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Movie Review: Wait Until Dark (1966)

‘Wait until Dark’ is a chilling psychological thriller, directed by Terrence Young and adapted from a play of the same name by Frederick Knott. With Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Jack Weston and Julie Herrod in the lead, the movie is a chilling nail-biter from start to finish.

Frederick Knott who wrote this play, is also the author of the Hitchcock classic, ‘Dial M for Murder’. The two movies share a few common themes. Both of them, are centered around a female lead, whose life placed in danger. In addition, open front doors and keys are important aspects of both plots. In both movies, the antagonist makes use of fingerprints, to entrap other people to go along with their twisted plans.

Most of the plot of ‘Wait Until Dark’ is set in a basement Apartment in London.

The movie begins with a woman Lisa, waiting for an elderly man to stuff a doll with narcotics at an apartment, in Montreal, Canada. Lisa then takes a cab to the airport. The elderly man is seen making a call, as he watches her leave. The woman takes a flight to New York, en route to her final destination, London England.

The woman notices a man (Alan Arkin) looking at her as she disembarks the flight at JFK airport, New York. Visibly agitated upon seeing him, she is seen talking to a fellow passenger on the flight and then handing over the doll to the passenger.

The man who was looking at her earlier, is then seen grabbing the Lisa roughly and forcing her to come with him.

In the next scene, two petty criminals, Mike (Richard Crenna) and Carlino (Jack Weston) are seen looking for an apartment in London. When they arrive at the doorstep of the basement apartment, a note, apparently from Lisa, tells them that the door is open and to come in and relax.

The two men enter and begin exploring the apartment and its contents. One of them helps himself to some food from the refrigerator. There is a knock on the door that startles the duo.

The mystery man seen earlier, aggressively escorting Lisa away at the airport enters the apartment. He is wearing a hat, dark glasses and is clad in black clothes. The situation is tense and after a brief standoff between the two crooks and the black mystery man, a strange conversation ensues. While this conversation is hard to follow, it is important to understand it , as it casts light on the happenings this far in the movie and sets the stage for things to come.

The conversation reveals that Lisa and the two criminals Mike and Carlino were once a team, that often staged an elaborate con on rich vulnerable men. Lisa would lure an unsuspecting victim into a compromising position. Mike, Carlino or both of them would walk in on Lisa and the victim in this situation. The men would play roles of either Lisa’s shocked husband or of a policeman. The three would then blackmail the victim, and extort money from him, with threats of exposure.

On one occasion, the con fell through and as a result Mike and Carlino end up doing some time, while Lisa escapes. The man in black, introduces himself as Harry Roat, and claims to be Lisa’s partner. He goes on to say, that Lisa and himself are in need of the assistance of Mike and Carlino to locate a doll of ‘immense value’. Lisa had persuaded a fellow male passenger on the flight to temporarily keep the doll with him, by telling him that she had bought it for one of her daughters and needs to keep it away from the jealous eyes of another daughter, who is coming to greet her at the airport. The male passenger is Sam Hendrix, the resident of this very basement apartment. Lisa tried to contact Sam earlier for the doll, but Sam had told her that the doll had mysteriously disappeared.

One likely place the doll could be would be the only safe in the apartment that none of the three could open. The petty crooks protest that they are not trained to open safes. Roat assures them that he does not need them to open the safe but need them for their ‘acting skills’. He tells them, that they must use these skills, to extract the whereabouts of the doll, from the residents of the apartment.

The meeting becomes tense and then there is a brief variation of the Mexican standoff between Roat and the two other criminals. Unlike a typical Mexican standoff that involves guns, the men stand against each other brandishing knives and artifacts from the apartment.

Soon, there is an uneasy truce and the men decide to break the standoff. Then, to their horror, Mike and Carlino find Lisa’s lifeless corpse tucked away in a closet. Shocked by this revelation, Mike and Carliano, now understand that their former partner in crime associate, Lisa, had almost nothing to do with bringing the two of them into this apartment or leaving a note for them, at the entrance. The whole fiendish plan was the brainchild of Roat. It is now a serious possibility that Roat viciously tortured Lisa, before killing he,r to get the details about the doll, and find out all he can about Lisa’s criminal exploits, with Mike and Carliano.

