Harsh Texture

Wait Until Dark

A killer enlists two corrupt cops to steal a doll full of heroin from a blind woman

Wait Until Dark may be a conventional thriller and suspense picture if not for Alan Arkin as Roat. What kind of person puts on costumes to trick a blind woman? It’s not like Roat was unfamiliar with Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn). He’s staked out her basement apartment for days and learned her routine and that of her photographer husband. So confident in this when interviewing his potential accomplices for the first time, he meets them in Hendrix’s apartment. Though appearing to arrive late, Roat’s already planted a body in the closet.  

At first he registers as ridiculous, his Beatles bowl cut and round sunglasses, his switchblade hidden in the sculpture of a woman (Geraldine).  But in the final act he is revealed as a creature of pure horror. We’re free to reflect on his methods afterwards. Why steal a picture of Hendrix? Why must the grand ruse center on convincing Suzy that her husband is carrying on an affair? Why draft multiple actors in achieving all of this? Why kill Liz over such a small amount of heroin? There’s no logical answer to any of these questions since as monster, Roat exists far away from any sort of rational. Arkin plays this all incredibly broad like a man child convincing the world of his genius for the first time.

Hepburn’s iron will, her resolve, were evident from her early roles. She netted an oscar in her first cinema lead for playing a princess in Roman Holiday. That same air of capability makes her particularly well suited to survive a horror film. Better that will was married to a slight, wispy frame. When paired with any of the male leads there’s a palpable sense of danger even without her blindness.

That Alfred Hitchcock never made a film with Audrey Hepburn is one of cinema’s great tragedies. I can only speculate why the two never collaborated. Maybe Hepburn was not blond enough, maybe because she graduated to the top ranks of celebrity very early in her career. Hitchcock seemed to mostly like his actresses as up and comers, women who he could mold into his ideal. The presence of strong willed women often dismantled the logic at the heart of his films, i.e. Marlene Dietrich in Stage Fright.

This is Hepburn’s second Hitchcock-ish feature, following the lesser Charade. But even the master was on the wane himself in 1967, beset by the Giallo films from Italy and the new cinema coming out of America. Fortunately its Terence Young behind the camera for this venture. Guided by his hand Wait Until Dark sits as a central point between William Castel-esque jump scares, conventional thrillers, and the gritty character-driven fare to take root in the seventies. Young is the person perhaps most responsible for turning James Bond into a reliable global sensation, directing three of the first four Bond films and contributing to Goldfinger, but its here he shows an absolute mastery of the medium. There’s no other film that demands to be seen in a dark theater surrounded with an audience quite like Wait Until Dark.

For all the overt horror of that wonderful final act, it's the closing scene that really sat uncomfortably with me. All the murderous villainy of Roat pales somehow in comparison to a long life of Stockholm Syndrome, committed to meeting impossible expectations.

Published: Nov. 26, 2017, 10:17 p.m.
Updated: Nov. 26, 2017, 10:17 p.m.