Wait Until Dark
As a teenager I used to take the subway into Manhattan Saturday mornings and go to the movies. One of the most memorable of these films was without a doubt ‘Wait Until Dark’. This taut thriller still stands far above other more recent entries into this genre. The reason for this persistence in excellence is this film does not depend on the typical slasher flicks special effects. These blood and gore scenes are good for a moment but soon become old. Wait Until Dark depends more on the human mind, a technique that can thrill far more than any fake blood and dismembered body parts. Susy (Audrey Hepburn) is a young woman who lives in New York City, is married to a successful photographer (Efrem Zimbalist Jr) and she is blind. While her husband is on a business trip a beautiful blond slips a doll into his belongings, one that conceals a large quantity of heroine. The blond winds up dead (in Suzy’s apartment) and the doll is also somewhere in the apartment. The main crook Roat (Alan Arkin) is determined to get the drugs back and deceptively enlists the aid of two other criminals, Mike (Richard Crenna) and Carlino (Jack Weston). The three men will pose as police officers in order to deceive the poor blind girl into letting them into the apartment where they can search for the drug right under her nose. What ensues is a brilliantly orchestrated cat and mouse game largely between Roan and Suzy. This in itself sets this film above the typical Hollywood thriller. Rather than sitting back and surrendering to gory effects the audience is expected to think, to truly care about Suzy and root for her survival. Suzy is not the usual hapless damsel in distress; she is bright, resourceful and perceptive, more than a match for the clever Roat. Being blind turns out not to be a disadvantage to Suzy. It gives her the ability to notice little things the sighted would have overlooked. Things like furniture slightly moved the constant playing with the window blinds (a signal between the crooks) and the movements of the men throughout her apartment. It dawns on Suzy that something is amiss and she begins to prepare for the worse. While not a criminal mastermind Roat devises a plan that seemingly is brilliant. He underestimates how easy it will be to fool the blind woman but the manner in which he manipulates the other two men is inspired. The ending is shrouded in darkness. When I saw this film in my youth the gimmick was for the theater to dim the house lights to the edge of the legal limit to accentuate the tension. It did and I remember it now several decades later. You might want to try this at home.
One of the factors that help to propel this film to the heights it has achieved is the cast. Audrey Hepburn takes a character that normally would be considered helpless and turns her around into a strong and incredibly bright young woman. Her performance lulls the audience into accepting her as determined but physically helpless only to watch has her inner strength and determination are forced to the surface. There is a marvelous beauty to how Hepburn paces the development of Suzy. Little hints to the self reliance are given from the start but as the film progresses we see just how strong she actually is. Arkin give the performance of his lifetime here. He basically plays three characters in his plot against Suzy, Roat, Roat Jr. and Roat Sr. the subtle difference in how he plays each role is an exhibition of how an actor should approach a character. What impressed me most here is the amount of control these two leads display. They take the time and effort required to allow the audience to get to know these people, what motivates them and what is behind their reactions. Crenna and Weston give solid performances as the ancillary characters here. Each of these two men is capable of strong performances and they give them to us. As low level crooks they are baited by Roat, manipulated and controlled by him. Their desperation is visceral; the audience can feel the emotions these men hold just under the surface.
Director Terence Young knows how to please an audience. He is responsible for three of the early (and best) James Bind films, Doctor No, From Russia with Love and Thunderball. You may wonder if a director used to such action oriented films can handle a far more cerebral thriller, the answer is a resounding yes. His control of the all important pacing is gifted. While most thrillers seem to feel that an initial shock is required at the start of the film, Young give the audience time to acclimate to the situations and characters. He developes the plot slowly, like a fine dinner left to simmer and merge the flavors. He exhibits the same control of the lighting. Due to the specifics of this film this is even more important than usual. As the ending approaches the lights dim, one by one. Shadows become something out of a nightmare as our concern for the plight of Suzy increases. Young manipulates the emotions of the audience to perfection.
Overall the mastering of this DVD is excellent. Considering the age of the source material you can expect some variation in the balance of light and dark scenes. There is a bit of grain present but nothing that is too distracting. The restored 1.85:1 anamorphic video provides the missing visual impact, especially in the ending of the film. The sound track is presented in its original mono format. There was not a lot to work with here. The full spectrum of the audio comes across as a bit compressed. There are no extremes in bass or treble here. On the plus side it does give a live stage feel to the film. I watched this film bypassing the bit stream audio and using the Prologic ‘Live’ mode for more a theatrical feel to the experience. The extras are interesting. There is a stroll down memory lane by Alan Arkin and producer Mel Ferrer detailing just what went into the making of this classic. There is also a little featurette chronicling how this work was adapted from the original stage production. Rounding out the extras are a few trailers. Don’t ‘wait’, get this DVD and enjoy a great film experience.