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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wait Until Dark (1967) Crime Thiller

Wait Until Dark (1967) -Fredrick Knott wrote the play for this suspense story of con men trying to get a doll full of heroin from a blind woman. Knott also wrote Dial M for Murder which later was made for the big screen by Alfred Hitchcock. In this case the play was turned into a film with a screenplay written by Robert Carrington and Starring many greats, Audrey Hepburn(Roman Holiday, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Charade, My Fair Lady), Alan Arkin(Catch-22, Edward Scissorhands, Gross Pointe Blank, Little Miss Sunshine), Richard Crenna (Over-Exposed,Marooned, A Man Called Noon, First Blood, and Rambo) , Jack Weston ( On tons of 50's &60's television series then a later career including The original Thomas Crown Affair, Fuzz and Dirty Dancing), and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (77 Sunset Strip, and I knew from The F.B.I. in the 70's but an actor with 93 credits to his name). Such a great cast and bring to that the music of Henry Mancini and this is a film to look forward to.
This pretty much one set piece is masterfully done with the direction of Terence Young who had early success making James Bond films before Wait Until Dark then never quite reached this height again but we here are Soresport Movies look forward to someday possibly checking out his 1973 entry "Le guerriere dal seno nudo".
The setup of the film is simple enough. A young drug mule named Lisa (Samantha Jones) fearing capture when bringing a shipment of heroin from Canada in a doll loads the doll off on a photographer, Sam Hendrix (Zimbalist Jr.) at the airport. It is not the high security days of the modern world but a more relaxed time when you would take a package from a total stranger and wait for them to come pick it up. Unfortunately for Sam and Susy this kindness will have unforeseen consequences.
Hepburn is excellent as Susy Hendrix, recently blinded and learning to deal with life in the dark. She is intelligent and observant while still being innocent and vulnerable. While she is out Roat (Arkin) and Lisa come to the apartment looking for the doll full of drugs. Since they can not find the doll Roat kills Lisa. We don't know this yet because the scene does not play out in such a linear way. Instead we have Mike (Crenna) and Carlino (Weston) arrive at the apartment. They are small time con men who will worm their way into Susy's life to figure out where the doll is. They search the place and only find the body of Lisa in the closet. Roat arrives to employ them in the dupe by basically framing them for Lisa's murder. They have touch stuff all over the house thinking they were doing a basic burglary but soon realize that when Lisa's body is discovered in the apartment it will be them and not Roat who pay for it. A very smart setup for a couple of not so smart thugs.
The three men dispose of Lisa and plan how best to get Susy's help in finding the doll. Mike comes visiting as an old friend of Sam's from the army. He gets to know Susy a bit and through phone calls and signals with the blinds the three thugs build an elaborate story where Sam could be suspected in the death of Lisa. The whole time terrifying poor Susy and keeping Sam away from the apartment through a series of photographer jobs where the clients fail to show up. The story they develop is indeed way too complicated for what they are trying to accomplish and since it involves Roat coming in as a couple different characters it give Susy, ever observant the idea that something is not right.
As things develop Susy is more and more sure that something about the stories is wrong. She gets the help of the little girl, neighbor Gloria, to help in solving the inconsistencies in the Mike and his partners play acting. Little does she know that Gloria has had the doll all along, having "borrowed" it from the apartment. There is also all the audio cues that Susy has been picking up from the men, Roat who came in twice as two different characters during the scam wore the same squeaky shoes. Why is it that calls from the police are made to her house as if planned perfectly to fit the story. Why do the different characters play with the blinds in the window even though it is dark out.When Gloria quietly returns it and the climax of the film begins. Gloria is sent off by Susy to intercept her husband. Knowing something is wrong Susy prepares the apartment as best she can for the trouble to come. Roat becomes to be a very mean man. He no longer needs the two con men and deals with them and now will face off and scare the doll's location out of Susy. In its theatrical release what was done in the theater at the climax is a fun story. Movie theaters would turn out house lights when Susy goes around the apartment smashing the lights. Audiences in the theaters got to watch the final 9 minutes in total darkness in an attempt to up the suspense which includes quite a bit of black screen. We at Soresport Movies did the same while we watched in the TV room and it is a nine minute stretch worthy on the effort. By today's standards the film is not particularly terrifying or scary but what it is, is a well put together thriller with excellent acting. Arkin is particularly menacing, his character like a snake in the grass. He appears laid back but you can sense the danger behind his dark glasses. Hepburn makes everything she is in better and Crenna is likable even though he is one of the bad guys. It is easy to skip over some of these classics with the flood of horror that is spilled out each year. If you do you are doing yourself a disservice. So take a chance on this blast from the past. It is worthy of a watch and worth the time. No spoilers here so all you youngsters can get it from Netflix.
Rating (8.0) 5.0 and up are recommended

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