Now two are left: Susy, recently blinded and still learning how to live in a sighted world, and Roat, a psychopathic killer. Roat wants a heroin-stuffed doll he thinks Susy has. All Susy wants is to survive. Dim the lights, check the door's chain lock, and brace yourself for a chiller as polished as the steel of Roat's blade. Audrey Hepburn earned her fifth Academy Award(r) nomination as Susy. Alan Arkin is pure evil as Roat, master of disguise and accents. Jack Weston and Richard Crenna costar as his henchmen. Building to a heart-pounding one-on-one confrontation, Wait Until Dark belongs to the screen's most memorable thrillers" (David Shipman, The Story of Cinema).
"I cannot negotiate in an atmosphere of mistrust."
"Classic" is such a loosely defined term when discussing a film that it all hinges on personal interpretation. Some will call a film a classic by its age, some the esteem that it has garnered over the years, others will call a film a classic simply by the emotional impact it gives them. Like most folks, I myself have a pretty loose foundation for the term, I usually prescribe "classic" on a case by case basis, but for the most part, it hinges on how watchable the film is. If it's a film that hit my emotional core or kept me sitting on the edge of my seat, or swept me away with a terrific score, and is something that I can watch over and over again and still glean something new from it, it's a classic. 1967's 'Wait Until Dark' directed by Terence Young and starring Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, and Jack Weston is a classic in every sense of the word.
Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn) lives a quiet unassuming life with her caring photographer husband Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.). Recently blinded in an accident, Susy goes about her days learning to cope with the darkness as Sam encourages her to push herself beyond her perceived abilities. With a little help from a neighbor girl named Gloria (Julie Herrod), Susy has a quiet life. Everything changes while Sam is called away on an unexpected assignment. First a man named Mike Talman (Richard Crenna) shows up. He says he's an old army buddy of Mike's that has come to town and Susy has no reason to doubt him. When a deranged old man called Roat (Alan Arkin) breaks into the home insinuating Sam is having an affair with his son's wife, Mike is there to comfort her and calm her down. When a surly belligerent police Sargent Carlino (Jack Weston) interviews her about the intrusion, a pattern emerges - everyone seems to be after a doll, a child's doll that Sam was given on a flight from Montreal to New York. But the doll has gone missing. It's nowhere to be found inside the apartment. As Susy blindly searches for the doll, it becomes clear that no one is who they say they are and the only person Susy can depend upon is herself.
I honestly wish that I could say that I have known 'Wait Until Dark' all my life and that it was a film that I grew up watching. For how much I enjoy every second of this film, it feels like it was one I had seen hundreds of times over the years. But it isn't. In point of fact, it's a film my wife introduced me to early on in our relationship. Over the past ten years, I've probably only seen it three times - and I've been pinned to the back of my seat wide-eyed every time I watch it. Even though I know the mechanics of the film, even though I know to expect a particular scene, even though I know the outcome, 'Wait Until Dark' is the sort of film that grabs me by the guts, twists them in knots of suspense and never lets them go. In short, for me 'Wait Until Dark' is a classic. It's the sort of film that even though I know every plot beat, I can never get enough of it but I purposefully rarely watch it so that I never get tired of it.
To that end, you will have to forgive me any plot vagaries as I do not want to spoil a single element of this film. Based on the stage play by Frederick Knott, 'Wait Until Dark' is a pitch-perfect home invasion thriller. With the tight direction of Terence Young, the impeccable screenplay adaptation by Robert and Jane-Howard Carrington, the incredible performance from Audry Hepburn (who earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination), and a chilling turn from Alan Arkin, 'Wait Until Dark' is the perfect film to watch on a cold night with all the lights turned off. Every element from the direction, writing, and performances to the dissonant score by Henry Mancini come together perfectly for this small little thriller.
Fans of Audrey Hepburn who have yet to discover this film will be taken aback by her emotionally wrenching performance. Normally I'm bothered by a person with sight playing blind because the performance becomes obvious and stilted, but Hepburn plays her insecure and challenged Susy brilliantly. She's not simply staring off into oblivion like so many actors do, but she goes the distance of convincingly stumbling into out of place objects as she feels about the room. Then there is Alan Arkin. If you've only ever known Arkin as the adept comedian who can sling some great one-liners as the lovable grandpa, you're in for a real treat. Picture a seemingly innocent looking snake coiled about itself. It looks harmless, acts harmless, but the moment you get too close, the fangs come out and it strikes without warning. That's Alan Arkin in this film. How he wasn't nominated for any awards for his deathly chilling performance is one of the great mysteries of the world. While Richard Crenna and Jack Weston are equally great in their respective roles, 'Wait Until Dark' is truly Hepburn and Arkin's film as both actors deliver what are arguably one their best performances of their respective careers. Hepburn would only do another five films over the next twenty years making this one of her last standout roles.
