Audrey Hepburn will always be remembered best for her career as film's foremost ingenue; the young girl who becomes a woman (see "Sabrina", "Breakfast at Tiffanys", et al.). But later in her career, her then husband, producer Mel Ferrer, found a different role for her -that of a blind woman trapped in her home and terrorized by three thugs. Audrey's performance turned WAIT UNTIL DARK into one of the most memorable thrillers to ever hit the silver screen.
WAIT UNTIL DARK opens with a doll being stuffed full of heroin and transported by sexy Lisa (Samantha Jones) from Canada to Kennedy International. Planning some chicanery of her own, Lisa gives the doll to "some guy" in the airport's concourse before meeting her contact. Later, two ex-cons, Talman (Richard Creena) and Carlino (Jack Weston), arrive at what they believe is Lisa's apartment, but she is not at home. They let themselves in and Carlino makes himself comfortable, but Talman is suspicious. They are soon joined by Harry Roat, Jr. (Alan Arkin), a smooth talking psycho who calmly tells them he is aware of the duo's past with Lisa - they took the fall in a previous situation whereas Lisa got away.
After some tense 'negotiations', Talman discovers Lisa's body hanging in the closet. Roat, however, has manipulated the scene which forces Talman and Carlino to work for him or be implicated in Lisa's murder. Roat informs the ex-cons that Lisa gave the doll to some nobody photographer named Sam Hendrix (Efrem Zimbalist) who lives in the apartment. But Roat has been unable to find the doll, so he wants Talman and Carlino to assist him. There is a locked safe in which Roat believes the doll is stashed. Suddenly, Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn) arrives home. Talman and Carlino almost panic, but Roat knows the truth - Susy is blind from a recent accident. After Susy leaves again (sensing something's 'not quite right'), Roat outlines his plan to force the woman to give them the doll he's sure is in the safe.
The next day, Sam leaves for work, telling his wife to be more self-reliant. That's when Roat, Talman and Carlino reenter the picture. What follows is complex, disturbing, and thoroughly suspenseful - what Roat and his lackeys put poor Susy through in their quest for this doll makes for some classic film thriller moments. You'll have to see them for yourselves... but you may want to leave the lights on.
WAIT UNTIL DARK was originally a Broadway play penned by Frederick Knott (who also wrote "Dial "M" for Murder"). Essentially a one set drama, the play transfers to film very well - director Terence Young keeps the action from feeling "stagey" and the dialogue is sharp and focused. The plot Roat and his stooges weave to manipulate Susy is very complex, but still accessible to the viewer. All the actors give credible performances, but Audrey really shines. You almost believe she really is blind. In a desperate situation, Susy finds the inner strength to confront her attacker, and Audrey makes that evolution of the character totally believable. Alan Arkin also excels as Roat; he sets the template for today's 'sophisticated' psychopaths (such as "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" or "American Psycho").
Suspense film producers these days should go back and re-watch WAIT UNTIL DARK to fully appreciate the use of innuendo to maximize effect - you'll see what I mean when you watch the last ten minutes of how effective that can be.
WAIT UNTIL DARK has been released on DVD in wide screen format and remastered in Dolby audio. More so than many films, the sound and picture are vital to the effectiveness of this film. Audio is very important because sound plays a critical part in the film - Susy is blind, but relies on her hearing to eventually realize the truth. With a cleaned up soundtrack, the audience can appreciate her discoveries. The actual picture quality is overall good, although an early scene is inexplicably dirty. Once more, this plays an important role in the successfulness of the film, especially those last ten minutes.
Warner Brothers has released WAIT UNTL DARK with some nice extras. There is a short feature with Arkin and Ferrer reminiscing about their work and Audrey's on the film. There's an essay on the evolution of the script from stage play to screenplay, as well as the original trailers and teaser for the film. It's not much, but it's something.
WAIT UNTIL DARK is one of the most memorable film thrillers you could ever see. The story's complexity, the subtle direction and superlative acting all combine to put nearly every suspense film to come after it to shame. It's truly a film experience, but you'd better put your lights on.