Warner Bros.’ "Archive Collection" line has released on Blu-ray WAIT UNTIL DARK, the 1967 WB suspense thriller based on Frederick Knott’s successful Broadway play, directed for the screen by Terence Young, lensed by Charles Lang, scored by Henry Mancini, and starring Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Jack Weston, Samantha Jones, and Julie Herrod. A big popular and critical hit for Warners and star Hepburn when released in the fall of 1967, WAIT UNTIL DARK just gets better and better with age, remaining one of best “pure” suspense movies ever made thanks to its two intense lead performances, its brilliant, unsettling score, claustrophobic, evocative lensing, and its unrelentingly tense direction. Thanks to WB’s cleaned up and corrected 2k scan of a new interpositive, WAIT UNTIL DARK never looked better on home video than this AVC-encoded 1080p 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced widescreen Blu-ray. No new extras, but a couple of nice ones from the 2003 standard DVD release are ported over.
“World’s champion blind lady” Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn, CHARADE, BLOODLINE) is still coming to grips with losing her sight a year ago in an automobile accident. Her husband, photographer Sam Hendrix (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., AIRPORT '75, HOT SHOTS!), pushes her hard to gain independence (for instance: if she drops something, he makes her paw around for it). However, there are still things she needs help with, such as buying groceries, a chore aided by 14-year-old upstairs neighbor Gloria (Julie Herrod), a neglected, attention-starved young girl whose emotional immaturity is manifest at times in petty cruelty towards Suzy (throwing stuff around like sharp knives...and making Suzy paw around for them). So when Sam is unwittingly called out to Ashbury Park for a non-existent photo shoot, Suzy has no idea that she will soon be menaced that night in her Greenwich Village cellar apartment by three dangerous criminals—all of them looking for a doll stuffed with heroin. You see, a few days before, Sam met attractive Lisa (Samantha Jones, GET TO KNOW YOUR RABBIT) on a plane out of Montreal. Leaving the NYC airport, Lisa unexpectedly spotted fellow drug dealer Roat (Alan Arkin, FREEBIE AND THE BEAN, FIRE SALE). Quickly making an innocuous excuse, Lisa pressed the doll on Sam, promising to retrieve it later. Now Roat has tracked down Sam’s apartment, snuffed out double-dealing Lisa, and awaits the arrival of Lisa’s former con men partners, Mike Talman (Richard Crenna, DEATH SHIP, FIRST BLOOD) and Carlino (Jack Weston, FUZZ, GATOR). What follows is a complicated game of tricks, play-acting, intimidation, and finally murderous violence, all aimed at Suzy giving up a doll she can not find...until she does find it, and decides to fight for her life.
A staple on 1970s late late shows and afternoon movie programs, WAIT UNTIL DARK was always a solid go-to movie to watch on television, its tight, claustrophobic construction not ruined by the those square little TV box frames, and its expertly-built suspense strong enough not to be hampered by constant commercial interruptions. If WAIT UNTIL DARK worked so well under those television-imposed limits, imagine how theater audiences responded to it, particularly the ones lucky enough to catch WAIT UNTIL DARK in movie houses that went along with WB’s suggested gimmick of having all theater lights turned off during Arkin’s and Hepburn’s final pitch-black confrontation. I’ve seen WAIT UNTIL DARK countless times, and I know where all the scares are coming...but every single time, including this Blu-ray viewing, it pulls me in and gets me tense like very few thrillers have ever done.
WB studio head Jack Warner paid solid money for playwright Frederick Knott’s well-received 1966 Broadway play, so conventional wisdom demanded a bigger box office name than the play’s Lee Remick for the movie version’s blind heroine. By all accounts, studio favorite Audrey Hepburn was Warner’s only choice for the role (she had minted a lot of coin for them with THE NUN’S STORY and MY FAIR LADY), but difficulties soon arose in casting the villain Roat, with first George C. Scott and then Rod Steiger turning down the part (press reports also mentioned Sean Connery...but that sounds like someone’s wishful thinking: no way in ’66 was James Bond taking second billing to anyone, even Hepburn). Up-and-comer Alan Arkin, who had just scored an unexpected Best Actor Oscar nomination for his big screen debut, THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING! THE RUSSIANS ARE COMING!, was finally selected, but according to sources including Zimbalist, Jr., Hepburn, Arkin and others, WAIT UNTIL DARK wasn’t exactly a happy shoot. Warners allowed Hepburn’s husband, minor film actor Mel Ferrer, to produce the movie (no doubt to keep the A-list Audrey happy), but the Hepburns were going through the final bitter throes of their 13-year marriage, and the daily on-set run-ins put a strain on the actress that is clearly visible in the footage (she had never been thinner on screen, with her face unmistakably drawn and tense). Arkin, initially wary of the company because he felt they didn’t “get” where he was going with the Roat character, soon found out why nobody else in Hollywood wanted his role: it was torture for him to torture Audrey Hepburn, whom Arkin discovered was an incredibly kind, generous model of ladylike professionalism (I’m sure, though, that everyone felt better once the great notices and big grosses started coming in).
If WAIT UNTIL DARK were made today, no doubt the scripters would change it to make the Suzy character somehow culpable in her torture, or at the very least have Sam be guilty of something (sleeping with Lisa, perhaps?), a moral failing that triggers the assault on Suzy. But in 1967, it was still possible to have a movie heroine who was “straight” (particularly if they were Audrey Hepburn) and indeed, that clean morality makes her terror all the more palpable—"no fault" brutalization—and all the more egregious to the audience (today...who the hell cares what happens to people in the movies: movies and TV tell us everything is relative and equivalent now, right? So heroes and villains can’t exist anymore). Of course WAIT UNTIL DARK’s great dramatic hook is Suzy’s blindness, not only structuring Suzy’s rollercoaster vulnerability/capability (she can’t find a spoon, then she’s telling murderous Roat what to do...before she’s at his mercy again when the refrigerator light stays on), but also cueing our own involvement in the character’s plight (when the screen goes pitch black, we finally feel how frightened we would be, too, stuck in an inky black room with a killer bent on stabbing us to death). There had been other popular suspensers featuring women with disabilities battling psychotic killers—mute Dorothy McGuire in THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE, or paralyzed Barbara Stanwyck in SORRY, WRONG NUMBER—but none had put the audience so squarely in the terrifying p.o.v. (so to speak) of the victim, as did WAIT UNTIL DARK.
