A quick note of apology to Audre Myers, one of my regular readers: Audre mailed me a DVD of the film Bell, Book, and Candle (1958) at the beginning of October. I have been waiting for opportunity to watch it with my girlfriend, then was going to review it.
Well, it turns out when you live four hours apart from each other, your weekends get filled up pretty quickly with fun activities and/or family obligations outside of the house—or catching up on a shared television series. Poor BB&C has fallen by the wayside.
As such, I’ve yet to watch what appears to be a wonderful film, sent by a very wonderful friend. I do apologize, Audrey, but I will make time this week to hook up the Blu-Ray player and watch the film solo. Expect a detailed, lovingly handcrafted review in one week!
As I’ve noted many times before, Shudder has some of the best (and so-bad-it’s-the-best) content of any streaming service I’ve ever encountered. Something I appreciate about the service is that they don’t just stick to slashers, but really take an expansive approach to “horror” as a genre. They go out of their way to deliver some excellent classics that probably don’t show up anywhere else.
One such film—one that I would not strictly classify as a “horror” film, but which certainly deals with a horrific scenario—is 1967’s Wait Until Dark, starring Audrey Hepburn as a blind woman living with her photographer husband in a basement apartment in New York City. Hepburn’s character, Susy Hendrix, has only been blind for a year or so, the result of a tragic accident, so she is still learning how to attend to everyday tasks without sight.
That said, she is fairly capable, and manages well enough, though the film clearly demonstrates that she is vulnerable due to her disability. The stage is set for conflict when Susy and her husband come into the possession of an old-fashioned doll. Unbeknownst to them, the doll is filled with heroine smuggled from Montreal, and a trio of crooks are intent on recovering the stash.
Two of the criminals are doltish allies, having been locked up together (I think because they were crooked cops). The other, Harry Roat (played by Alan Arkin), is a streetwise and vicious character who dresses and styles his hair like a Beat poet. I know looking like a Mod was probably intimidating in 1967 because it was daringly countercultural or the like, but to modern audiences he looks like a dime-store John Lennon.
Nevertheless, Roat’s ruthlessness is put on display early on, as he encounters the two dolts in Susy’s apartment, who are clumsily trying to recover the doll. Roat is cool as a cucumber, sitting in a chair and challenging the pair to join a conspiracy to recover the doll, noting that their fingerprints are all over the apartment. It is clear that Roat is playing the other two, and likely has plans to eliminate them to take the doll himself, but he first concocts an elaborate scheme to trick Susy into turning over the doll.
I’m not clear why there is such rigmarole put into recovering the doll, but it makes for a harrowing story. Roat and his unwilling accomplices begin a series of cons to gain Susy’s trust, and to make her doubt her husband, who has been called away to a photography gig at the last minute. One of the criminals poses as her husband’s old friend, and the other as a police detective. Roat acts as a befuddled man looking for a doll given to his wife by an admirer, implied to be Susy’s husband.
Susy gradually gets wise to what is going on, before learning to her horror that the men not only want the doll, but likely will take her life in the process to tie up any loose ends. She enlists the help of a bratty little girl in the apartment, Gloria, and the two communicate via tapping the pipes in the apartment.
This film is one of those wonderfully plotty, Hitchcockian thrillers that depends a great deal on the characters falling into inescapable logic traps, in which the stakes for making the wrong move are death and dismemberment. I won’t reveal more of the plot, but suffice it to say that the villains get their comeuppance and Susy survives the encounter, using her blindness as an advantage in a darkened apartment.
Hepburn’s performance here is commendable. She plays a blind woman very convincingly, not only with her movements, but with her gaze. She looks at characters the way a blind woman would—not exactly focused in on the person she’s talking to, as she can’t see them. Her training at the blind school has definitely helped her out, but it’s also clear she is still learning to get around.
It’s a very well-done film, and builds to a crescendo of tension as the story reaches its climax. Home invasion stories are often the most effective thrillers, as they play upon one of our deepest fears: the violation of our home, our sanctuary, to marauding hooligans intent on doing us harm.
Wait Until Dark is definitely one worth checking out.