October 26, 1967, release date
Directed by Terence Young
Screenplay by Robert Carrington and Jane-Howard Carrington
Based on a story by Frederick Knott
Music by Henry Mancini
Cinematography by Charles Lang
Audrey Hepburn as Susy Hendrix
Alan Arkin as Roat, Harry Roat, Jr., and Harry Roat, Sr.
Richard Crenna as Mike Talman
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as Sam Hendrix
Jack Weston as Carlino
Samantha Jones as Lisa
Julie Herrod as Gloria, Susy’s neighbor
Produced by Warner Bros.–Seven Arts
This film was released exactly forty-eight years ago today, and every time I see it, I marvel at the story, the acting, the production, the music score. It’s a neo-noir that shouldn’t be missed.
The opening of Wait Until Dark is unusual and right away poses many questions. The WB logo appears over a red satin background; dissonant music is playing. It turns out that the shot is in extreme close-up because a hand appears and uses a knife to cut the red satin. Then the camera cuts to a medium shot of an older man pulling stuffing out of a doll, and the red satin turns out to be part of the doll’s undergarments. The credits start, and behind the credits we see the setup: Lisa has some heroin in the doll. The old man makes a phone call while watching Lisa outside the window of the apartment she just left. Lisa boards a plane to take the doll and its contents from Montreal to New York City. She spots someone (Roat) in the airport in New York, suspects trouble, and asks a man on her flight (Sam Hendrix) to safeguard the doll. The sequence is very economical and leaves us with questions that can be answered by watching the rest of the film.
Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin stand out in a excellent cast. Two details about Wait Until Dark really stick with me: the relationship between Susy Hendrix and her neighbor Gloria, and the way that one of the criminals, Mike Talman, comes to appreciate Susy Hendrix, and she comes to appreciate him.
(This blog post about Wait Until Dark contains spoilers.)
Gloria is a young girl who seems like a misfit. Her father abandoned the family; her mother has gone off for the weekend and left her alone. She and Susy do not get along at the beginning of the film. Susy tells this to her husband Sam, who has some sympathy for Gloria’s predicament. But he is not the target of Gloria’s taunts.
At one point in the film, Gloria gets angry with Susy and throws kitchen items on the floor. She and Susy get into a shouting match, but they resolve the confrontation and apologize to one another. Gloria tells Susy that she didn’t throw anything breakable; she throws only unbreakable things. She explains: It’s something that she learned from her father. There’s nothing about this child, her situation, or her relationship with her blind neighbor that’s romanticized.
Mike Talman insinuates himself into Susy’s life by telling her that he is an old army buddy of Sam, her husband. Susy must depend on Gloria when she realizes that Mike is trying to deceive her and may in fact mean her harm. The following bit of dialogue between Susy and Gloria is revealing about both characters:
• Susy: “Gloria?”
• Gloria: “Yeah?”
• Susy: “How would you like to do something difficult and terribly dangerous?”
• Gloria: “I’d love it.”
When Gloria leaves to meet Sam’s bus (from Asbury Park) at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, she tells Susy: “Gee, I wish something like this would happen every day.” Gloria is young enough not to understand the true danger that Susy faces. But she is happy to help because of the excitement that she perceives in the situation, which would be true of a lot of children her age.
Gloria proves to be a resourceful child. She pretends to be selling Girl Scout cookies to get past Carlino, who is working with Harry Roat and Mike Talman, and who is on the street guarding the front door to Susy Hendix’s apartment building. Gloria manages to convince him that she’s out at night trying to sell cookies and earn points, and then she’s on her way to find Sam Hendrix at the bus terminal.
Mike Talman comes to appreciate Susy. He, Carlino, and Roat are trying to get the doll stuffed with heroin from her, and they have been lying and harassing her to do it. But he tells Carlino that Susy is an impressive woman. Later, he has the following exchange with Susy:
• Talman: “You’re a good, strong lady, Susy Hendix.”
• Susy: “World champion blind lady.”
• Talman: “Oh, yeah. You’re all of that.”
I’ve seen Wait Until Dark several times, and I’m still amazed by the performances and the story. And, of course, by the famous scene toward the end when Susy Hendrix is trapped in her apartment, and Harry Roat . . . . If you haven’t seen it, it really would be unfair to spoil it. I still find the scene powerful, even though I have seen it several times. I imagine this last sequence with Susy Hendrix and Harry Roat is even more powerful in the complete darkness of a 1967 movie theater with a large screen.