Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wait Until Dark (February 26 at 5:15 p.m. and February 27 at 1 p.m. at the Cleveland Cinematheque)

[WAIT UNTIL DARK screens Saturday February 26th at 5:15 p.m. and Sunday February 27th at 1 p.m. at the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.

Wow, watching 1967's high-profile suspense thriller WAIT UNTIL DARK today ought to make our 21st-century jazz musicians, models, actors and artists appreciate just how tough and complicated it was for their predecessors of an earlier generation to obtain heroin. Maybe they'll stop being all snooty and looking down on rural folk or Cleveland west-siders for turning to easily available methamphetamine instead. 

The premise of WAIT UNTIL DARK is that a fortune in smack has been sewn into a rag doll in Canada to get it past customs and into NYC. For reasons I still can't really understand, the doll is passed on to an unwitting (?) accomplice who leaves it in a supposed safe place; the walk-down apartment-darkroom shared by a commercial photographer and his pretty wife Susan (Audrey Hepburn), who was blinded in an accident and is still learing to adapt. Now, all that remains is for the bad guys - a troika, consisting of two longtime scammers (Richard Crenna and Cleveland-born Jack Weston) and a beatnik-punk interloper Stanley Roat (Alan Arkin) - to infiltrate the place and locate the elusive doll. 

This is no DIE HARD with a blind chick; adapted from a popular stage play, it's more played for the intellect stuff. It's big on the manipulative methods of the conspirators, who, after failing to find the doll in a break-in, try to wheedle information out of Susan via taking advantage of her handicap - using trick voices, multiple false identities, phony phone calls, etc., putting on a big charade to dupe the blind woman into producing that doll as "evidence" in a fictitious infidelity case implicating her husband. But Susan is blind, not dumb, and some good tension derives from how she gradually puts the pieces together and sees through (metaphorically) the villains' plot. 

Yes, it's a pretty contrived setup - I used to be a photographer with a walk-down studio efficiency, and you'd be hard-pressed to locate anything in there. Still, Hepburn - in a role played on stage originally by Lee Remick - is a frightfully vulnerable imperiled heroine (but not without some resources), and Arkin is a standout as the sadistic Roat - a role created onstage by Robert Duvall, incidentally. 

Far fewer people know it, by the way, but there’s an Australian comedy called AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 WAYS.  It's also about fooling a blind person, in this case an old codger made to believe, via sound effects, scents and sensations, that he's taking a round-the-world vacation when in fact he's barely leaving his yard. Not too believable either, no Audrey Hepburn or Alan Arkin in it to keep you awake, but also entertaining. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars

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