A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 454 – Wait Until Dark

Wait Until Dark – May 28th, 2011

Before tonight I had only seen this movie once and it was enough to make a lasting impression on me that stuck enough that I insisted that we add this to the collection when we started the project. Andy hadn’t seen it and I was absolutely thunderstruck when he said so. He hadn’t seen this? With Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin? Really? There are some bizarre spots in our collection where I’ve seen classics he hasn’t and he’s seen classics I haven’t. Between the two of us we’re very well-watched (and by the time we’re done with the project we’ll both be considerably more so). The thing is, the collection was largely bought by Andy, so it’s weighted in his favor in terms of things one or the other of us has seen. This was an exception to the rule.

I have to say that I’ve been very lucky in my education. I had some teachers who managed to ruin subjects for me (I will never forgive my Philosophy professor from college for being so tied to her own opinions that she made discussion impossible) but I also had some amazing teachers who introduced me to fantastic ideas and media. I was an English major and I did my best to take film-related classes whenever I could count them towards my major. But I watched this movie for the first time when I was in seventh grade. My school separated boys and girls for seventh grade English for some reason. It was the only academic class I can think of where that was done. My class bonded pretty tightly over the course of the year, thanks, I think, to the teacher we had. So Dale DeLetis, if you ever read this, please know that you had a profound effect on me as a student and a reader and a viewer.

We watched this movie in a theater. Not a full sized screen, but fairly close to it. Big enough that it gave the feeling of being in a real theater. There were maybe fifteen of us, probably fewer. We had small classes. And the lights were turned all the way down aside from the emergency exit signs. And none of us had any idea what we were going to be seeing. There’s a moment in this movie – a crucial moment – that made every single one of us jump out of our seats. Which was precisely what Mr. DeLetis was intending and apparently it’s a common reaction to the movie. I have never experienced a phenomenon quite like it. Tonight, even knowing it was coming, I jumped. That is the sort of movie this is. It is a movie that is so well built and so well acted and so well filmed and so well directed that it can cause that sort of reaction even in someone who’s expecting it.

No question about it, this is a thriller. And it’s a very tightly focused one at that. There’s really only one location for this movie: The basement apartment where Susy Hendrix and her husband Sam live. Sam is a photographer and Susy doesn’t seem to have a job really, but that’s apparently because she’s fairly recently become blind through an unspecified accident and has been going to school to learn the new skills she needs to be independent. Susy is the heart of the movie and Audrey Hepburn plays her wonderfully. She’s so determined, but at the same time aware that she’s new to being blind and she doesn’t yet have the confidence and experience she wants. She’s frustrated by not being able to do the things that she feels should be simple and hates depending on others, but knows that for some things (like seeing if there’s a car parked outside without actually going out to check) she must. The character is sympathetic, likable and strong, which makes her a wonderful lead for the movie.

On the other end of the spectrum we have our villain, Roat, played by a very young Alan Arkin. And he is evil. He radiates malice in a way I would never have guessed Alan Arkin could. But he does. From the moment you meet him you know that this is a man who knows how to do terrible things and would feel no remorse for doing them. And he proceeds to do terrible things throughout the movie, not the least of which is manipulating the entire plot in such a way that Susy is thoroughly terrorized by the end. And he’s experienced in these things. That’s what makes his character so much worse. He is the sort of man who buys plastic gloves by the roll for use in unsavory dealings where fingerprints would be unwanted.

The plot revolves around a doll filled with heroin. A woman smuggling it into the country passed it to the innocent Sam, intending to retrieve it later. Unfortunately for her, Roat and two other men intend to get it themselves. And unfortunately for Susy the doll is missing. Roat and his new compatriots devise a scheme to get Susy to give them the doll, assuming she knows where it is. The terrible thing is that Susy doesn’t know. And Sam’s been sent off on a wild goose chase, leaving Susy to cope with these three men she can’t see who are bent on tricking her. They disguise themselves, claim visual cues that aren’t there that she can’t refute and play out an elaborate charade designed to break her down. It really is far more complicated than it needs to be – a sort of good cop/bad cop/loose cannon cop deal. But I don’t mind the complexity, largely because I think it adds to the character of Roat.

As I mentioned, Roat is experienced. For me it’s that experience that makes the character, because while the plot itself is incredibly complicated, I can’t help but think that it was set up to be so not because it was necessary but because Roat was amused by it. He could have gone in and just plain tortured it out of Susy if he’d wanted to do it the fast way. He doesn’t seem to have any objections to hurting her and it’s implied near the end that even when he gets what he wants he’ll still hurt her. So why the play acting with the other two, Mike Talman and “Officer” Carlino? And aside from the dry answer of dramatic tension, I think the answer is that Roat prefers it this way. It’s more fun for him. And that makes him a very scary villain indeed.

