Wait Until Dark (1967)
Every now and again someone will ask me about the film where the blind woman is locked in her apartment and there’s a trio of killers out to get her. They ask because they can’t recall the movie’s title or perhaps just who the actors are attempting to kill saintly Audrey Hepburn. Film buff that I am, I always pass along the information but to be honest, I’d never seen this Terence Young film until now.
I have no answer as to the reason why but I do know the hair was standing on the back of my neck for the final 10 or so minutes as Audrey battled a magnificently evil Alan Arkin.
Heroin is the catalyst for this claustrophobic tale that gets tighter as the minutes go by.
Audrey plays a recently blinded woman whose husband (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) unknowingly becomes a narcotics courier across the U.S. border by carrying a doll full of drugs via Canadian Airlines no less. The doll will become one of the plot’s main focal points when it goes missing thus driving Arkin to losing his cool demeanor.
Hooked into the caper with Arkin are his two cohorts, the nervy Jack Weston and a calm Richard Crenna who easily begins to fall under the Hepburn spell.
Under false pretenses, Crenna arrives at Audrey’s apartment after hubby has left for the day. Claiming to be an old friend of Zimbalist, he gains her trust and she quickly comes to rely on his guidance. This fact is due to the discovery of a murdered woman in the area that may have been having an affair with Zimbalist.
It’s all a concocted tale by Crenna and company. Weston turns up as a police inspector and Arkin dons a couple of disguises to carry on the charade. Weston claims to be looking for the doll as a link to her hubby and the murder victim while Crenna claims to want it to save Zimbalist from unwarranted accusations. Poor Audrey has no idea where the doll is for the first hour but when she begins to suspect something is amiss thanks to help from a small girl in an upstairs apartment, the terror of her situation slowly begins to take root, building to a crescendo.
There are a number of things going for this stage bound thriller produced by Audrey’s real life husband at the time, Mel Ferrer. Audrey gives a very convincing performance as the terrified woman wisely using her wits to stay alive in the closing scenes. Richard Crenna plays somewhat against type here as the one criminal who gets caught up in a bad caper gone wrong. One it’s becoming apparently obvious he’d rather get out of.
It’s Arkin’s who plays the film rather low key that makes the final reel all the more memorable when his true psychotic and sadistic nature is on camera for his harrowing showdown with the blind yet not so helpless Audrey. I suspect beneath it all he’s a genius who would have made a heck of a Bond villain. Surely the final confrontation served as a template for the many horror films to come in the decades ahead. Arkin’s role is the flashy type that is the one people will recall more so then the others when the movie comes to a close, proving once again that a deliciously evil bad guy can make a decent film good and a good one great.
With very little of the film not taking place in Audrey’s apartment, director Young never allows the film to be boring and it rarely drags. This in part is thanks to the trio of baddies being in the apartment with Audrey at various times throughout though she has no idea. It keeps the tension up and for a first time viewer, never knowing if she’s going to bump into one of them as she uses her hands to guide herself around the room only adds to the electricity. They stand like statues so as not to give themselves away to her and her ever increasing heightened sense of hearing.
Wait Until dark proves there are still plenty of films from years past for me to see for the first time that are both, worth the effort and worthy of an eventual rewatch.