This Thursday, October 26, 2017, marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S. release of Wait Until Dark starring the talented Audrey Hepburn. Having never seen the film I decided this tremendous occasion would be the perfect time for a first watch and review. I became acquainted with the film after hearing so many references from reviews of Fede Alvarez’s 2016 hit Don’t Breathe. Many felt the film’s shared common traits. It’s always interesting stepping back in time to watch a classic especially one 50 years old. Our culture has changed so much and the subtle differences can sometimes be jarring. Still, even with the vast differences the film held up and I found the experience quite enjoyable.
To give a quick plot outline Hepburn as the protagonist plays Susy Hendrix a young woman recently suffering from complete blindness due to a recent accident. She is still in the process of adjusting to this new life with help from her husband Sam played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr. Susy also gets help with chores and errands from Gloria, a young girl who lives in the same complex and played by Julie Herrod. The small cast is rounded out by Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, and Jack Weston, three criminals working a scheme on the blind Susy to obtain a doll Sam recently came into possession of under strange circumstances. The story essentially revolves around the three men preying on Susy’s condition as they roleplay different characters with the ultimate intention to deceive her into revealing the location of the doll.
First off it is always amusing to see an old film and recognize a face through the veil of youth. This happened with Crenna and Arkin and it made me smile a bit. Arkin was a bit difficult, it took me some time to place the face with the voice and mannerisms. Initially, I kept thinking Andy Garcia but I knew the age difference didn’t make sense. Crenna was easy because he looked practically exactly the same from the Rambo films.
After getting over that diversion and the nostalgia I was really able to sink into the film. I understood it was a thriller but I initially had doubts over how chilling it could actually be. I was delightfully surprised though, director Terence Young does a tremendous job with suspense using lighting and building tension with character interaction. The score also adds a lot and brings a good spooky vibe. Some of it reminded me of the original Halloween with the haunting piano played over slow panning views of low lit streets and dark alleys. Unlike today’s thrillers, it doesn’t depend on jumps and false scares to keep the audience engaged. It is slow burning and much of the tension is built by allowing us to connect with Susy and feel her anxiety build as she slowly begins to unravel what is truly happening around her and the realization that her life is in danger. It gave me the chills a few times.
The entire ensemble’s performance is great, especially Hepburn’s’. There are some quirky and amusing moments, mostly due to the script not the actor’s performance, that made me tilt my head in that, “Really?” manner. But overall each character was played well and the story was easy to follow and keep engaged with. The setting is also quite interesting. The bulk of the film takes place in a tiny apartment as characters come in and out to interact with Susy. Even with this small space and minimal changes to the venue the story never gets dull. While researching for this write-up I uncovered that the film is actually based on a play written by Frederick Knott. In retrospect, it’s easy to see how keeping the setting simple would make it easier to perform on stage. I would love to catch a showing of this and it is surprising not to see any shows in the works considering its the 50th anniversary to the film.
As I originally stated the film was surprisingly quite good. I remember watching a number of older films with my dad and I always found the acting somewhat over dramatic. But Hepburn is absolutely fantastic here. Save for a few awkward moments her portrayal as someone new to being blind is believable and the way she exudes the moments of anxiety and panic is sensational. It was also refreshing watching a film where the core focus was on the actor’s performance and writing as opposed to visual effects and gimmicky fluff. My only real qualms with the film lie with the Sam character. In recent years we have seen more and more progress surrounding female empowerment and gender equality especially in regards to their portrayal and representation in film and media. However often times it felt as though Sam’s role in Susy’s life was over-inflated almost to the point of eluding that Susy could not survive without him. This becomes even harder to work out when you consider that his character has a minimal amount of screen time. There is a particular moment when Hepburn’s character is recalling the moment she met Sam, “One day, l was practicing crossing at the lights…and the cars were piling up around me like mad, and…suddenly, a man named Sam grabbed me. And that was that.” This scene played out all wrong for me and I couldn’t help but feel as if Susy believed her life changed all due to Sam’s presence in her life. One could even look at the wording itself of that story and extract an underlying meaning. Now some might not find this as troubling but I didn’t care for it. However, this is one of those moments where it is easy to see how this scene would likely cause more alarm today than in the 50’s considering how dramatically societies view of women has changed. Still, there are a few other scenes like this. They didn’t ruin the film by any means but they made me wince a bit.
Wait Until Dark is a classic I would definitely recommend. It’s a great relief from some of the recent letdowns being churned out in Hollywood and with Halloween coming around it’s a good time to catch up on some old thrillers. If you have gotten tired of the same old films every October 31st maybe give this one a try, just remember to cut out all the lights.
Wait Until Dark Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️