HOLLYWOOD—Considering I am a film historian and an aspiring filmmaker, I sure have missed plenty of classic films during my life. Yes, I will be the first to admit I have never seen “The Godfather.” Movies that stretch beyond the 3-hour mark are quite difficult for me to sit through, unless they are thoroughly entertaining.
Recently though, I have been acquiring some classic cinematic flicks way beyond my time that have opened a new perspective to my eyes about the power of cinema. To be honest, I’m learning a lot of movies made in the 1950s and 1960s are phenomenal. For years, I have heard nothing but great things about iconic actress Audrey Hepburn, however, I have never seen any of her films, well until now.
On my one day off during the week, I managed to get stopped by the TV from a 1967 suspense flick, “Wait Until Dark.” Anyone who knows me understands I’m an avid fan of all things suspense. While some might suspect that spills over to horror (it does), but I’m more glued to the notion of building suspense beyond seeing body parts and blood.
Hepburn stars in this classic as Susy Hendrix, a woman who recently went blind and is adjusting to life without her sight. By her side is her husband, Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), a photographer, who finds himself entangled in a mystery that he has virtually no clue about. Sam is given a doll filled with packets of heroin by a Lisa (Samantha Jones), while at the airport. He thinks nothing of it, but that doll plays a vital role to the narrative of the entire film.
Alan Arkin, who I can only recall from his time in the film “Little Miss Sunshine,” delivers a tour-de-force performance as Roat, a drug lord who will go to extreme lengths to get what belongs to him, including murder. He gets entangled with con artists Carlino (Jack Weston) and Mike Talman (Richard Crenna), who become psart of Roat’s plan to retrieve the doll before someone else discovers what is inside.
Hepburn delivers a bevy of emotions in the movie, which makes me totally agree with her Oscar-nomination for Best Actress for her performance; it was purely sensational. While not really blind, Hepburn conveys all the emotions of fear, sadness, grief, happiness, rage and uncertainty with impeccable precision. Seeing Susy go from pure jubilation at the sight of her husband, to agonizing fear when her pint-sized neighbor Gloria (Julia Herrod) makes a mess of apartment was entertaining to watch.
I will admit, the move starts strong, and then slows down a bit, but as it reaches its climax it is a thrill-a-minute. The level of suspense that director Terence Young is able to capture in such a small place is palatable. Susy is way too trusting of complete strangers in the beginning, and if I were blind I might behave the same way. Watching the narrative unfold as Susy puts the pieces to the puzzle to together had me on the edge of my seat. And when we reach that climatic moment between Susy and Roat, whew, I can’t recall the last time I jumped off the couch at a moment that I totally never expected. It is the pure epitome of suspense crafted in such a way its seamlessly seduces the audience without you even knowing it.
“Wait Until Dark” will indeed be a flick that I add to my movie collection. Not only is a classic analysis of how to craft terror and suspense, but Hepburn gives a performance that is haunting and simply unforgettable if you ask me.