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Classic Movie Review: 'Wait Until Dark' Starring Audrey Hepburn

The classic on the latest edition of the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast is an Audrey Hepburn thriller.

By Sean PatrickPublished 22 days ago 5 min read
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Wait Until Dark (1968)

Directed by Terence Young

Written by Robert Carrington, Jane Howard-Carrington

Starring Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Release Date October 26th, 1967

Published May 22nd, 2024

Wait Until Dark opens on a close up of a piece of silk being surgically sliced. A pull back reveals a man opening up the back of a plush baby doll, filled with cotton. A woman stands near the man, fretting. Her name is Lisa (Samantha Jones), and she has a plane to catch. She's waiting on the elderly man to open the doll, place several kilos of Heroin inside the doll, and sew it back up. The doll is our MacGuffin, the Hitchcockian thing that everyone in the plot wants, has, or unknowingly possesses. As Lisa rushes from the elderly man's apartment with the Heroin filled dolly, he watches her through the window as she rushes into a cab. Then he makes a phone call.

Director Terence Young was well into a lengthy, prolific, and not particularly memorable directorial career when he made Wait Until Dark. His best-known works were three of Sean Connery's James Bond movies, Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Thunderball. If you enjoyed James Bond, you likely enjoyed those movies. Beyond his Bond work however, Young wasn't particularly noted. He did direct movies for 40 years, starting in 1948 and ending in 1988 but by 1988 he was working with the likes of Franco Nero rather than people like Sean Connery and Audrey Hepburn.

Young is a utility player to borrow a baseball term. Plug him in on a day when someone needs a rest, and he will play the field well and perhaps not be an automatic strikeout at the plate. He started during the days of studio pictures when guys like him could manage a few movies per year, rarely pausing between films, not particularly worried about the post-production part of the movie. This might sound mean-spirited, like I am diminishing a man who worked in Hollywood for literally 40 years as a director, but I assure that is not my intent. Indeed, one of my favorite directors of all time was very similar to Terence Young. Like Young, Michael Curtiz was a studio director. He knocked out movies on time and on budget and bounced from one project to the next unconcerned about what the studio did with the movie. Michael Curtiz made Casablanca under that system.

Terence Young doesn't exactly have a Casablanca on his resume but, Wait Until Dark is a good flick. Written by Robert and Jane Carrington, adapting a play written by Frederick Knox, Wait Until Dark follows that heroin filled doll from Canada to New York City where Lisa passes the doll off to an unwitting accomplice, Sam Hendrix (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.). Sam is a photographer headed home to his lovely wife, Susy (Audrey Hepburn), who happens to be blind. Naturally, there are dangerous men who want that doll for what is inside of it. These include a pair of con artists, Talman (Richard Crenna) and Carlino (Jack Weston). And working with and against the con artists is the most dangerous man of all, Harry Roat (Alan Arkin).

Structurally, we've reached the fun and games portion of the movie. With Sam sent off to a photography assignment in New Jersey, secretly arranged by Harry Roat, Susy is home alone and vulnerable. The plan has Roat manipulating his new accomplices Talman and Carlino to get inside Susy's apartment and convince her to give them the doll. This involves convincing her that Sam is involved in the death of Lisa, the woman who brought the doll to New York and gave it to Sam. She was killed off screen by Roat who then framed Talman and Carlino in order to blackmail them to help him roust Susy. Unfortunately, Susy has no idea where the doll is. She knows Sam brought it home but where it went from there, she has no idea.

If you are wondering why Harry orchestrates such an elaborate plan, one involving blackmail, disguises, and spy tricks, you have no joy in your soul. This is the fun and games part of the script and you just kind of have to go with it or not enjoy the movie. It would be absolutely no fun if Harry just went to Susy's apartment with a knife and demanded the doll. It's more interesting and exciting to watch the three con-artist killers try to outwit Susy and each other as they seek the potential riches that would come with this much heroin. This fun and games portion of Wait Until Dark also sets up an exceptional final act showdown as the three baddies close ranks on Susy and she uses her wits and her blindness to foil them.

If Wait Until Dark is known for one thing, it's for originating a trope that has become standard in the thriller and horror genre. One of our baddies has been stabbed by Susy and appears to have died. But, just as Susy is looking to make her escape, her attacker leaps back to life, literally. The actor involved leaps through the air in an almost comical fashion to grab Susy's leg and stop her escape attempt. The scene is genuinely scary and the tension of the final moments of Wait Until Dark makes everything that came before it worth it. Terence Young directs the scene perfectly and with star Audrey Hepburn being so winning, so sympathetic, that the scene gets your heart racing, you can't stand the thought that she could be further harmed.

Wait Until Dark is the classic on the latest edition of the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast. It's a terrifically fun thriller with an exceptional performance by Audrey Hepburn, solid professional direction by Terrence Young, and low-key MVP work by Cinematographer Charles Lang. Lang is an unsung hero having won an Academy Award in 1938 and going on to be nominated for 17 Oscars in his career. He wasn't honored for his work in Wait Until Dark but his work was nevertheless influential. His low light cinematography in the final act of Wait Until Dark is, among cinematographers, considered some of the finest low light cinematography of all time.

Find my archive of more than 20 years and more than 2000 movie reviews at SeanattheMovies.blogspot.com. Find my modern review archive on my Vocal Profile, linked here. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies. Listen to me talk about movies on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast. If you have enjoyed what you have read, consider subscribing to my writing on Vocal. If you'd like to support my writing, you can do so by making a monthly pledge or by leaving a one time tip. Thanks!

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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  • Marie Wilson21 days ago

    I love this movie. Arkin is his usual incredible acting-self. Audrey is perfect. Supports are all good. And your review is excellent. Thx for the bg on this flick, esp info about the DP!

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