Title: Wait Until Dark
Language: English, French
Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller
Director: Terence Young
based on Frederick Knott’s play
Music: Henry Mancini
Cinematography: Charles Lang
Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
Our Beloved Audrey Hepburn’s last Oscar-nominated performance, a rare genre piece in her filmography, WAIT UNTIL DARK officially bookends her salad days with a sterling turn into a terrorised victim in this Terence Young’s almost one-basement-apartment-confined thriller, based on Frederick Knott’s play.
Susan Hendrix (Hepburn), became blind in a car accident one year earlier, now lives with her newly-espoused photographer husband Sam (Zimbalist Jr.) in NYC . Their life is quite placid, Susan goes to the blind school to adopt her new life pattern, while Sam is engaged in work, little they know, a doll sealed with cocaine is in their possession, just because Sam implausibly accepts it from the request of a complete stranger, a sultry blonde Lisa (Jones) in the airport when he travels back from Montreal. And more implausibly, Sam not only doesn’t rise any suspicion towards the item, when Lisa wants it back, he even forgets its whereabouts.
Soon Lisa is dispatched by her partner-in-crime Roat (Arkin) for trying to pocket all the smuggled cocaine, and he gangs up with Mike (Crenna) and Carlino (Weston), Lisa’s former associates, two small-time gangsters, together they deploy a scheme to deceive the poor blind Susan into giving up the doll. One day, when Sam is away from an assignment in New Jersey, Mike pretends to be a friend of his and visits Susan, and gets her trust by being amiable and polite, then Roat stages a scene to implicate that Sam is in liaison with the dead Lisa, and Carlino’s fake sergeant also shows up, all three manage to convince Susan, the doll is the key evidence can incriminate Sam with Lisa’s death, so as that she can hand it to them. But, the core problem is Susan also has no idea where is the fricking doll! Until, in the midpoint of the taut narrative, it reappears in the house and it is Gloria (Herrod), a girl lives upstairs, who takes it and just in time to return it in the critical moment.
After unwisely informing Mike she has the doll, Susan put her own safely in the danger especially when she realises all these three uninvited visitors are actually in the same league to retrieve the doll, how can she fight against them? Numerously missing the chance to ask help from the police, after wisely sending Gloria to meet Sam in the station, she finds out the telephone line has been cut off, so her life is hanging by a thread. Luckily there is a silver lining under the desperate situations, which is the ill feeling among the three criminals, Mike and Carlino never trust the cunning Roat, but the latter turns out to be even more insidious and callous than they can ever imagine. Eventually, it advances into a face-off between Roat and Susan, where an edge-of-the-seat episode of battling in the darkness makes Susan our reluctant heroine in the end.
The film gathers some strong dissonance of its glaring dramatic license, which tempers real-life authenticity in favour of its theatrical manipulation (all the why doesn’t she lock the door complain, why she doesn’t call the police or ask Gloria to call the police?, etc.). Most obviously is that blind people don’t need light, but what is behind her decision to light up matches during the confrontation in the dark is truly baffling. Yet cinema is the art where vision is its most direct receptor and lightning is one integral part, audience cannot stand a long-spell of pitch black while all the happenings are sheer unseeable. Although, in the climate of experimental cinema, it would be an innovative attempt to defy our usual viewing habits.
Be that as it may, Hepburn’s acting alone is worth your ticket, seldom seen in such a terrified state out of her comfort zone, not to mention she nails a competent emulation of a blind person. Undeniably, there is a morbid thrill to watch those screen goddesses being put into a victimised cul-de-sac (one major reason why we love WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? 1962), is it a natural inclination? I hope so. Also, a convincing victim needs an equally committed perpetrator, Arkin, only in his second film, is mesmerisingly menacing and utterly abhorrent to watch, a brilliant villain makes one wish there would never be anyone like him, as in reality, Susan would have no chance to survive in his merciless hands. Crenna’s Mike, brings a whiff of conscience when he becomes more emotionally invested in his role-playing, not an out-and-out scoundrel, but all the same, has no chance to become the hero who saves the beautiful girl.
Immensely entertaining, a great career-turn for Ms. Hepburn, which reminds us how great if she would take on more diversified roles in her mature years, trademark score from Henry Mancini, WAIT UNTIL DARK might not be the year’s best, but not deserves all the backlash either.