March 3, 2014
Wait Until Dark (1967)
Grade: 50/100

Director: Terence Young
Stars: Audrey Hepburn, Richard Crenna, Alan Arkin

What it's about. Set primarily in a New York City apartment, this thriller stars Audrey Hepburn as a young blind woman interrogated and ultimately terrorized by three professional criminals.

The story begins in Canada. Hottie blonde Samantha Jones successfully smuggles heroin within an antique doll onto a plane flight to NYC. Because it is a movie, Jones gives the doll to a stranger and fellow passenger, Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

She then meets drug merchant (and homicidal maniac) Alan Arkin. He presumably is unhappy that she gave away the doll. They go to the Zimbalist's address, where they can't find the doll. Arkin murders Jones, because it is a movie. These events happen offscreen because Hepburn is the star. Arkin then meets two con men at the apartment, "good cop" Richard Crenna and "bad cop" Jack Weston, whom he has hired to learn the location of the doll from Zimbalist's wife Hepburn.

Hepburn finally shows up, and the three criminals take turns concocting stories to con the nice but increasingly suspicious Hepburn. Bratty pre-tweener Julie Herrod shows up now and then to reveal the con and bring in the cavalry when Hepburn is finally cornered and menaced by the evil Alan Arkin.

Wait Until Dark was based on a hit 1966 Broadway play starring Lee Remick. The film was produced by actor Mel Ferrer, at the time the husband of Hepburn, though they divorced in 1968.

How others will see it. Wait Until Dark was fairly successful at the box office, the 16th highest grossing film of the year in the U.S. It picked up a single Oscar nomination, for Hepburn's plum role, continuing the time-honored Hollywood tradition of honoring actors for playing characters with physical handicaps.

Today at, the user votes are middling at 16K but the user rating is surprisingly high at 7.9 out of 10. The votes are uncommonly consistent across the demographics of age and gender.

Most viewers regard the thriller as exciting. They have great sympathy for nice, pretty, vulnerable, and brave Audrey Hepburn, and exult when she turns the tables on Arkin by turning off all the lights. Welcome to my world.

Naysayers, and they exist, complain about the improbable story and Arkin's curious, miscast serial killer character.

How I felt about it. The story resembles Rear Window in that the story is set in an apartment, the hero is handicapped, and is menaced by a killer. It also resembles a slasher film in that the pretty girl in peril must fight back against her predator.

The suspense is overrated. There is absolutely no chance that pretty Hepburn will receive as much as a slap to the face, while Arkin will surely get what is coming to him.

The story is an insult to one's intelligence. Why does Jones fly to the U.S. from Canada when it was so easy (in 1967) to drive across the border, simply by flashing a driver's license? Why does Jones give the doll, which she knows contains heroin, to a stranger? What are the odds that Herrod would steal the doll within the day? Why does Arkin murder Jones? Why does he murder Crenna and Weston? And he's going to murder Hepburn as well? After loitering around suspiciously in front of the apartment building all day in his van in front of a pay phone? Why is the apartment door unlocked so often? Why does Hepburn show up at the apartment so late that Arkin has time to search the place, murder Jones, wait for Crenna and Weston, and fill them in? Why would Arkin dump gasoline all over the apartment, then light a match that could set himself on fire as well?

We also wonder about Hepburn's becoming blind from a car crash without any other physical injuries. Except that she is so rail-thin that someone on the set ought to give her a milk shake. Maybe two or three.

In the end, the convoluted and incredulous story exists solely to set up the final confrontation between Arkin and Hepburn, which, as previously noted, is like that from any slasher film. The twist is that Hepburn is blind, increasing her vulnerability, and that the roles are played by A-list actors. But at least the slasher films don't pretend to be anything other than what they are.