Fortunately for Susy, she has an unlikely ally in the moody and temperamental teenage girl, Gloria, who lives in an apartment upstairs and sometimes helps Susy out with grocery shopping and the like. They don’t get along too well at first, but eventually they have to work together as the three men get more and more desperate to find the doll. I like that Gloria gets some key moments in saving the day. But I like it better that while Gloria does help quite a lot, it’s Susy who comes up with how Gloria can help, and Susy who ultimately saves herself. It’s a fantastic role for Hepburn and she plays it magnificently. She and Arkin really steal the movie between the two of them, which is a bit of a shame for Richard Crenna, in my opinion. He plays Mike Talman, who spends most of the movie trying to get in good with Susy, convincing her that he’s an old friend of her husband’s. He gets a ton of screen time and he does an excellent job with the role. He’s a bad guy, no doubt, but it’s clear by the end that he’s got some sympathy for Susy, which, of course, is why he’s not the ultimate villain.

I love every moment of this movie. It’s just all done so brilliantly. I love Hepburn and Arkin. I love the growing bond between Susy and Gloria in this terrible situation. I love when Susy figures out what’s going on and moves from panicked despair to determined action. I love when she realizes what she needs to do to even the playing field. I love that this movie has a clever heroine who can take care of herself even if she needs to adjust to the tools she has to do that with. I love that it’s a movie about a woman with a disability and said disability doesn’t make her weak. It means she needs help for some things, but it doesn’t mean she’s helpless. It’s a major plot element both in how she’s tricked and in how she eventually faces off with Roat. As I said, I love everything about this movie. I love the script, the cinematography, the directing and most certainly the acting. And I love that even after all these years and knowing what to expect, it still worked on me just the way it’s supposed to.

May 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | 2 Comments

Wait Until Dark

May 28, 2011

Wait Until Dark

Today for a change I asked Amanda if we could watch a movie that she had seen and I had not. We had bought this movie for just such a reason, because it the a movie Amanda had vivid memories of watching in high school but which I had for some reason never picked up. I wish I knew why I never saw this – it’s a fantastically constructed film full of suspense and tension and it features a wonderfully strong female lead. I love Audrey Hepburn (doesn’t everybody?) but somehow I never ended up seeing this movie. Very strange.

I’ve seen it now, though, and I can understand why Amanda was so eager to share it with me. What I found fascinating as I watched this movie is that it is a combination of a heist film and a suspense/horror film. It combines some great tension with amazing acting and direction to produce a fantastic whole.

Audrey Hepburn, whose enormous eyes are rather distracting to begin with, plays a woman blinded in a car crash and fire who is trying (with the support of her photographer husband) to learn how to live without her sight. This alone would make for an interesting movie, and as Susy Hendrix Hepburn is completely believable as blind. Very soon, however, Suzy is caught up in a frightening situation that would tax any person who still had their sight. Her husband Sam, while returning from a trip to Canada recently, was given a doll by a woman he met on the plane. He was told that the doll was to be given as a gift to this woman’s sick daughter in the hospital, but in reality it is stuffed full of heroin and she gave it to Sam to keep it away from a terrifying killer named Roat.

Roat kills the smuggler Lisa and tracks the doll to Suzy and Sam’s place, but when he tries to get it back from them it has mysteriously vanished. So Roat comes up with a convoluted plan to get the doll back. He blackmails a pair of hoodlums who used to work with Lisa into working with him (implying that if they try to double cross him he will implicate them in Lisa’s murder) and the three of them convince Sam to leave on an all night photography job so that they can work a complicated sting on the supposedly helpless Susy to convince her to help them find the doll.

Admittedly the plot is needlessly complicated and intricate. That’s not what makes the movie great though. This is Susy’s movie and everything else in it to give her something to be awesome in. I was fascinated after watching the movie when I read in IMDB (the source of all knowledge) that the role of Suzy was not actually originated by Audrey Hepburn at all but was played on Broadway by Lee Remick. Either way this is an absolutely killer role. Susy as a character is initially fairly timid, able to get around in spite of her handicap but not entirely comfortable with it. Her biggest advantage though is that she’s absolutely smart as a whip. It’s just so much fun to see her figuring out just what is going on with these three con artists.

Interestingly it is precisely because she is simultaneously so smart and so timid that this movie has the great level of tension that is maintains. With each new discovery about her dire circumstances Suzy becomes more terrified, so that by the end of the film when she fully realises that she is trapped in her apartment with no help on the way and a brutal killer intent on not just getting the doll from her but on doing her harm just because he can… well it’s a fantastic confrontation and a great pay off for the film.

Playing the nefarious Roat is a very young Alan Arkin, and I have to say I was completely blown away by him as well. His character is so casually and thoroughly evil – so delighted by any opportunity to manipulate and toy with other people – he’s a perfect foil for the ever so trusting and gentle Suzy.

A good deal of what makes this movie so fantastic is the tight and well written script. As with any adventure/thriller the elements that will make up the climax of the movie are carefully planted in the viewer’s mind early on in the film, and I had a lot of fun seeing how everything fit together. I’m curious to know just how much had to be altered from the original play by Frederick Knott when it was adapted for the screen by Robert and Jane-Howard Carrington.

It’s discovering great films like this that make our movie a day project so much fun. I might have watched this some day if we hadn’t started the project, but I don’t know if I would have added it to our collection. I’m so glad that on Amanda’s recommendation I did buy it and that we now have it on a shelf and ready to be watched or shared with guests and friends any time. I am only slightly saddened that I did not get a chance to see it in a theater on a big screen as Amanda did when she first saw it.

May 28, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | 2 Comments