Now, wanting nothing to do with Roat, the two men consider going to the police, and fessing up to entering the apartment and in revealing their encounter with Roat and Lisa’s corpse.

Roat, casually threatens the men, that if the two of them, took these actions, ithey would only implicate themselves, as their fingerprints are all over the apartment. He, Roat ,on the other hand, with no criminal record would walk out of this situation, unscathed. If however, the duo cooperated with him, he would help them not only get out of this current predicament with Lisa’s corpse, but a also reward them with a generous fee for their contributions.

Realizing that they are trapped, and with no other option left, Mike and Carliano reluctantly agree comply with Roat. Just then, the men hear footsteps, approaching front door. The men conceal themselves, as the door opens. Then enters a blind woman, who will be the most significant person in this story.

She is revealed to be Susan Henrix, wife of the photographer Sam, who is also living in this apartment. Susan has returned from a school for the blind. After making a few calls, she leaves the apartment. The three men decide to reconvene at the apartment the following day.

The next morning, Susan finds out that the corpse of a woman, was found near the apartment. Sam returns to the apartment, spends time with Susan and the leaves, telling Susan that he will be away for a few days, on a photo assignment. Gloria, a teenage girl who lives in another apartment, in the same building, comes to visit Susan.

Gloria who sometimes assists Susan in her daily chores, has a brief quarrel with Susan but the two soon patch up. The plot now takes a chilling turn. Sure enough, the men come back to the apartment, and begin a con game involving Susan.

Mike poses as a former marine to Susan, and claims that he served alongside Sam, and has come to look up his old friend. Susan initially trusts Mike. Next, Carliano pretending to be a cop, ends the apartment,telling Susan that he looking to in Sam, as a potential suspect in the murder of the dead woman, whose corpse was found in the vicinity of their apartment, earlier.

Roat too joins in the roll playing, first arriving on the scene, disguised as an old man, the father of the husband of the dead woman. He pretends to be hurt and angry with Sam for having had an affair with and then murdering the dead woman, the wife of his son. It was unclear to me, why he wore a disguise with mustache and beard in posing as a old man to the blind Susan.

He returns a second time, playing the part of the dead woman’s grieving husband. Susan, with her strong intuitions sees through this ruse. Realizing that Susan is close to uncovering the ruse, the criminals step up their efforts, doing all they can to terrorize Susan.

The plot now becomes a more intense game of cat and mouse leading to an explosive end. With her husband away, can a blind woman, totally helpless, except for some limited assistance from the young girl, Gloria take on two seasoned con men and a murderous psychopath? Will she be able to save her won life from the danger that lurks around her?

The ending of this movie was as intense and riveting as the rest of the plot. Audrey Hepburn would earn an Academy award nomination for her masterful portrayal of Susan. This is a memorable performance where she portrays a myriad of emotions like confusion, fear, absolute panic, anger, hope and courage. Alan Arkin is fearsome as the devilishly evil Roat. Richard Crenna as Mike and Jack Weston as Carliano turn in some good performances. Efrem Zimbalist Jr. received a Golden Globe nomination for portraying Sam Hendix. (I am not sure why, considering his minor role.)

The riveting plot is another aspect this movie that makes it a classic. It should be noted that there are quite a few flaws in the plot. One of these is bad enough to collapse the plot in its entirety.

It should be noted that Roger Ebert like the movie but was also extremely critical of Audrey Hepburn claiming that she did not deserve the Oscar nomination for her role. He also reveals the fatal flaw I mentioned earlier.

I would suggest that you do not read his review, until you see the movie. After you do see it, try to find the flaw yourself and then read his review. Can your analytical skills match those of the legendary film critic? This movie is a must se for all lovers of the thriller genre.


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Movie Review: Wait Until Dark (1966)


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