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Warner Home Video presents
Wait Until Dark (1967)

Susy: Do I have to be the world's champion blind lady?
Sam: "Yes!

- Audrey Hepburn, Efram Zimbalist, Jr.

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: September 24, 2003

Stars: Audrey Hepburn, Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna, Jack Weston, Efram Zimbalist, Jr.
Other Stars: Samantha Jones, Julie Herrod
Director: Terence Young

Manufacturer: Wamo
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, intense situations)
Run Time: 01h:47m:37s
Release Date: August 05, 2003
UPC: 085392752720
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Filmmakers specializing in horror and suspense owe director Terence Young a great debt. Without him, those deliciously jolting, heart-stopping codas that are now such a predictable staple of Hollywood slasher flicks might never have been introduced. The gimmick can be traced directly back to Young's 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark, where its shock value remains undiminished. Divulging specifics would spoil the fun, so let's just say the technique is so effective that 36 years later directors are still ripping off and modifying Young's unnerving blueprint of terror.

Yet even without its chilling finale, Wait Until Dark would remain a classic exercise in cat-and-mouse suspense. With its innovative premise, tightly knit story and first class performances, it easily outshines similar films. But ask anyone what he or she remembers most about this riveting drama—myself included—and they will undoubtedly cite its climax. I first saw Wait Until Dark in the lobby of a crowded college dormitory back in 1981, and experiencing that jolt and hearing the deafening collective shriek (in which I whole-heartedly participated) immediately cemented the film in my mind. Nobody forgets a fright like that.

Audrey Hepburn gives one of her finest performances in the challenging role of Susy Hendrix, a recently blinded woman still learning to cope with and manage her disability. Her husband Sam (Efram Zimbalist, Jr.) tolerates little weakness or self-pity, and ceaselessly goads her to achieve greater independence. Susy attends regular classes at "blind school," but remains insecure enough to be easy prey for pranks and taunts by Gloria (Julie Herrod), a bratty 12-year-old girl who helps her with errands and chores.

On a business trip, a fellow airline passenger accosts Sam and foists a child's doll upon him, promising to pick it up at his apartment at a later date. Unbeknownst to Sam and Susy, the doll is stuffed with numerous heroin packets, making it a very valuable and dangerous commodity. The slithery psychopath Roat (Alan Arkin) desperately covets the doll and enlists the services of two cohorts, Mike (Richard Crenna) and Carlino (Jack Weston), to help him retrieve it. Their elaborate plot involves sending Sam away on a trumped up business matter and capitalizing on Susy's infirmity through a series of deceitful masquerades in order to snatch the doll.

The trio, however, must deal with two unfortunate snags: The doll has vanished and Susy's a lot tougher and brighter than anyone believes her to be.

Adapted from the Broadway smash by Frederick Knott (Dial M for Murder), Wait Until Dark begins rather statically, at times resembling a filmed play, but as the movie progresses Young adds more cinematic style and saves his most striking images for the finale. The Hendrix apartment, at first a safe haven for Susy, soon evolves into a prison from which she cannot escape, and Young capitalizes on its claustrophobic and confining nature to unsettle the audience. Although the film starts slowly, as the puzzle pieces begin to interlock and Susy discovers her frightening predicament, the seeds of suspense quickly blossom. When Susy finally uses her blindness to aggressively combat her assailants, the film shifts into overdrive and steamrolls to its unforgettable conclusion.

Hepburn studied extensively at New York's Lighthouse for the Blind to prepare for her role, and her dedication pays off. From the vacant look in her eyes to tentative footing and natural stumbling, she creates a believable portrait of a blind woman struggling to live a normal life. During the emotional climax, Hepburn projects a strength and intensity seldom seen in her career—a refreshing and admirable change from the waifs and ingénues she often played. For her efforts, she was rewarded with her fifth and final Academy Award nomination.

