There are many noirs in the 50s that rely on the intensity or vulnerability within peril-inducing characters for the dramatic tension in the film. One of the measures in the noir-o-meter captures this relationship to the overall character element score, and many of the 50s films that feature some variant of domestic peril feature markedly higher-than-average scores in this category. THE DESPERATE HOURS is definitely one of these.
If Bogart's character was not so consistently (and almost laboriously) undermined by the series of reversals that overtake him, he would be even more of a "peril inducer," but the film pulls its punches in this area by consistently deemphasizing the criminals' brutality. By downplaying the sexual tension, the film backs away from the actual connection point that noir makes with melodrama, leaving us with something less than--and something that is eventually able to be turned sideways in episodic TV, where the situation is applied in a topical manner the way sunscreen is used to allow longer exposure to the sun without engaging the most harmful aspects of the interaction with the sun's rays (the metaphor here being the corrosive elements of noir that would have created more plot mayhem and a showier display of violence).
Imagine Mary Murphy playing her role with more sexual swagger a la her performance in HELL'S ISLAND--or, perhaps, contemplate Cleo Moore in the role...
I would love to have seen Spencer Tracy in March's role, as was the original plan. I think March actually sublimates his part too much, which is another reason why the tension is flatter than it could have been with a more pointed performance. That could have deflected the linearity of the character arcs as they wind up being constructed in the film, which tends to make things a bit too pat.
It doesn't help to discover that the house used for THE DESPERATE HOURS later became the house occupied by the Cleaver family in LEAVE IT TO BEAVER.