The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Monday, January 3, 2011

Wait Until Dark

Not being an actor, I can only imagine that it's a tough gig to be good at.  But just playing someone else is one thing.  What about when you're playing someone who has a physical disability, an ailment that forces you to do something that you actually can do? Think of playing a handicapped person getting around in a wheelchair, a deaf person who can't hear, or in the case of 1967's Wait Until Dark, playing a blind woman. Beyond preparing for something that you can only prepare for so much, an actor/actress has to sell it too because if the audience doesn't buy it, the movie is sunk.

The actress playing a blind woman in this 1960s thriller is the very beautiful and very talented Audrey Hepburn who I've only seen in three other movies.  Hepburn's great performance leads a list of positives to come out of this movie that I was happy to see was based on a play.  That's what this movie experience was like, watching a play without being a part of the audience.  It's an odd little movie, full of interesting and worthwhile performances in an incredibly unique, innovative setting.

Waiting for a drug shipment -- heroin smuggled in a child's doll -- mysterious Roat (Alan Arkin) is double-crossed by his carrier and now has to find the doll the drugs are being transported in.  He tracks them down to a married man, Sam Hendrix (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), who lives with his wife in a small New York basement apartment.  Roat blackmails two convicts recently released from prison, Mike Talman (Richard Crenna) and Carlino (Jack Weston), into helping him get the doll back.  His plan is anything but simple and involves all sorts of trickery and deception. Roat gets Sam out of the apartment for an extended time thinking the doll has to be someplace in there.  The only thing standing in his way is Sam's wife, Susy (Hepburn), a woman who just a year before was blinded in a horrific car accident.

With the exception of the first 10 minutes of the movie, the whole story takes place in Sam and Susy's quaint, little NYC apartment and the empty street just outside their window.  In other words, it's easy to see this movie coming from a stage-based play.  In addition to the cast, the apartment ends up being another character -- a key one at that -- in the story.  Where could this small doll be hiding? There's only so many places it could be tucked away in, right? As Roat's plan reveals itself, Susy begins to question if the doll is even in the apartment.  At 108 minutes, the story does slow down a bit at times, but it's never long before things get back on track.

An obvious key to whether this movie sinks or swims is Audrey Hepburn as the recently blinded Susy Hendrix.  It's easy to forget looking at her that she was a damn good actress too, and she gets a chance to show off her chops here.  Because her character could fairly recently actually see everything she cannot see now, it adds a dimension to Susy.  She still struggles to adjust to this new life and does her best through all the ups and downs, the positive and the frustration.  It all works because Hepburn brings this incredible feeling of vulnerability to the part.  Duped by these three crooks, she literally can't see what's being done to her (and I don't mean that as some sort of dig).  Susy is worried for herself and for her husband. That's all.  A home invasion on any level is one thing, but being unaware of the fact because of a con job, that's hard to wrap your head around. She convinced me in her performance as a blind woman, and I wasn't alone as she was nominated for an Oscar for her part, eventually losing to Katharine Hepburn for Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

So going up against the innocent, vulnerable Susy is a trio of crooks including two actors I don't normally think of as playing villains.  The exception of the three is Alan Arkin as Roat, the cold-blooded, callous leader who doesn't really care who gets hurt or how as long as in the end he gets his hand on his drugs.  I think Arkin's going for some sort of mix between a hippie and a beatnik with his odd hair cut and constant wearing of stylish 60s shades, but whatever he's going for, it works.  He's creepy as hell.  Crenna and Weston are the exceptions, actors who typically were on the good side with a majority of their roles.  To appease that feeling, director Terence Young doesn't make them out-and-out baddies.  They're blackmailed into helping Roat so it's not like they're enjoying it. Crenna still manages an icy edge to him that hints at his character's past, and Weston is his usual sweaty, bumbling self.

I won't say the fun of the movie because seeing a blind woman duped in her own home isn't fun, but the best, most unique part of the story is seeing Roat's plan unfold.  After a chilling introduction, we see a plan with Roat, Talman and Carlino all acting as if Susy has stepped into a murder case.  There's multiple characters, several twists and turns, and a constant attempt to throw her comfort level off, all aided by her lack of sight.  Susy's smart though, and even Roat couldn't plan for that because it's only a matter of time before she starts to piece things together.  It's an exciting thriller with one of the more unique stories around, give it a try! You can watch it at Youtube starting HERE with Part 1 of 11.

Wait Until Dark <---trailer (1967): ***/****


  1. This movie was great. Audrey and Alan Arkin were terrific. Emma Thompson should have seen this film (or "The Nun's Story" or "Two for the Road") before stating Audrey "couldn't act". Great blog Tim, hope you are accepted at the CMBA :)

  2. Hepburn's acting always gets left behind because her style and beauty are what so many fans remember. Too bad, but she was an incredible talent. Thanks for the comment!