In stark contrast, Arkin is downright despicable as the sinister Roat. While businesslike and subdued most of the time, Arkin colors his groundbreaking portrayal with sporadic explosions that expose his character's ferocious nature. With his raspy New York accent, John Lennon sunglasses and doped up demeanor, Arkin's Roat is one of cinema's truly scary villains. Crenna effectively plays against type as the deviously suave Mike, whose false friendship wins Susy's trust, and both he and Weston succeed in the difficult task of fooling Susy while showing the audience their true nasty colors.

Wait Until Dark possesses a few dated elements but still plays well today. While it may lack the style of a Hitchcock thriller, its tightly woven plot, nuts-and-bolts presentation and knockout finale rank right up there with the best suspense films. Make sure you watch it at night to absorb its full effect and, just in case, keep a defibrillator handy.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The folks at Warner Home Video take great care in producing top-flight video transfers of their classic titles, but unfortunately Wait Until Dark cannot be added to the list. Hampered by weak source material, the transfer contains several ragged elements, most notably a flat, faded look that betrays the film's age. I was surprised to learn Wait Until Dark was shot in Technicolor, as it lacks the lushness and vibrancy so associated with that process. The drab color palette and lifeless hues are more typical of cheaper, single-strip formats like Eastmancolor, than the more detailed three-strip method Technicolor employs.

While images are generally clear, Wait Until Dark possesses an overly soft, gauzy quality that's augmented by the presence of substantial grain. Plenty of grit and wear also intrude, but thankfully any enhancements escape notice. Contrast—an essential element of this film—is exceptionally good and flesh tones appear natural. Although the transfer's faults disappoint, they don't diminish one's enjoyment of the film, dull the impact of the thrills or suppress Hepburn's luminous beauty, which shines through undiluted.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Sound plays a large role in Wait Until Dark, providing critical clues that help Susy decipher and manage her desperate situation. The Dolby Digital mono track is nothing special, but gets the job done, cleanly reproducing even the subtlest atmospheric noise. Defects such as hiss or pops are totally absent, adding immeasurably to the suspense. Levels remain constant, although a few thrills make use of a startling and effective volume thrust. Dialogue is clear and comprehendible throughout, and Henry Mancini's creepy score (though a bit too reminiscent of his music for Experiment in Terror) enhances the tense mood.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 00h:26m:22s

Extra Extras:
  1. Stage Frantics essay
Extras Review: Once again, Warner scores with a couple of interesting extras, most notably the all-new 8-minute featurette, A Look in the Dark, in which Alan Arkin and producer Mel Ferrer (Hepburn's husband at the time) discuss the film's production. Arkin talks about how he constructed his "sadistic, drug-ridden" character and enjoyed improvising with Jack Weston. He also admits he hated terrorizing Audrey Hepburn, whom he greatly respected and admired. "I felt like I was working with real royalty, but in the most beautiful possible way," he remembers. Ferrer divulges a few more intimate details about Hepburn—her lack of confidence and displeasure over her performances—and how he pushed her to accept this change-of-pace role. He also charmingly relates studio chief Jack Warner's reaction to the film's thrilling climax.

Stage Frantics is an all-too-brief (and shallow) essay chronicling the history of Wait Until Dark from stage to screen and back again. Beginning with the original Broadway production (starring Lee Remick and Robert Duvall), continuing on to the film version, and then returning for a New York revival (this time with Marisa Tomei and Quentin Tarantino), the essay offers little besides statistics, dates and awards recognition.

In addition to the original theatrical trailer, a fun cautionary teaser is also included, which dramatically warns audiences about the "terror of the breath-taking climax."

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

An inspiring thriller, Wait Until Dark cleverly shows how a blind woman can use her disability as a weapon to fend off a trio of ruthless intruders. Though the transfer doesn't quite live up to Warner's usual high standards, the movie itself remains riveting enough to overshadow any imperfections. Hepburn, Arkin and Crenna all contribute top-notch performances and Terence Young's direction creates almost unbearable suspense. Highly recommended.


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