While some may argue that this film is too "stagey" or simple, I would counter that its inherent simplicity is what makes it work. It isn't overstuffed or too clever for its own good. The film features just the right amount of backstory exposition that the characters are established and the stakes are set. We know everyone's motivation within a matter of minutes. The film's use of a single location keeps the action tense, claustrophobic, and the beautiful photography by the legendary Charles Lang (Lang was nominated for 18 Academy Awards for Best Cinematography and won only one) keeps the mood atmospheric and suspenseful right up to the end when the only light comes from a lit match or an open refrigerator. Those who have seen the film are no doubt well aware of the end; the end was even used to help promote the film by taking a page from the William Castle playbook requesting viewers to not light up cigarettes lest they accidentally break the tension! But I won't tell you that end here, you're just going to have to see it for yourself. On that note, be sure to have suitable amounts of cleaning products on hand as you're likely going to need to clean up any combination of spilled drink and popcorn once the credits roll.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Wait Until Dark' arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Archive and is pressed onto a Region Free BD-50 disc. The disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case and loads directly to a static image main menu with the Henry Mancini score playing in the background featuring traditional navigation options.
Coming off of a very good presentation on DVD, I wasn't expecting much of an improvement in overall quality for this Blu-ray release of 'Wait Until Dark,' but once again Warner Archive manages to impress. The film's 2.35:1 transfer is simply stunning. From the very first shot, one can see an appreciable increase in detail levels as the stuffing from the Doll is removed. Fine film grain is present throughout the run of the film without ever becoming noisy. Even during the dark and ominous climax, grain is stable presenting strong detail levels allowing the audience to soak in facial features, costuming, and the intricate production design work employed to bring the Hendrix apartment to life. Colors are of that late 60s pallet with vivid primaries. Even with the darker tones and lighting, reds and blues have a strong presence. Flesh tones appear accurate and healthy. Black levels are deep and inky with incredible shadow separation which becomes more and more important as the film progresses to the point that single source lighting is used to light the scene. Additionally, the source print appears to have undergone some measure of restoration as slight instances of speckling and dirt that were apparent on the DVD release are no longer visible. Simply put, this is a gorgeous transfer continuing Warner Archive's impressive track record with their catalog releases.
In addition to the visual quality uptick, 'Wait Until Dark' is blessed with an English DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono track. The track does a terrific job of managing the high and low tones throughout the film. Dialogue is rendered clearly without any overlap from the sound effects elements or Mancini's terrific moody score. Sound effects and ambients work to produce an appreciable sense of space and dimension to the mix as the sound of squeaking shoes, broken glass, and the crashing of turned over furniture layer the mix. Levels are set perfectly and you shouldn't have any need to adjust levels once you have found a comfortable setting. This track is free of any age-related hiss or pop creating a perfect listening experience.
Unfortunately, no new bonus features were created for this release as all materials save for an essay have been ported over from the previous DVD release.
Look Into The Dark: (SD 8:40) Alan Arkin and producer (and husband of Audrey Hepburn at the time of production) Mel Ferrer look back at the production of the film, working with Audrey, and the film's response. It's particularly great to hear Arkin's thoughts on his performance as he loves and hates the role, loved playing a sleazy drug-addled maniac but hated tormented such a nice person like Hepburn on set.
Warning Trailer: (SD 1:08) This is the classic sort of William Castle promotion that is sadly absent from movie marketing these days.
Theatrical Trailer: (HD 2:36)
Those who know 'Wait Until Dark' know that the film is a classic. It's a tight and tense story filled with amazing performances, a chilling Henry Mancini score, and incredible cinematography making this film not only memorable but one of the best home invasion thrillers ever produced. Those who have yet to see 'Wait Until Dark' are in for a rare treat, and one that keeps on giving after repeated viewings. Warner Archive has done a magnificent job with this release ensuring that the film is given the full respect it deserves with a knockout A/V presentation. Sadly the extra features leave one wanting, I honestly wish WA had taken a page from Twilight Time and provided an isolated score track, but that doesn't keep me from calling this release of one of my absolute favorite films - and a true classic - Highly Recommended.