Directed by Terrence Young
Written by Robert Carrington and Jane-Howard Carrington from a play by Frederick Knott
Starring Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Samantha Jones, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.
Audrey Hepburn became a star by portraying a woman of cool charm and elegance, usually in romantic films. But she could do more than that, and shows a different side of her in Wait Until Dark.
The film starts with Lisa (Samantha Jones) smuggling heroin into the US inside a cloth doll. She befriends Sam Hendrix (Efram Zimbalist, Jr.) and, when she sees trouble at the airport, asks Sam to keep the doll. Sam is married to Susy, who was blinded several years previously in an accident, but who doesn’t let that slow her up, as she tries to be “the world champion blind lady.” But a group of crooks, lead by Roat (Alan Arkin) track down the doll and Susy, looking to take it back by any means possible.
Susy is the the type of woman heroine I admire: smart, resourceful, and able to fight back as best she can.* Hepburn is excellent in every scene and got a well-deserved Oscar nomination.
But the most bravura performance is Alan Arkin’s. This was one of his first roles, and he’s brilliant. Roat is one of the best types of villains – very smart, and always ahead of everyone, but with a casual violence that’s absolutely chilling.
The film is often cited as having one of the scariest moments in film. It’s really more startling than scary**, but it is memorable.
Hepburn took a leave from films after this one to raise her family, not appearing until nine years later in Robin and Marian. Arkin made some bad choices, but in the 21st century came back into his own as a character actor, with an Oscar win.***
*I thought of the movie when watching the second episode of Daredevil on Netflix. There’s a climactic fight scene at the end, and I wondered why Daredevil didn’t think to do what Susy had done, especially since the way to do it (a breaker box) was prominently displayed before the fight began.
**Startling an audience is ridiculously easy; any third-rate filmmaker can manage it: you set up a character, keep any background to the minimum, and pretend that the big bad is dead. Then you have the bad guy jump out at you while the soundtrack loudly plays music, preferably a discord. The audience will jump every time. If you want to see horror, watch Osama or The Tenant.
***He wasn’t nominated for Wait Until Dark, though he certainly deserved it. When asked about it, he said, "You don't get nominated for being mean to Audrey Hepburn."