Susy Hendrix is recently married and was recently blinded in an accident. She is striving to adjust to the changes in her life as she adapts to her New York City basement apartment. Meanwhile, her husband is flying back from Europe and, after arriving at the airport in New York, is approached by a woman who asks him to hold a doll for her. He agrees, unaware that she has brought the doll into the country filled with packets of heroin. She is met by her partner, Harry Roat, at the airport, and he is very disappointed that she doesn’t have the heroin with her. VERY DISAPPOINTED!
He eventually learns that the doll is now located in the basement apartment of Sam and Susy Hendrix and engages two other criminals to help him find and obtain the doll and heroin. They work to try to con, bully and eventually frighten Susy into giving them the doll.
Today’s Reel Classic is Wait Until Dark, released in 1967. It is a suspense-filled movie that provides that suspense right up until the last moments of the film. Audrey Hepburn is Susy and does a marvelous job at portraying a blind woman. This role is a bit different from many that we think of when we think of her—the glamorous, stylish characters in Breakfast At Tiffany’s, Roman Holiday, Charade, etc. Oh, she is still glamorous and stylish, but in a different way.
Audrey Hepburn took on this role in an effort to play against the type for which she was well known. Stephen King, in his book “Danse Macabre”, stated that he believed the film to be the scariest of all time. That statement might well spur a great deal of debate, but there is no doubt the suspense will keep you on the edge of your seat.
Playing the criminal Harry Roat (as well as Roat Jr. and Roat Sr.) is Alan Arkin. His character is described as a psychopath — and I think you would agree that he is very creepy. His cohorts in crime are Richard Crenna (Mike Talman) and Jack Weston (Carlino). The doll-toting lady (Lisa) on the airplane is Samantha Jones. Susy’s husband, Sam Hendrix, is played by Efrem Zimbalist Jr. The other primary character in the film is Susy’s teenage neighbor, Gloria, who assists her in various tasks (played by Julie Herrod).
Though there are a few scenes that take place in Europe and later the airport, most of the action takes place in the basement apartment and the street in front of it. The story was adapted from a play of the same name written by Frederick Knott. It ran in New York and starred Lee Remick in the role of Susy (who received a nomination for a Tony Award for Best Actress). Julie Herrod was also in the play as Gloria. The film was produced by Mel Ferrer, who at the time was married to Audrey Hepburn. Their marriage ended not long after. An interesting side note–the director was Terence Young. As a sixteen-year-old volunteer nurse during World War II, Audrey Hepburn worked in a Dutch hospital caring for wounded Allied troops. One of those she assisted at that time was a young British paratrooper–Terence Young.
To prepare for the role of a blind woman Audrey Hepburn and director Terence Young visited a school for the blind to obtain a better understanding of the visually impaired. She studied the use of Braille and other behaviors to provide a more authentic portrayal. It was determined that Audrey Hepburn’s eyes were “too expressive” for a blind person, so she was fitted with special contact lenses to lessen the “expressiveness.”
Audrey Hepburn was the initial choice for the role of Susy. George C. Scott was considered for the role of Harry Roat, and Robert Redford was considered for the role of Mike Talman.
Upon release of the film, there was a notice provided to the public regarding the experience in the theatre. “During the last eight minutes of this picture, the theatre will be darkened to the legal limit to heighten the terror of the breathtaking climax which takes place in nearly total darkness on the screen.” As Susy broke each light bulb in her apartment, lights in the theatre were extinguished. Needless to say, this effect was successful in its effort to “heighten the terror” among the viewers.
Wait Until Dark was very popular the year of its release. It earned over $7 million in North America alone. Audrey Hepburn received an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. In an interview, Alan Arkin was asked if he was surprised he didn’t get an Oscar nomination for his role of Harry Roat. He replied, “You don’t get nominated for being mean to Audrey Hepburn.”
After filming Wait Until Dark, Audrey Hepburn decided to take a break from acting to focus on raising her children. As mentioned above, her marriage was also deteriorating. She did not appear in a film again until the release of Robin and Marian in 1976.
The Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB) scores Wait Until Dark at 7.7 out of 10. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a critics score of 96% and an audience score of 91%.
In checking what streaming services offered, I found only one site that offered it for free. That was Movieland TV (offered on Roku). The Clark County Public Library also has it available on DVD.
I love Audrey Hepburn, and I love suspense-filled thrillers. If either of those loves describe you, then check out Wait Until Dark. You might even consider watching it with the lights out. One review I read stated that this was the best Alfred Hitchcock movie that Alfred Hitchcock didn’t make.
Below you will find the trailer for the film. Be watching for the next Reel Classic.