If you’re a film buff or cineaste or just a fan of Audrey Hepburn, I’d recommend you watch the 1967 film Wait Until Dark. It’s not a film that will please absolutely everyone, and I’d guess a lot of people who obsess over the current world of cinema will find this one ponderously slow. I’m not in love with the current world of cinema, and so I found this film to be pretty good–not excellent–but it’s one to watch for the role it plays in the history of Hollywood.
In my opinion, the 60s for Hollywood were interim years; people lump the era in with the Golden Age of Hollywood, but I’d say that age ended with Welles’ Touch of Evil and Hitchcock‘s Psycho. In the late 60s and 70s, America cinema would be reinvigorated when it was decentralized from California and relocated to New York, but for the main part of the 60s, it seemd the films were a bit out of touch. There were some directors doing trailblazing work; Stanley Kubrick immediately comes to mind with his films that pushed the limits like Lolita and Dr. Strangelove, and I think Billy Wilder’s The Apartment is the first film to treat the sexual lives of ordinary Americans with candor and acceptance.
Now, to get back to Wait Until Dark, I’d say this is a film that acts as a segue from the style of the 60s to that of the 70s. On one side, you have Audrey Hepburn, arguably the greatest actress of the 60s but on the other you have Alan Arkin. The film shows two styles of acting: Richard Crenna plays one of the main characters, and you can definitely tell with him that he’s the standard kind of actor, one who delivers lines in a manner that makes them easy to understand, but lacking much nuance or emphasis. Arkin does just the opposite. This was Arkin’s first major film role (by the way, I’ve read Arkin’s recent autobiography and will write up a review sometime soon) after spending several years on the stage. Arkin here is a committed character actor, much like the type of actors who’d take over in the 70s (like Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro, and Al Pacino). If you watch this, it’s very likely you’ll feel he’s ahead of his time.
Audrey Hepburn, who’s always good, is in fine form here, challenging herself more than she probably ever had before. Similar to how people say some film sets have a “lived-in” quality, some performances have a lived-in feel to them, as if the actor or actress really did live as their character for a time. Audrey, who plays a blind woman, accentuated her role by attending a school for the blind and according to IMDB learned braille (although I only remember one scene that showed her reading by touch). What’s interesting is that she didn’t just choose to wear dark sunglasses which would definitely have made things a lot easier. Instead, her eyes are wide open and yet she has to not look directly at the other actors.
It’s one of those stories where a good person or a few good people have their homes taken over by criminals, and the good characters have to outsmart their captors. I’m sure you’ve seen at least a few films like this. One of Frank Sinatra’s lesser known roles was like this in the film Suddenly, where he takes over a suburban home with the intent of assassinating the president. Another similar film would be Dial M for Murder, where Grace Kelly confronts a mercenary and finds there’s more criminals than one in her house. The writer of Dial M for Murder also wrote Wait Until Dark. More recent examples of this type of story would be Panic Room or the Bruce Willis film Hostage. The difference here is that Hepburn is a blind woman and there’s no person who comes in just at the right time to save her: she has to save herself.
Basically, it begins with a child’s doll being stuffed with heroin, then the doll is given to a man under the innocuous idea that it’s a present for a little girl, and that it’ll be picked up later. The man leaves it at home somewhere, and goes off for a bit. His wife, played by Audrey Hepburn, is then confronted by a trio of gangsters who are intent on reclaiming the doll, but who pretend to be harmless strangers. Things from there get increasingly more intense.
Stephen King called Wait Until Dark the scariest film ever made (scarier than Maximum Overdrive, Steve?) but I wouldn’t go that far. Honestly, I hardly found it scary at all, but I don’t judge movies by how much they do or don’t scare me, especially when they’re not technically horror.
One other interesting thing about this film is that you’ll inevitably ask “Why not just give them the doll?” The doll though I believe represents innocence, and by acquiescing, she’d be saying that the world’s full of criminals. That idea would be one of the major themes of 70s cinema.
If Audrey Hepburn is your favorite actress, read this post about my favorite classic actress, scroll down, and there’s a poll where you can vote for Audrey.
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