Directed by Terence Young
Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.
Based on the popular Broadway play of the same name, Wait Until Dark was a huge hit, earning Audrey Hepburn a Best Actress Oscar nomination. In an effort to heighten the suspense, several movie theaters dimmed their house lights to the lowest legal limit and turned them off one by one as the lights in the film were broken, plunging the audiences into complete darkness during the movie’s thrilling climax. This gimmick was mentioned in the trailer to sensationalize the film and sell more tickets.
Lisa transports heroin inside a small cloth doll from Montreal to New York City, but gets spooked when she sees a man watching her. She hands the doll off to fellow plane passenger Sam Hendrix (Zimbalist, Jr.) just in time to be escorted away by the man. By the time Lisa contacts Sam about the doll, he’s misplaced it. In an effort to intercept the doll, Mike Talman (Crenna), Carlino, and their ringleader Henry Roat (Arkin) approach Sam’s blind wife, Susy (Hepburn), about its location. They try several different tactics to get into the couple’s apartment and retrieve the doll, all to no avail. Susy soon becomes suspicious and the men torment her to get more to get what they’ve came for and it will take everything Susy has to escape their clutches.
One of the more stylish horror films, Wait Until Dark benefits greatly from its incredible late 60s fashion and the awesome score by legendary composer Henry Mancini. Hepburn’s gorgeous costumes were handpicked and purchased in Paris by the actress herself and her short, asymmetrical haircut is very hip. It’s not all style, however. There are some wonderfully heart-stopping scares and Henry Roat is a formidable and sinister villain.
Because it was based on a play and most of the movie takes place on one set, so much of what works lies with the cast. It was essential for Susy to be extremely likable and vulnerable, so Hepburn was the perfect choice. In fact, the Henry Roat role was reportedly very difficult to cast because few actors wanted to terrorize Audrey Hepburn. The limitation of Susy’s blindness increases the vulnerability and never lets the audience be certain that everything will turn out okay for their leading lady. Arkin is the epitome of malicious creepiness and reaches the level of “boogeyman” as he refuses to stop coming after Susy. If Arkin is the muscle, Crenna is the charmer as the suave Mike Talman. He’s handsome and a smooth-talker, and ends up being the cons’ way in and the one to put Susy at ease initially.
It’s easy to see why this film was so popular upon its release. The scenes in complete dark must have been terrifying to experience in theaters and Hepburn’s performance was harrowing.
Fright Rating: 2 gasps out of 5
There are some serious jump scares and a few adult themes in this film, so I would put Wait Until Dark in the PG-13 range. It’s a great choice if you’re looking for a claustrophobic, stylish thriller.