A heroin smuggling ring. A creepy doll. A corpse. A blind woman alone in her basement apartment in the West Village. These are the elements of Wait Until Dark, a quaint and dingy little crime thriller adapted from Frederick Knott’s 1966 play by screenwriters Robert Carrington and Jane-Howard Carrington.
Suzy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn) is the hapless gudgeon who, being blind, already has the proverbial wool over her eyes. Her husband, Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), comes home from a business trip with a doll that unbeknownst to him contains a hidden stash of heroin sewn into it. This does not bode well for Lisa (Samantha Jones), the glamorous and sexy stranger who asks him to hold it for her at JFK International Airport.
A case of mistaken identity leads a pair of small time crooks (Richard Crenna and Jack Weston) to Sam and Suzy’s apartment, where psychotic hooligan Harry Roat (Alan Arkin) coerces them into helping him find the doll—as soon as they dispose of a dead body. Nice. They devise an elaborately devious scam to recover the doll when they realize Suzy, who walks in on them, is blind.
Terence Young’s directing is certainly competent. I last saw this movie on some late night UHF station when I was a kid, and two things have stayed with me: a sense of severe claustrophobia as the story unfolds, and that fucking groovy apartment. The plot has flaws that strain credibility. For one thing, Suzy is far too unguarded for a New Yorker. Why doesn’t she lock her door? Roger Ebert pointed out this detail (http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/wait-until-dark-1968). I didn’t obsess over it like he did, but I noticed it and thought the same thing. When Roat tells her he knows she has the doll, why doesn’t Suzy hand it over? Why does she tell Gloria (Julie Herrod) to meet Sam at the train station instead of going to the police? Why do the guys bother to put on disguises if Suzy can’t see them?
Despite these glaring issues, Young ultimately succeeds in bringing Wait Until Dark to a boil. It lives up to its hype: I saw people jump in their seats at the end. The acting here overcomes any shortcomings in plot. Hepburn is little more than a blind Holly Golightly, but at certain points she reminds me of Barbara Stanwyck screaming that she can’t wake up from a nightmare in, I think, The Night Walker. Weston is a little too bumbling, but Crenna and Arkin are chillingly menacing and foreboding even if they are silly by today’s standards (yeah, sunglasses at night went a long way making Corey Hart look tough). Henry Mancini’s eerie score is the clincher in setting the right mood.
A trivial point of interest: Suzy’s apartment is in the same block of rowhouses as the one used for the Huxtable residence on The Cosby Show (http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/w/Wait_Until_Dark.html#.WRU0W1LMyWY). The small street, St. Luke’s Place, has a bit of literary history, too (http://www.nytimes.com/1996/10/27/realestate/in-a-village-enclave-15-remarkable-rowhouses.html).
With Jean Del Val, Frank O’Brien
Production: Warner Brothers
Distribution: Warner Brothers/Seven Arts
(Music Box) B-