In my slightly-more-than-glowing review of Two for the Road last week, I neglected to mention something in all of my rambling: Two for the Road is the veritable apex of Hepburn's career. While she'd go on to make some good films (including today's), none would really reach the same heights of inspired depth as Two, any of the comedic charm of Charade, or any of the solemnity of Nun's Story. For Ms. Hepburn, the end is in sight.
Admitedly, Hepburn herself didn't know that at the time. After Wait Until Dark, her marriage to Mel Ferrer (remember him from War and Peace?) finally deteriorated and she left the screen for nearly a decade to dedicate her time and effort to her family.
As a testament to her legacy of darling ingenue and one of the last great studio stars, Wait Until Dark is not what most people would consider the perfect swan song. But as a demonstration of how far she'd come as an actress since way back in One Wild Oat? Perfect.
That's not to say Wait Until Dark is flawless by any means, but it's really kind of brilliant in a way that I'll get to in a minute.
Based on a stage play (rather obviously too, unfortunately), Wait Until Dark follows the trail of a heroin filled doll to the cozy apartment of the beautiful but blind Mrs. Hendricks. Her husband is called out, and this is the perfect opportunity for three men to try and obtain the doll. Two are old school con men, forced into the job by the third, the ringleader Mr. Roat.
Roat, as played by Alan Arkin, is an odd beast, but an undeniably terrifying one. Mixing crazy beatnik sensibilities with the kind of tonal fluctuations that would make a star out of Bobcat Goldthwaite, his character is a model of careful planning and meticulous detail, right down to the opaque sunglasses he wears. Rarely has a character worked so well at being so completely sadistic-- there are many times during the game of cat and mouse that he seems to stop doing it for just getting the doll and instead ramps it up just to throw Hepburn's character into a tizzy.
Hepburn here, as I've noted before, is great in her role. Her mimicry of blindness is believable and casting Hepburn in the role creates more audience sympathy than the character seems to deserve.
The film itself is pure exploitation-- being blind never looked quite so bad (I think that's a pun, and I apologize). Dancing on the edges of the audience's fears, it is a clever use of standard tension creation. It never falters, and the climactic showdown between Hepburn and Arkin is the stuff nightmares are made of. The film preys on the innate human fear of the dark, and succeeds remarkably.
I'm going to mention a few spoilers real quick, so please don't read any further if you haven't seen the flick:
Hepburn doesn't have the best of luck with children in her films. Besides the girl who ratted her out as a lesbian in Children's Hour, and Gloria here who is a cruel little prick on occasion, the only other child with a significant role was the kid who played her daughter in Two for the Road, which didn't end terribly well for anyone in that case, either. Hepburn's image was never one associated with kids, to say the least.
I think (and I'm reasonably sure of this) that Wait Until Dark is the only movie where Audrey Hepburn kills someone. If I were Alan Arkin (which I'm not), that would probably be a little asterisk on my resume. Not that Arkin needs a resume any more...
Join me next week as we skip ahead to 1978 for Hepburn's next picture, Robin and Marian. It has Sean Connery! I even promise I won't write the review it in a Scottish accent this time.