Program Notes: Wait Until Dark (1967)
Today hardly anyone recognizes the name of Terence Young (1915-1994).
Yet this former British paratrooper (he was born in Shanghai, China) was one of the most prolific, money-makingest directors of 1960s.
His box office clout was established with three key films in the James Bond series: Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963) and Thunderball (1965). In fact, you could credit Young with creating the 007 template that continues to this day.
But his talents ranged from period comedy (the Kim Novak version of The Amorous Adventures of Moll Flanders in 1965), the star-heavy drug-smuggling melodrama The Poppy is Also a Flower (1966), the WW2 heist film Triple Cross (1966), the lavish biopic Mayerling (1968) and the gangster epic The Valachi Papers (1972).
Tucked away in the middle of all this was one of the niftiest little thrillers of the decade, a film that has been described as “the best film Alfred Hitchcock never made.”
That would be 1967’s Wait Until Dark, a nerve-wracking crime yarn about a blind woman (the fragile-looking Audrey Hepburn) who is tormented in her basement apartment by a gang of nasty drug smugglers.
Frederick Knott and Robert Carrington’s screenplay is a classic example of slow screw-tightening as a trio of bad guys (Richard Crenna, Jack Weston and especially Alan Arkin as a psychopathic killer) first try to pass themselves off as a cop or one of her husband’s friends, and then simply lay siege to the place.
They’re looking for an innocent-looking child’s doll stuffed with heroin.
Roger Ebert has wisely pointed out that Wait Until Dark is a prime example of the idiot plot. That’s where one or more of the characters must act like idiots if the story is to advance.
In this case, all Hepburn’s character has to do is lock her apartment door and contact the cops.
Case closed. Crisis averted. End of movie.
Happily she doesn’t, because under Young’s direction the last 15 minutes of Wait... are among the most suspenseful in cinema history.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He's married to the former Ellen Vaughan; they are the proud parents of LA-based comedian, writer, director and TV personality Blair Butler. He used to be a dog person but now lives with two cats, thus demonstrating the flexibility of the human condition.