It’s 4:52 pm
A while ago,the cheetah and I reviewed a movie called “Blindsided” with Michael Keaton and Michelle Monaghan. The plot had Keaton and a crony attempting to find some diamonds and terrorizing a blind woman in doing so. I commented that the plot seem to have been rather “borrowed” from the classic “Wait Until Dark” film from the late 1960s.
When our streetwise informant at the Warner Brother Archive saw our review,we suggested that we watch and review the original film itself. I thought this was rather a good idea and about 6 weeks ago,we got a package from our source,”MP”.
But a funny thing happened,the cheetah and I got blocked,I mean we sat down FIVE times to watch this movie and we froze up every time. Can’t explain why as we watched “The Lazarus Man” and quickly reviewed it…..but watching this classic suspense drama was much harder. Well until today that is……
When a young woman who is smuggling a doll full of heroin from Canada into New York gets cold feet after seeing a shady looking character from her past,she approaches Sam Hendrix and tell hims a sob story and asks Sam to hold the doll for here. They exchange information and the young woman is met by her “friend”.
Sam in turn takes the doll home and waits for the woman to come pick it up.
Next we meet two gentlemen, Mike Talman (Richard Crenna) and Carlino (Jack Weston),they are looking for an address and want to make sure they are on the right street. Talman and Carlino approach a group of young teens and ask if they are on a certain street,one of the punks gets mouthy until Talman asks him again,there is a quiet menace in his voice and the young man hears it…and tells Talman what he wants to know.
The two men then approach and enter a apartment where they read a note saying that Lisa will be back soon and feel at home. Talman starts exploring the apartment while Carlino builds a huge sandwich. Talman then notices two jarring things,all the pictures are of a man and wife and their lives and none of the pictures are of their friend Lisa.
When Talman looks at the greeting letter again,he asks Carlino,”When has Lisa learned to type”? Carlino now knows they have been set up and the two men start to leave when a third man,Roat (Alan Arkin) shows up,he greets both men by name and knows their histories as he is a friend of Lisa’s.
Roat wants to make a deal but he wants Talman and Carlino is disarm themselves first,Carlino gives up his brass knuckles while Talman surrenders a wicked looking straight razor. Roat then shows them “Geraldine” a knife hidden in a religious artifact.
Roat wants to hire the two to find the doll Lisa gave the man,Sam Hendrix. He shares that Susy Hendrix is the wife but also blind after a car accident. If they recover the doll,Roat will pay them 2,000.00 each. But he slips up when he tries to lie about the locked closet,Talman calls him on it and Roat draws down with his knife,Talman and Carlino grab makeshift weapons of their own and it looks like a fight is going to happen.
Instead Roat surrenders the key and Talman discovers Lisa’s body,it was the same young woman we saw in the first scene. Talman and Carlino start to bug out but when Roat points out their fingerprints are all over the place,the two are roped into the deal.
It’s then that Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn) enters the apartment as all three men freeze in place. Susy senses someone has been in there and suspects their neighbor’s little girl Gloria. She calls her husband Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr) who works as a photographer,he is waiting for a new client not knowing Roat has set it up as to buy time to search the apartment. After Susy leaves,Talman and Roat dispose of Lisa’s body.
The three men come up with a plan….Talman will play a “old friend” of Sam’s who has dropped by to surprise his old Marine buddy. Roat will play a series of men who have Sam Hendrix mixed up a “Sam Hunt”and will keep on coming to the apartment while Carlino will play a cop who in investigating a strange case. Talman will act as the good guy when Roat and Carlino get a little “rough” as to build Susy’s trust up.
What Talman hasn’t counted on is Susy’s almost child like innocence and helplessness as she is newly blind. The three men surround and confuse Susy but when Talman has a change of heart,all the rules are thrown out the window as Roat becomes desperate to recover that doll …..and at any price.
Like a lot of older films I have reviewed here,I hadn’t seen “Wait Until Dark” since the early 1980s when it was a regular staple on KTLA 5 in Los Angeles. But seeing it after 30 years,it feels like the first time but still remembering how good it was.
The first thing I will say about “Wait Until Dark” is how feels much more like a play then a motion picture with various shots from outside the apartment. Its the fact that almost all the the dialogue and action takes place is such a small cramped dwelling.
It’s a fine nod to playwright Frederick Knott who conceived “Wait” as a play and that director Terence Young did a great job in keeping the setting in which it worked best,a very tight place.
Watching all three men freeze while Susy makes her way around seriously ramps up the suspense because just like Susy,they are a little bit blind and helpless do anything lest they be found. The acting was extremely good as Alan Arkin makes one of the most memorable screen villains in cinema history,his heartless and cunning Roat always seems one step ahead of everyone else. But has a drug addict,you see him start making little mistakes that compound on him and his arrogance does catch up with him.
Richard Crenna was used as a heavy and this was a change of pace for him…his Talman is much of a grifter and a con-man much more then a stone cold killer and you find yourself wishing that he had made different choices but his and Carlino’s fate was sealed the minute they took the job.
And Audrey Hepburn….while I love Audrey,I admit,I was a bit put off by her performance here,she plays Susy as almost as a child,the way she speaks and acts…willing to completely trust an complete stranger sight unseen (pun intended).
I think her Susy could been stiffened a little bit,maybe add in some anger and bitterness.
After all,here she is,a woman in her 30s and she just lost her sight,I know I wouldn’t be gentle or quiet,I think we would all be slightly pissed off. She does look lovely in this film however as “Wait” would be her last movie for 9 years. I will say she played a blind person extremely well,never once does she focus on anyone’s face,her look is one of a person who is blind.
And of course we have to mention the music,Henry Mancini’s off-key piano theme instantly puts you on edge at it’s first note and doesn’t allow you to get comfortable,you find yourself wanting to jump into the movie and tune that damn piano but then again,that would take away one of the best parts of “Wait Until Dark”. This is a film every serious film collector should have in their collections.
“Wait Until Dark” should be considered a PG-13 rating and it has a run time of 1 hr 49 minutes. Special features include a 10 minute perspective with Alan Arkin and producer Mel Ferrer from 2003.
You can buy “Wait Until Dark” at the website of Warner Brother Archives.