as hostages. Outsiders--Ralphie's teacher, Miss Swift; an unfortunate trash collector,
Mr. Patterson; and Cindy's excessively heroic boy friend, Chuck Wright--call at the house,
and the Hilliards are forced to meet them without revealing the true state of affairs. A police
dragnet gradually tightens, and separate areas of conflict develop in which the convicts are
pitted against the family, the police and themselves. --Theatre Arts, April 1955
FICTION OUT OF FACT
by Joseph Hayes
New York Times, January 30, 1955
At the moment I am writing this, the newspapers are headlining a story about five guards
held hostage in the Massachusetts state prison. The news accounts concentrate on the
action. But what of the more personal stories involved? What are the thoughts and
emotions of the guards' waiting wives, their children? And what of the inner struggles of the
"convicts" themselves? No matter how evil or violent in action, aren't these men human
beings, with their own needs, loves, hungers, fears?
It was out of conjectures such as these that, in the Spring of 1953, I sat down to write a
novel which, when completed, I titled "The Desperate Hours."
The novel--and the play version of it which opens on Thursday at the Barrymore
Theatre--was based on various news-stories. In California, in New York state, in Detroit, in
Philadelphia, frightened and dangerous men entered houses, held families captive in their
own homes; these were headline stories, soon forgotten. Some ended tragically, others did
not. The newspapers soon dropped all reference to them. But what of the people
themselves? Accumulatively, these cold, black-on-white accounts stirred the question,
"What if?" and, in time, I found myself left with a curious and very strong emotion--a sense
of personal identification with the victims. And also--to my amazement--a baffling question:
Why? Why had these events occurred and what possible meaning did they hold? Thinking
about these "cases," I became more and more amazed, finally awed, by the sense of
immense accidentality framing these, and perhaps all, human situations.
Instead of researching any of the specific "cases," however, I found it best to let my
imagination play with the idea. Meanwhile, I reached into my own background and found a
setting, the city of Indianapolis, where I was born, a typical city. After that, it was necessary
to probe into my own convictions about people, ordinary, down-to-earth representative
people--what did I really feel about them? What did I believe about them and how did they
react under stress? Once I could answer that question honestly, I could begin "research."
Techincally, I needed to make my police activity reasonably authentic--because, from
the first, for many reasons, I had no doubt that I must use some unusual story-frame to
intensify and to counterpoint the action taking place in the invaded and terrorized home.
Out of this so-called "research" emerged an important character in the story, a deputy
sheriff who, caught in a conflict between his own personal desires and his civilized concern
for others, could represent to some extent my own feelings of disgust, understanding,
anguish and admiration.
Having decided on the frame and the essential conflict, I had then only one small job--to
write the novel (and later, the play and screenplay). It was a day-and-night job, done at
white-heat, the time limited by necessities imposed by illness in the family. Curiously
enough, I discovered as I wrote that the principal theme came into focus; the life-and-death
struggle between a typical, law-abiding man, with no knowledge of his own inner resources
or of the precious quality of his way of life, and the twisted, jungle-like mind of a young
criminal, himself a human being and a victim. It became more and more interesting to
explore a mind that has almost totally escaped the civilizing influences of our society. (And
why are there so many like him today?) This mind became, as I worked, so complex and
cunning that, almost automatically, the necessary plot-twists and surprises of story
erupted, often to my own astonishment, so that in the end even the plot itself became
something quite distinct from all the other hostage-stories I had ever encountered.
In the news-stories there was little to suggest what happens in the invaded and ravaged
home: the terror of the family, the desperation and paradoxes in the criminals, the
inter-action of these characters caught in a situation that, in time, creates its own
momentum, sets its own course. This course, and its ultimate resolution, seemed for a
while to be determined by the warped mind of the young invader himself. It was he who
devised the manner of holding an entire family not only captive, as in the actual incidents,
but in this case mentally and emotionally hostage--so that even the civilized man, the father
of the family, found within himself the jungle-urges of revenge and a passion to murder.
How could the young convict manage to do this? This boy--he is hardly more than
that--could do it because, despite all of his own insecurities and banked-down rages and
hatred and fears, he instinctively understood what "family" could mean. He could create an
atmosphere, as have governments, in which a man appears to move freely, to think for
himself, to carry on a "normal" life...while in actuality that man has become a slave. And
why? Because of the deepest and most human concern of all--his love for his family. Out of
this love, stirred so that he recognizes it himself in all its intensity and depth, comes
submission to evil. I am willing to leave the question there. It is only one of many that I hope
to leave echoing in the minds, and especially the hearts, of an audience.
The human emotions, only hinted at in the description of exterior events in a newpaper,
and the complexities they suggest and the personal and social questions they pose,
remain, a year and a half later, vital and interesting to me. Fortunately, I have been able to
communicate my own deep and aching concern--not only for the characters but for the
human plight in general--to hundreds of thousands of novel readers, both here and abroad.
It is to the eternal credit of mankind that--at least up to now--some inherent personal
force within civilized man has thwarted slavery, even if by a clearly defined violence that
separates (roughly, at least) the civilized from the aggresive man--and even if by a hair's
breadth. If this be melodrama, so be it. It is also history.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAID:
"The tension is terrific...terse, nerve-wracking performance!"
--Brooks Atkinson, N.Y. Times
"A beaut...a lightning-paced thriller...loaded with theatrical tension!"
--Walter Kerr, N.Y. Herald Times
"A spine tingler...the town's new big hit!"
"A superb melodrama!"
--Wolcott Gibbs, The New Yorker
"Bang-bang hit...packs plenty of excitement...a knockout!"
--Robert Coleman, N.Y. Mirror
"A thriller with brains and heart...powerful and exiting!"
--Richard Watts, Jr., N.Y. Post
"Moves at a screaming pace...reaching a blistering climax!"
--John McClain, N.Y. Journal American
"Whirlwind melodrama with no time for breath or wonder!"
--William Hawkins, N.Y. World Telegram & Sun
Scenes from the play: