Contrived but gripping: Wait Until Dark (Terence Young, 1967)

waituntildark

In Wait Until Dark, three crims search for a heroin-stuffed doll in a blind woman’s apartment while trying not to alert her to what they’re doing. The premise needs some contrivances to get going, and the story’s origin as a stageplay is obvious, but the film is still a tense and affecting thriller.

Audrey Hepburn immediately establishes Susy as an endearingly sweet and kind woman. She has a couple of moments of hysteria as she grows to understand what is happening around her, and I would have much preferred to see these underplayed. Her moments of terror when being cruelly menaced, however, are totally convincing. But don’t think Susy is weak; her survival depends on her recognition of her own strengths, and her relationship with the strange girl who lives upstairs.

As Roat, the most deadly of the three baddies, Alan Arkin chews little scenery, betraying little emotion except when he is endangered. His apparent lack of enjoyment (or any other feeling) while toying with Susy makes these moments all the more chilling. All three crims are interesting for the ways that they play into Susy’s blindness, acting with their voices but not their faces when around her. Roat most monstrously devises ways of tormenting her in ways that she cannot anticipate because she cannot see him.

Most memorably, the film’s climax plays on the viewer’s own visual perception. I’d very much like to see it at a cinema or on a stage, because this would be the best way of experiencing it, I think, with a more immediate and inescapable effect.

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