Audrey Hepburn shines in this nail biting suspense thriller.
Adapted from a hit Broadway play by Frederick Knott, Wait Until Dark (1967) provided a change of pace for both director Terence Young and its principal star, the legendary Audrey Hepburn. Young had found great success earlier that decade having helmed the first three globetrotting Bond adventures, kickstarting an enduring franchise. By contrast, Knott’s play was considerably smaller in scale, with most of the action unfolding in just one location. This gritty thriller must have also taken Hepburn’s adoring fans a little by surprise at the time, having become more familiar with seeing her in charmingly frothy romantic comedies. It was produced by actor Mel Ferrer, Hepburn’s husband at the time, shortly before their divorce.
Wait Until Dark finds Hepburn perfectly cast as Susy Hendrix, a woman who has been recently blinded in a car accident. She’s easily frightened at first but, gradually and determinedly, is adapting to her impairment. When her photographer husband Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) returns home briefly from a business trip to Canada, he brings back a doll that was handed to him unexpectedly by a stranger at the airport. You might wonder why he would be gullible enough to take the doll through customs and then all the way back home, yet it’s one of many illogical moments in the narrative. We’re already privy to the fact that the doll is stuffed full of heroin, as revealed in the opening sequence, though the couple are blissfully unaware. One man who knows otherwise is unsavoury crook Roat (Alan Arkin), who has their address and fully intends to recover his shipment, coercing a couple of small-time hoods named Carlino (Jack Weston) and Talman (Richard Crenna) to help him with his plan.
It’s difficult to forget that this film began life as a stage play, with much of it playing out inside Susy’s New York apartment as Roat and his cohorts persistently call round while she is alone, adopting various fake personas in an elaborate scam to try and fool her into revealing the doll’s whereabouts. Could it be locked away inside the safe, or stashed elsewhere? There’s a brilliantly tense scene at the beginning of the film where the men are searching inside the apartment as Susy arrives home and is unaware of their presence, giving them a chance to later slip away. Only an aroma left behind hints that all is not right. The friendship between Susy and her young neighbour Gloria (Julie Herrod) is nicely played. The girl at first comes across as simply mischievous, but generally means well and becomes Susy’s only ally in the film.
The film benefits enormously by some canny casting. Richard Crenna, always a dependable character actor, is best known for playing Colonel Trautman in First Blood (1982) and the Rambo sequels. I always admired him for managing to deliver some uproariously inane dialogue in those films, yet with such conviction that you still believed in every word. In Wait Until Dark he’s well cast as the smooth-talking con man, who wheedles his way into Susy’s life. Weston, often cast in comedic roles, is equally good value playing a phony cop who pretends to be investigating a crime. Arkin gets the flashiest role though as ruthless killer Roat, who happens to be a master of disguise, entering the apartment as various characters while attempting to hoodwink Susy. Arkin has always made me laugh over the years in films such as Arthur Hiller’s wacky The In-Laws (1979) and was wonderful as the foul-mouthed Grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine (2006). This is one of his darker more sinister roles, which the actor was initially reluctant to take, as he didn’t want to be seen on screen terrorising the iconic Hepburn.
Through some subtle giveaways – and clever touches in the script, Susy comes to the shocking realisation that the men are not who they claim to be. As the gang become increasingly desperate, realising that this woman is not going to be the pushover they had first imagined, Susy finally realises her life is in danger and decides to turn the tables.
Director Young keeps the film moving efficiently without too many lulls, gradually ratcheting up the tension, accompanied by a classy atmospheric score by Henry Mancini. Hepburn is, as always, mesmerising – and received an Oscar nomination. See the film for her and a terrific suspense sequence in the final act, just don’t think too much about the plot afterwards or the gaping holes will become glaringly apparent.
Wait Until Dark makes its UK debut on Blu-ray as part of the ever-expanding HMV Premium Collection (no. 72 in the series), available exclusively from this retailer. The disc appears identical to the one released in the US last year as part of the Warner Archive Collection, which was sourced from a new 2K scan. The image, presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, looks clean with no signs of damage. It is most definitely the best the film has ever looked, with all those annoying specks that marred older releases no longer present. Considering a proportion of the film was shot in semi-darkness, it benefits greatly from the improved 1080p resolution, boasting excellent levels of contrast. Skin tones appear natural and fine textures are more evident in clothing, as well as background detail in the apartment.
Audio is presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0, with dialogue distinct throughout. Mancini’s wonderful score also comes through crisp and clear. English subtitles have been included.
The extras on the disc are uninspiring and ported over from an earlier DVD edition. They include two vintage trailers and Take A Look in the Dark (8:40), an archive featurette comprising short interviews with Arkin and producer Mel Ferrer.
As with other releases in the Premium Collection, the disc comes packaged in a slip case, with four art cards and a small poster. There’s also a digital copy of the film that can be downloaded to mobile devices. The Premium Collection no longer includes a copy of the film on DVD, though it is already available separately on this format from most retailers.
Wait Until Dark is available on Blu-ray from 24th September 2018.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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