How could anyone have the nerve to terrorize Audrey Hepburn? Especially a blind Audrey Hepburn!
Three thugs are on the search for a doll containing bags of heroin that has accidentally ended up in a Greenwich apartment. The occupant is Suzy (Audrey Hepburn) a blind woman and she’s going to be home alone for the evening. The trio of criminals formulate a plan to trick Suzy into revealing the location of the doll. But Suzy ends up not being as naive and helpless as the thieves initially thought.
This is one kick-ass movie.
It’s not surprising to learn Wait Until Dark is based on a popular stage play. The sole location is essentially that one Greenwich apartment and it looks like a perfect story for the stage. However, director Terence Young (of Dr. No, From Russian With Love and Thunderball fame) crafts a suspenseful cinematic yarn out of this setup and locale and boy does this movie hold up well!
I was watching this film with someone who had never seen it before and they were jumping and shouting at the screen during the dark climax. The impact this movie had on audiences almost fifty years ago hasn’t dulled in the slightest and still manages to deliver.
A sinister Alan Arkin leads the pack as Harry Roat. It’s a great performance. He’s got a nasally voice, his round sunglasses, his beatnik look and he has the presence of someone who will relish killing anyone who gets in his way – and looks like he could quite easily do it too!
Hepburn is as fetching as ever. She’s so incredibly likable you just want to cradle her in your arms. The fact that she’s blind and such everyday simple activities have become such an obstacle for her makes her even more sympathetic. She seems to manage quite well on her own. She’s pushed on by husband Efram Zimbalist, Jr. to be completely self-sufficient, but at times I wanted to just help her out dialing the phone or doing the laundry.
This innocent looking doll (the MacGuffin of the movie) inadvertently comes in the possession of Zimbalist. It becomes misplaced and he leaves for a bogus photography shoot set up by Roat. Unable to find the doll on their own, the criminals are convinced it’s somewhere hidden in that apartment and they’ll be able to to coerce Suzy to reveal it, where upon it will simply be snatching it from this blind woman.
With Suzy home alone, Richard Crenna knocks on her door acting as an old friend of Zimbalist and so begins the sham for Suzy’s ears. Crenna, Arkin and Jack Weston playing their rehearsed roles attempt to convince Suzy her husband is the prime suspect in a neighborhood murder and only this doll can prove his innocence, therefore she must find it!
It’s a great setup and the story is executed with simple and efficient creativity. All the actors excel in their roles and the whole thing leaves you biting your nails waiting and hoping for Suzy to catch on to this charade.
Arkin and Hepburn deservedly get a lot of praise. Hepburn got nominated for an Oscar for her performance and Arkin successfully made Roat a popular hated movie villain and one of his most memorable performances from his career.
But I have to give something of a less often shout out to Crenna. He gets the unenviable task of putting on the bulk of the sham performance and trying to get Hepburn to confide in him – and he’s great to watch. He goes about faking such sincerity and concern around her and he does it in such a charming way that I didn’t know if I should root for him or hope that she figured him out.
Since she’s blind it’s his voice that needs to sell the story to her, so his face and the looks he gives her can be a complete contrast to what he’s saying. There’s some great moments of just watching his face staring her down or him trying to figure out what she really knows. There’s also seeing the spark of compassion he begins to feel for this woman. Crenna should get more attention in this movie.
Everyone is smart, even the little girl who lives next door who soon becomes wrapped up in this story. There’s a great moment of her leaving the apartment and in order for Suzy to know that she got passed the baddies she seemingly nonchalantly uses her umbrella to drag against the gates lining the street as a signal. Very clever girl.
And when the climax rolls around Young has wound the tension up so well you want to scream along with Hepburn. There’s great use of darkness for the ending with barely any lighting in the apartment.
I had heard on TCM when it was first released some theaters would turn the house lights off to darken the theater completely for audiences to get them really in the mood for the finale of the movie – and audiences were screaming and pounding the armrests until it was over. That’s a great story! No need for fancy 3-D to get a reaction.
It’s a really effective thriller and it continues to hold up. Not too long ago I watched Penthouse North, which has a very similar story to Wait Until Dark –and it doesn’t hold a candle to this film. This one is completely satisfying. And if you hadn’t fallen in love with Hepburn from seeing her before, you’ll become a fan after seeing her here.
This trailer doesn’t give much away and promotes the darkening experience audiences were treated to. I love how they asked smokers not to light up during the finale. Hard to believe there was a time when you could smoke a cig in a theater. This sales gimmick probably wouldn’t work today. You can’t even get people to shut up in a movie theater let alone having them flash out their cell phones constantly.