Wait Until Dark

(USA 1967)

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

108 minutes
Not rated

(Music Box) B-

Amélie [Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain]

(France/Germany 2001)

“I like to look for things no one else catches.”

—Amélie Poulain

The Associate Board of Chicago International Film Festival presented a special screening of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie, a sumptuous, romantic fantasy of a film that looks as good as it feels. I’ve seen it many times. It’s unrealistic, maybe even a bit silly; yet, it always leaves me smiling. I couldn’t pass up the chance to see it again.

Young Amélie Poulain (Flora Guiet) has a lonely childhood: her odd parents are overreactive, overprotective, and emotionally distant, preferring to rearrange the contents of their toolbox and purse than pay much attention to her. It’s so bad that her heart races when her father, Raphaël (Rufus), a physican, touches her during her annual checkup—a narrator (André Dussollier) explains that all she wants is a hug.

Her father misdiagnoses Amélie with a heart condition. As a result, she’s kept inside from the world and homeschooled by her mother, Amandine (Lorella Cravotta), a rather hysterical woman with a nervous tic in her eye. Amélie retreats into her imagination to deal with it all. Her home environment is so stifling, it makes her pet goldfish, Blubber, jump out of its bowl in multiple suicide attempts. A separate suicide at Notre-Dame, this one successful, changes Amélie’s life, leaving her father to raise her alone without any siblings, which her mother apparently wanted for her. C’est la vie.

Fast forward to 1997: grown up Amélie (Audrey Tautou) is a stylish but shy waitress at a café in the 18th Arrondissement of Paris—artsy Montmartre. While home alone (as usual) in her flat one evening—August 31, 1997—a TV news report of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed’s fatal car accident jolts Amélie, causing a chain reaction that leads her directly to a rusty box of a boy’s trinkets from the 1950s hidden in her bathroom wall. She discerns the identity of the family who lived in her flat back then and devises an elaborate scheme to reunite the boy, now an older man (Maurice Bénichot), with his “treasures” while staying completely anonymous and out of view. It works, bringing happiness to him and in the process to Amélie.

Thrilled with her accomplishment, she decides that her life’s work will be making others happy—in her own amusingly roundabout, always off to the side way. Amélie, you see, prefers to be invisible. She describes what she sees to a blind man (Jean Darie), kidnaps her father’s garden gnome to inspire him to travel, mails a bunch of fake love letters to her landlord (Yolande Moreau) whose husband abandoned her decades ago, and fixes up a hypochondriac coworker (Isabelle Nanty) with a volatile café patron (Dominique Pinon) who just got dumped.

Amélie’s covert approach goes swimmingly for others, but not so much for her own happiness—something she discovers once she encounters Nino Quincampoix (Mathieu Kassovitz), a handsome and quirky stranger who works at a porn shop and collects discarded photos from a photo booth at Gare de l’Est. Amélie can’t bring herself to show herself to Nino, let alone speak to him through a door. Can her neighbor, “the Glass Man” (Serge Merlin), talk some sense into her?

Everything about Amélie dazzles. Just like earlier films Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, Amélie is a treat, showcasing Jeunet’s distinct buoyantly surreal visual and narrative style. He’s more sophisticated here, though. He throws in offbeat narrative sidebars that tell about his characters. With wide shots, unexpected angles, a pallet of vividly dark colors, and a mix of elements from different decades, he concocts an idealized version of Paris that highlights all that makes it romantic and dreamy. It works well with Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography, which has a cool sepiatone air to it. My favorite shot is the one of Amélie literally dissolving into a puddle of water.

Tatou is wonderfully mischievous, emulating both Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Tinkerbell. You can’t help but fall for her as she turns the mundane into magnifique. Kassovitz, who comes off as a weirdo at first, capably metamorphoses Nino into a go-getter who turns out to be a great match for Amélie. Plus, he’s easy on the eyes.

122 minutes
Rated R

(Public Chicago) A

Chicago International Film Festival

http://www.miramax.com/movie/amelie/

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

(USA 1961)

“You musn’t give your heart to a wild thing. The more you do, the stronger they get, until they’re strong enough to run into the woods or fly into a tree. And then to a higher tree, and then to the sky.”

—Holly Golightly

So, “Audrey Hepburn is having breakfast at Tiffany’s”?! Why, yes, I would love to join her!

When Fathom Events, Turner Classic Movies, and Paramount Pictures invited me to “fall in love again” for a special 55th anniversary screening of Breakfast at Tiffany’s in a select theater near me, well, I couldn’t say no. Until now, I’ve only seen it on my television or computer screen.

I admit, I’m a sucker for this film—even though it’s not the kind of thing I usually go for, and Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi was a terrible idea even if many films of the era did the same thing to get a big name involved. Whatever. I’ve never met anyone who didn’t like this film. Directed by Blake Edwards and adapted for the screen by George Axelrod, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a fine midcentury fairy tale. Set in Manhattan, Holly Golightly (Hepburn) leads a life full of the very trappings I imagined myself having as an adult: a cool apartment in a big city, great clothes, wicked accessories, lots of fashionable friends and acquaintances, wild parties, drinks all the time, travel plans, and generally risqué fun and fabulousness. I have some of them.

What’s brilliant about this story, though—and probably why it appeals to me—is its dark side. Nothing here is what it seems: what we see is a ruse—to use the words of O.J. Berman (Martin Balsam), Holly is a phony. Her life is phony. She puts on an act. It’s more than simply running away from her past, represented by ex-husband Doc (Buddy Ebsen) and his references to her former self, Lulamae. She’s not the naïve eccentric she would have everyone believe she is. She’s also not the high society sophisticate she presents, either: the apostrophe ‘s’ she adds to the name of her ideal escape (the store is called “Tiffany & Co.”) gives her away. Frankly, she’s not even true call girl material, however downplayed that part of her personality is (we’re only told that she gets fifty bucks for the powder room).

Like her dark sunglasses and the Halloween mask she steals from the five and dime with fellow phony Paul Varjak (George Peppard), Holly’s working a facade she hides behind. Holly is a product of Lulamae’s imagination; she left behind her life in Tulip, Texas, for a bigger, more exciting one. The problem is, she doesn’t seem to know exactly what she wants, bouncing carefreely from one half-baked plan to another. She’s afraid to commit to anything because doing so puts her in a vulnerable position. Why else would one call her cat, “Cat” (Orangie)? Oh, the poor slob without a name!

At the end of the story, Cat represents something different. Holly throws him out of the cab into the rain in a “bad” neighborhood. She realizes that she wants to belong somewhere, to someone. Ummm…Paul? I know Truman Capote wrote a different ending, and I tend to disdain a neat, happy Hollywood ending; but here, it’s perfect. I can’t see a better way to end this story. Sorry, Mr. Capote.

Three more things: Patricia Neal is fantastic as stylish girl “2E.” Henry Mancini’s score is the cherry on the top of this sundae—mmmmm! If I ever have two dogs, I’m naming them Sally Tomato (Alan Reed, who went on to be the voice of Fred Flintstone) and Mr. O’Shaunessy (Joseph J. Greene).

In 2012, the United States Library of Congress deemed Breakfast at Tiffany’s “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry (https://www.loc.gov/programs/national-film-preservation-board/film-registry/complete-national-film-registry-listing/).

114 minutes
Not rated

(Evanston Century) A

Fathom Events