Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Best Movies I've Never Seen Before: Wait Until Dark (1967)

Wait Until Dark (1967) ** ½
Directed by: Terence Young.
Written by: Robert Carrington & Jane-Howard Carrington based on the play by Frederick Knott.
Starring: Audrey Hepburn (Susy Hendrix), Alan Arkin (Roat), Richard Crenna (Mike Talman), Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Sam Hendrix), Jack Weston (Carlino), Samantha Jones (Lisa), Julie Herrod (Gloria).

In Roger Ebert’s original review of Wait Until Dark, which has for some people become a classic thriller, he asks why she doesn’t simply lock the door to her apartment. This thought occurred to me as well as another one – why does she not simply leave the apartment. Yes, she’s blind, but she’s been leaving the apartment by herself for a while now anyway, and before her husband leaves, he tells her to try and walk to and from the studio herself as a test, so she’s capable of doing it. And the three bad guys, who come up with a really elaborate plot to get inside the apartment to look for the doll filled with heroin they want, leave her alone enough times that she could. And why, for that matter, do the three bad guys even bother with the ruse in the first place? Why don’t they burst in, tie up the blind woman, and try to find the damned doll themselves, without going through everything they go through? Hell, why does the woman at the beginning of the film even risk getting on the plane with so little heroin in the fist place? How much is she really going to make from the heroin in one doll? Enough to cover a plane ticket to and from Europe to pick it up? Why are these guys so obsessed with this heroin? It cannot possibly be worth all of the trouble they go through in Wait Until Dark to try and get it.
I suppose if you can turn off your brain long enough that you don’t ask these questions, then Wait Until Dark is a good thriller. Audrey Hepburn, who plays Susy Hendrix, who a year ago was blinded, and then met her husband Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and fell in love, is so sweet and lovable in the movie that you really don’t want to see her get killed like the poor courier girl hanging inside Hepburn’s closet. The movie does provide you with some decent scares along the way – although they are mainly of the “boo” moment variety. And the three men who play the men terrorizing poor Suzy are good to varying degrees – especially Richard Grenna as Mike, who ends up feeling genuinely sorry for what he’s doing to Susy, and pays the price for it. Jack Weston is also good as the fake cop who shows at the door. As for Alan Arkin as Roat, the knife wielding psychopath, well, he’s okay I guess, but he also goes wildly over the top, and looks absolutely ridiculous with that hair piece and those sunglasses.

All of this probably makes it sound that I dislike Wait Until Dark more than I actually did. It is a decent thriller. Director Terence Young tries his best to adapt Frederick Knott’s stage play to the screen, and while he is innovative in much of his camera, the result still does feel rather stage bound for most of its running time. The climax of the film, filmed almost entirely by the light coming from an open refrigerator and nothing else, truly is wonderfully staged by Young – the suspense is palpable and real. Hepburn is excellent in her role as Susy (although she should have been nominated for an Oscar for other 1967 film, Two for the Road, and not this film as she was).

But overall, I thought Wait Until Dark just wasn’t very suspenseful. One great sequence, even if it is the climatic sequence, does not a movie make. And too much of Wait Until Dark seems like killing time to get the climax. And I’m not sure it was worth the wait.

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