WAIT UNTIL DARK has its script problems...but they’re minor (frankly, Hitchcock did a better job of more thoroughly tying up all the exposition loose ends of Frederick Knott’s other classic play, DIAL ‘M’ FOR MURDER). No matter how many times I see WAIT UNTIL DARK, there are still story points that have me scratching my head for a few minutes, such as Lisa apparently (?) waiting for her former conmen partners to get out of prison in order to double cross Roat’s dope smuggling (or...no?). How did Lisa locate Mike in New York? I find the movie’s time line is a bit confusing, too; we can’t seem to figure out how much time has passed since Sam returned with the doll (it has to be days, since Roat needed to observe when Lisa is out of the apartment...but it feels like only that afternoon). And Roat got all the info on Mike and Carlino by...torturing Lisa, we assume? Director Terence Young, a nice stylist if nothing else (DR. NO, THUNDERBALL)—who could also be messy as hell (THE KLANSMAN, THE JIGSAW MAN)—does his best work here. Perhaps greatly aided in camera placement by Hepburn’s favorite cinematographer Charles Lang (CHARADE, HOW TO STEAL A MILLION), almost every frame and sequence creates some kind of visual or narrative tension, from something as simple as the somehow menacing shot of little Gloria’s boots as she torments Suzy, to decidedly creepy ones like Roat silhouetted in a dark doorway or Mike knifed in the back, to flat-out frightening shots...such as the entire finale (brilliantly, brilliantly deepened by composer Henry Mancini’s menacing score—which should have been nominated for an Oscar). We don’t even get a let up from the tension after the harrowing finale, when idiot Mike (a remarkably unsympathetic turn from Zimbalist, Jr.) refuses to rush over and comfort his wife after her horrific experience.
It’s difficult to say if Warners and Young deliberately miscast the two “comic book minds” criminals Mike and Carlino...because you never believe that funny fat boy Weston and clean-cut straight arrow Crenna really ran a badger game with model Jones, or that they’re actually killers, as Roat claims. Maybe “funny” and “nice” were picked to more contrast Arkin’s truly sick playfulness and then full-on villainy. Weston does provide some comic relief, while Crenna keeps making us think he’ll switch over to Hepburn’s side...until the script actually has him do that, almost blowing the whole story in the process (that’s WAIT UNTIL DARK’s biggest plot hole: if we’re to believe Crenna was really a killer, he wouldn’t congratulate Hepburn’s stiff upper lip pluck and go off on his merry way, thinking Roat dead. He’d kill her, too, and take the drugs himself). Arkin’s crafty, funny, perverse, terrifying killer, on the other hand, basically invents the template for modern movie psychos. Sweating and popping pills while joking and sniffing Hepburn’s lingerie (I’ll bet THE NUN’S STORY crowd loved that), Arkin’s Roat may not seem so groundbreaking today...but that’s only because so many other subsequent actors have built off his innovative, startling turn. As for Hepburn, 1967 could have been just the beginning of a deepening of her movie career, what with her sophisticated, brittle, sad turn in the decidedly modern TWO FOR THE ROAD earlier that year, and then WAIT UNTIL DARK. However, it proved to be the end of her A-list days; she didn’t make another movie for ten years, and when she did come back in 1976...audiences had moved on. Hepburn would never be categorized as a “scream queen,” but I can’t think of another actress in a horror movie who projects genuine terror as well as Hepburn does in WAIT UNTIL DARK (unlike so many other actresses in these kinds of outings, Hepburn's screams and cries and whimperings sound absolutely genuine). Scared of losing her husband because of her blindness, loving and kind to little Gloria even though the girl has cruelly teased her, hopeful and then betrayed when she learns “good guy” Mike is one of her tormentors, and then alternately brave and smart, and scared and screaming, as Roat closes in for the kill—no actress in 1967 gave as layered, as difficult a performance as Hepburn did in WAIT UNTIL DARK (it’s also one of the most believable sighted “blind” performances in movies). Nominated for Best Actress that year, she should have won the Oscar. Her’s and Arkin’s are two of the most memorable turns in a suspense thriller, in one of that genre’s best efforts.
There were problems with WB's 2003 standard DVD release of WAIT UNTIL DARK, including heavy grain and some washed out colors. Happily, this cleaned up and corrected 2k interpositive scan, AVC-encoded 1080p 1.85:1 anamorphically enhanced widescreen Blu-ray looks miles and miles better. Grain has been tightened significantly, while colors are far more natural and subtle. Blacks are firm. Fine image detail has been significantly boosted, too (even through all of Lang's diffusion close-up shots of Hepburn). The lossless DTS-HD MA 2.0. English audio track is crystal clear, with popping effects and surprisingly grounded bass during that jumpy finale. English subtitles are available. Ported over extras from the 2003 release include "Take a Look in the Dark" (8:40), featuring Arkin and Ferrer discussing the production (interestingly...nobody mentions the director, while Arkin makes a point of saying he enjoyed working with Weston, while not mentioning Crenna). The original trailer (2:35) and a warning teaser trailer (1:08) are included. (Paul Mavis)
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